Housing and Jobs promote healing

For people who have been caught in destructive lifestyles, one of the hardest things is to break free from their past and to start a new life.

Mike stands in front of the FOCUS Men's House

Mike stands in front of the FOCUS Men's House

Mike was one of those guys.  “He did what he could to hold down a job, but because of some unfortunate circumstances, he was living in a friend’s apartment, sleeping on the couch where reckless parties were held every night.  Trying to sleep in a place like that, he was getting into trouble – missing shifts and showing up to work late,” said Eric Shanburn, the director of FOCUS in St. Louis, Missouri.

Mike didn’t have anywhere to go and didn’t have a support network to help him succeed.  Statistics show that far too often, the surrounding environment can hamper even people who want to live a stable and productive life.

Breaking free from a destructive environment takes training, support and mentoring – in addition to a stable job and secure housing.  Mike found all of these crucial elements to a self-sufficient life at the FOCUS Center in St. Louis.

“He became a friend to those of us here at FOCUS,” Shanburn said, “And when he heard about our Man Class, he jumped at the opportunity to participate.”

“The Man Class” is a 12-session course offered by FOCUS and its partner organization, ReEngage.  The course targets men who are seeking to break free of negative environments and live stable, independent lives. Participants are taught key lessons in fatherhood, job readiness, and basic financial management.

Mike was excited about the course and the housing option that FOCUS offers to men who graduate from it.

“Graduates have the opportunity to live in a house that FOCUS operates next door to our Center.  The FOCUS House provides a safe place where the men can live while they get back on their feet,” Shanburn said,  “The rent they pay is lower than market value for the surrounding area.  Anyone living in the House has to follow a list of rules and they also receive hands-on mentorship from local Orthodox professionals who guide the men with sustainable life skills – things like opening a bank account and time management.”

Mike was eager to enroll in the program and further his involvement in the FOCUS community.

“He came through the Man Class, lives at the FOCUS House and he’s doing extremely well,” Shanburn said.

Through FOCUS’ help, Mike is working full time and spending his Sundays at church. He’s able to comfortably pay his rent and utilities every month and he volunteers at the FOCUS Center to help others in similar situations.

FOCUS was there to give Mike the resources he needed – job assistance, housing, and mentoring – providing him and many others with the necessary tools to move forward, into a successful, self-sufficient life.

Through FOCUS’ programs, Orthodox professionals use the skills that they have to mentor men, women and families in need, building lasting relationships that provide effective healing and positive change.

Each year through FOCUS, thousands of individuals and families across America are equipped to break free from the cycle of poverty and dependency.  Through your support, FOCUS continues to serve as a witness to the teachings of the Orthodox Christian faith and to engage faithful people in bringing real and lasting assistance to those in need.   

FOCUS Equips Children for School

Remember the excitement
of going back to school each fall—the anticipation of homeroom, new classes, and reuniting with friends after the long summer vacation?

For too many children across America, the new school year brings another, unwelcome anxiety: worrying whether they will get enough food to eat.

Here in America – today – nearly fifteen million children live below the poverty line.

One of FOCUS’ key activities is providing nutritious meals to students who would otherwise go hungry.

Nine year-old Liam is one recipient. His parents are struggling to make ends meet. There simply isn’t enough money to feed the family throughout the week.

This autumn, FOCUS began a partnership with Liam’s school. On Friday afternoons, FOCUS volunteers bring Liam, and more than 100 of his fellow students, meals to last through the weekend. They also bring good cheer, spending time talking with Liam and his classmates. Parents, students, and school administrators have been incredibly thankful.

One recent weekend though, something surprising happened; Liam’s meals didn’t make it home.

As it turns out, on his bus ride home, Liam realized that he wasn’t the only hungry child. Little by little, he gave away his weekend meals to other children on the bus. By the time he reached his home, he had given all of his food away.


All throughout the country, FOCUS is impacting and inspiring the lives of children through initiatives like this one.“Our mission is to show the love and mercy of Jesus Christ,” FOCUS Pittsburgh local director Paul Abernathy said, “But every now and then, those we seek to help show us their own beautiful acts of mercy. It’s very moving.”

Earlier this month, FOCUS, together with the Fred Jordan mission, provided 3,000 children with back-to-school supplies including shoes, backpacks, and even free haircuts!

Your support and donation to FOCUS helps to demonstrate the love of Christ by ensuring that every child goes back to school in a dignified way.

Tackle Poverty with Theodora and Troy Polamalu


Football season is here! Team up with FOCUS advisory board member, Theodora Polamalu, and her husband, All-Pro Safety and Pittsburgh Steeler, Troy Polamalu, in FOCUS North America’s Tackle Poverty campaign, the organization’s key initiative to help the homeless and working poor in America.

“Our participation in this ministry is very personal, because Troy struggled in his youth with poverty,” Mrs. Polamalu said, “By God’s grace, Troy was able to overcome the circumstances he grew up in. However, not everyone is as fortunate as Troy.”

The Tackle Poverty initiative supports FOCUS’ sustainable assistance programs, providing “hand-up, not hand-out” interventions to help poor families and individuals live self-sufficient and successful lives.

FOCUS’ programs provide targeted services, like housing assistance, job training and professional counseling that help people move off of dependency programs.

Chris Ridley came to FOCUS after hitting rock bottom and spending seven years in prison. “I messed everything up,” Ridley said. “It only took five minutes and one big mistake.”

At his lowest point, he prayed and recommitted his life to God, “I fell to my knees and said, ‘Show me what you have for my life,’” he said.

At FOCUS, Chris found the love, support and help that he needed to support his transformation.  Through FOCUS’ assistance, he has built a new and productive life for himself. “My goal is to show others that no matter what a person’s past is, it’s who they are now that matters,” Ridley said. “I represent true change that can impact the world.”

“We want to hear stories like that,” Mrs. Polamalu said, “We want to hear more stories of how people can overcome their difficult circumstances and come to understand their importance in life and that God loves them.  We feel that through FOCUS these stories are real possibilities.”

Join FOCUS as we continue to help serve people in need here in America. Click here to make a donation today and help Tackle Poverty.

Transforming Lives Through Friendship


Bob Pace volunteers regularly at the FOCUS Center in Orange County.

Each Sunday, Bob Pace volunteers at the FOCUS Center in Orange County, California. He has met hundreds of people over the past two years, but one in particular stands out: a young man, Patrick, who first came to the center one Sunday evening for a meal.

“When he arrived his wife had recently left him. He was living in a motel. He was totally broken,” Pace said.

Over the next several months, Bob and Patrick ate together each Sunday evening. Over time, they shared heartfelt conversations and came to know each other well.

And then, without explanation, Patrick suddenly stopped coming to the center.

“He disappeared and I didn’t see him for six months,” said Pace. “I didn’t know what to think, but I feared the worst. It can be really tough to see someone downslide.”

One Sunday Patrick reappeared out of the blue. This time, he didn’t come for the meal.

“He came back because he missed us. His life was back on track, and he wanted us to know he was doing well,” Pace said. As they sat and talked, Patrick told Pace that through their many conversations, he had been moved to reconcile with his wife. He was able to see himself more clearly, and to accept responsibility for the mistakes he had made.

“We see everyone who comes in to the center as an image of Christ,” Pace said. “We don’t talk specifically about religion. We just talk. Differences evaporate between us as we get to know one another and share about our lives.”

At FOCUS North America, stories like Bob and Patrick’s are commonplace. Every week throughout America, FOCUS brings people together from all walks of life for programs and services. In the process, friendships are built and lives are transformed.

“When people in need walk through the doors of a FOCUS center, they find not only a warm meal and new clothes, they also find a welcoming family and a place to belong,” said Executive Director Nicholas Chakos. “Our programs and initiatives foster friendships—between and among those who come for help and our volunteers. As these relationships blossom, we see incredible change.”

FOCUS Transforms the Lives of Volunteers

Volunteering at one of the many FOCUS Centers located across the country is one of the most rewarding ways to get involved with the hands-on operations of FOCUS North America. Each month, an average of 500 volunteer hours are logged at each Center.

“It’s Orthodox Christians coming together through FOCUS and leveraging their talents to help those who need it the most,” Executive Director Nicholas Chakos said,  “But while they come to help others, it’s often the volunteers who experience the greatest transformation in their lives.”

While FOCUS’ aim is to provide assistance to the homeless and working poor by moving them off of the streets and into sustainable housing and employment so they can live self-sufficient lives, the volunteers who serve with FOCUS go above and beyond providing basic outreach services. They bring true friendship and compassion to those they serve.

“I think I get a little bit more out of it than the other people do,” said Albert Salsich a volunteer, “I’ve made some friends here, not just among the volunteers but among the people who come in. It’s a community.”

Salsick first began volunteering at a local FOCUS clothing giveaway. So inspired by his experience that day, he continued to come on a weekly basis. He now volunteers twice a week and wishes he could volunteer more.

“Twice a week is not enough for me,” Salsich said, “I wish I had more time to come down.”

Volunteering with FOCUS has given him a new perspective of the city where he has lived his entire life.  “I was a teacher for many years in the Suburbs. I just never spent any time in the city, and so I’ve gotten a whole new view of my hometown and what life is like. I’m just sorry I missed that so many years ago.”

FOCUS North America’s volunteer program is the largest Orthodox volunteer network in the nation and is growing exponentially. Through FOCUS, volunteers of all ages can participate in hands-on activities serving the poor.  Visit focusnorthamerica.org to learn how you can volunteer at a FOCUS Center or on a short-term volunteer team.

FOCUS Honors Mothers

FOCUS North America is helping single and underserved mothers across the country find suitable housing and daycare, while providing them with many other vital services that enable them to thrive and properly care for their children.

Twenty-Four year-old, Candace Johnson was 7 months pregnant, living on the street with a three-year old daughter, but she refused to give up the hope of finding a better life.

“I was about to have a baby, and I couldn’t have my baby on the street in the snow,” she said, “There was always some sort of stipulation that prevented me from finding help. In all of the social assistance programs I went to, I was turned away and undervalued, as if it was my fault I was on the street.”

But in coming to the Pittsburgh FOCUS Center, Candace found something different.

“I told them my need and right away [Center Director] Paul Abernathy said ‘We’re going to help you.’ Period. There was no ‘I’m going to get back to you’. He told me ‘We’re going make it happen.’ And he made it happen.”

By the end of the day, FOCUS staff had successfully enrolled Candace and her daughter in transitional housing

“It’s difficult for single mothers when they’re in times of transition,” Paul Abernathy said, “Looking for work and housing is extremely challenging when you are taking care of two or three children.”

Throughout the many FOCUS Centers around the country, mothers are not only finding sustenance, but hundreds of moms are taking time out of their day to volunteer their precious time and valuable skills to help FOCUS reach out and provide crucial programs.

Meredith Burnett heard from a friend about FOCUS and immediately began volunteering four days a week with her son Samuel at the Center in Pittsburgh.

“It’s just people helping people,” she said, “I love that.”

It wasn’t long before Meredith became a key leader in the Center’s backpack feeding program.

“The program currently provides 50 children with food over the weekend,” she said, “These kids don’t eat if they aren’t receiving meals at school.”

Since her first day at FOCUS Candace Johnson has made great strides. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy and she and her children now live with her sister. She continues to come to the FOCUS center to volunteer and she participates in the Wednesday evening Bible study.

FOCUS continues to support, assist, and honor mothers, not only on Mother’s Day—but every day, as they establish and inspire value in the most rewarding and joyful job in the world.

FOCUS Expands Ministry with Free Dental Care for Homeless Families

More than 150 dental procedures were performed this month as part of a new FOCUS dental care initiative in Orange County, California. Working in partnership with the University of Southern California (USC) School of Dentistry and AYUDA, an international organization that provides dental care to underserved communities, FOCUS volunteers provided vital dental care, free of charge, to patients of all ages.

The services included teeth cleanings, fluoride treatments, fillings, and extractions. Each patient also received instruction on how to practice and maintain proper oral hygiene. “This partnership with AYUDA and USC was a great success,” said FOCUS Center Director Jacob Lee. “We’re really pleased to provide this service to families who live in motels. Good dental health is absolutely critical to overall well being.” Thousands of families who are unable to afford permanent housing live in motels in Orange County.

Since 2009, FOCUS has been ministering to these families by providing food and household items, career counseling and assistance with finding suitable, permanent homes. Lee described the appreciation of patients who don’t normally receive adequate dental care. “Everyone was extremely grateful,” Lee said. “One patient told me that he would have never been able to afford this care on his limited income. Without this clinic, he would have eventually lost his teeth.” The FOCUS center in Orange County and AYUDA plan to host a free dental clinic annually for families living in motels. AYUDA, based in Anaheim, has provided free dental care to over 28,000 underserved patients since 1991.

Volunteer Service Programs Reach New Level

FOCUS North America’s volunteer program is growing exponentially. It is a program that provides participants of all ages with hands-on activities in service to the poor. This year FOCUS has planned more than 20 short-term service projects across America that engage volunteers in three to five days of activities such as serving meals to the homeless, helping in family shelters, home repairs, street outreach and more.

As well as the food, occupation, clothing, understanding and shelter provided by the FOCUS Centers, the YES program and the FOCUS Appalachia program are taking people on short-term trips around the country.The keystone initiatives of FOCUS’ volunteer program are Youth Equipped to Serve (YES) and Appalachia.

The YES program works with local Orthodox parishes and dioceses to provide a meaningful and engaging volunteer opportunity for middle school and high school students – though people of any age are welcome to participate.

Since 2009, some 300 volunteers have participated in the FOCUS YES program reaching out to those in need in 20 cities across America.

Katrina Bitar described the great impact a YES trip has had on volunteers.

“Trip leaders and students who experience a YES service-learning weekend come to see that they are valued, capable, and equipped to serve with joy and love,” Bitar said.

YES student Georgia Kasamias explained how her eyes were opened to the reality of the poor in underserved communities.

“I never really understood the nature and underlying problems of the poor and homeless in my community,” she said, “Volunteering with FOCUS helped to change my perspective on the complexities of poverty in urban cities and taught me how I can participate in making my community a better place.”

FOCUS Appalachia is a weeklong trip to the Appalachian Trail of North Carolina.  Working with Operation Inasmuch, FOCUS volunteers help to renovate the homes of disadvantaged senior citizens while learning about the Orthodox perspective on service and love for the poor.

“The community where FOCUS works in North Carolina is small and doesn’t have many of the social services that a bigger city has,” FOCUS Appalachia Coordinator Larissa Hatch said, “The work that FOCUS performs there is really welcomed.”

In 2011, more than 100 people participated in five FOCUS Appalachia trips. This year, 8 trips are scheduled with more groups being added every month.FOCUS Appalachia has provided service in areas such as yard, driveway and sewage maintenance, siding, porch and roof repair, as well as painting and carpentry. Each trip provides volunteers with activities based upon the needs of the community and the skills of the volunteers.

Volunteering through FOCUS North America is a great way to learn about poverty in this country and to help people in a personal, practical way. FOCUS trips provide education and activities to volunteers, allowing them to help those in need in their own communities.  These programs are continually expanding as a part of the greater movement of FOCUS to serve the poor in America.

FOCUS’ ReEngage is ‘Re-engaging’ Men in Families and Communities

Facebook_03_12-1Absentee fathers are a growing national epidemic that reach across social, racial, and economic lines. Children from homes where fathers are absent are 5 times more likely to be poor. 70 percent of all juveniles in detention centers come from fatherless homes. 71 percent of all high school dropouts did not grow up with an active father.

“There are important and necessary lessons about life that fathers have historically imparted to our children,” says Rodney Knott, facilitator of FOCUS’ fatherhood program, called ReEngage. “Those lessons are not being passed on to our children, and the children are suffering.”

FOCUS North America is responding to the dire needs of fatherless families with a pioneering program called ReEngage.

“FOCUS’ REngage program is working with fathers to keep them active in the lives of their children. This program has been phenomenally successful in transforming the lives of children, fathers and their families.” FOCUS North America Executive Director Nicholas Chakos said.

It is often assumed adult men should inherently know what it means to be a responsible man. “We are created male and female, but we must learn what it takes to be men and women,” Knott said, “In the absence of positive role models and teachers how will we learn these lessons?”

Troy Polamalu, the All-Pro safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, knows what it is like to be raised with distant parents.

“By God’s grace Troy was able to overcome a lot of the circumstances that he was given living in poverty without really having parents to guide him,” Theodora Polamalu, a member of the FOCUS Advisory Board, said.

But FOCUS North America is teaching men to be fathers so that they will remain active in the lives of their children as positive role models.

“FOCUS gives these children an opportunity to be like Troy, to say you know what, you are important,” Polamalu said.

Knott facilitated the ReEngage program last fall in Kansas City, Missouri. At the program’s graduation, 11 students received certificates from FOCUS and the Kansas City Mayor. The graduates continue to gather on Tuesday evenings to support one another and to reinforce the lessons that they learned through ReEngage.

Graduate Dwight Simpson has not only become more active in the life of his family but he has also become active in extending theNelson ReEngage message throughout his community.

” This program has been an inspiration to me,” says Simpson. His message to other fathers is, “Don’t quit. Don’t quit.”

ReEngage is expanding its important work throughout the country, teaching men to be fathers and stay active in the lives of their children. To learn more, please visit the FOCUS North America website: focusnorthamerica.org

FOCUS Announces Appointment Of Nicholas J. Chakos As Executive Director





The Board of Directors of FOCUS North America announces appointment of Nicholas J. Chakos as the new Executive Director of FOCUS North America.  FOCUS North America Chairman Charles Ajalat said, “The Board of Directors is extremely blessed and excited to have found such a great leader to take FOCUS North America to the next level.”

Nick Chakos has over 15 years of experience and demonstrated success in Orthodox non-profit leadership, fundraising, strategic planning, and program development and evaluation. He is both an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the recipient of the Miron Cross, the highest distinction given by the Romanian Orthodox Church to civilians for outstanding social service to Romania. Nick has been with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) for 13 years, occupying positions such as Interim Director of Development and as a member of the Executive Team.  Prior to IOCC, Nick worked for Tanzanian Development Association, a division of the Orthodox Church in Tanzania.  Nick is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Nick is passionate about domestic social action.

Through the gracious help and cooperation of his current employer over the last few weeks, Mr. Chakos is expected to join FOCUS on February 16.

Please join us in welcoming this outstanding leader to the FOCUS North America team!