FOCUS Launches Nationwide Back-to-School Initiative

FOCUS North America is launching an extensive back-to-school program this season in 28 cities across the country, providing new shoes, backpacks, and school supplies to 193,000 children from homeless and working poor families.

“We are equipping and preparing the poorest children in the country at a time when they are the most vulnerable—on their first day of school,” says program manager and FOCUS Orange County Center Director Jacob Lee. “FOCUS’ distributions will insure that children have the basic provisions they need to attend and participate in school.”

“Having solid footwear is crucial to our students,” says Linda Russell, a representative of the Magnolia School District in southern California. “Many students come to school in their parent’s shoes or in sandals, or in shoes that are simply falling apart. With  inadequate footwear, they can’t participate in recreational activities. We’ve even had students stay home because they don’t have anything to wear.”

The Magnolia School District is one of dozens of public school districts partnering with FOCUS to distribute the shoes, backpacks, and school supplies. “To have a donation like this from FOCUS—solid, effective, new, and size-appropriate running shoes—is just a Godsend,” says Russell.

Increased school attendance and participation aren’t the only benefits. Russell expects that children and their families will become more invested in the schools and more committed to their education. “When we as a school district have the opportunity to step outside of our role as educators and support a family’s basic needs, it bonds families and children to the education process,” she says. “It’s incredibly significant.”

While FOCUS’ nationwide back-to-school program is new, its commitment to children isn’t. Since its founding five years ago, FOCUS has consistently provided educational support services to schoolchildren, while assisting their parents to secure employment and permanent housing. 

Pittsburgh Grant

Thanks to you, FOCUS Pittsburgh won a $20,000 grant from the Walmart Fighting Hunger Together Program. Walmart awarded the top 40 organizations with a $20,000 grant. FOCUS placed 12th tallying in with 3,534 votes respectively.

100% of the funds from the grant will go directly to purchasing nutritious meals for school children who don’t have enough to eat through the weekend. These children are supplemented through the school week with feeding programs in their schools but FOCUS fills the gap, providing support when other resources are not available.

Thanks to You

The mission of the BackPack Feeding Program is to meet the needs of hungry children by providing them with healthy and easy-to-prepare food to take home on weekends and school vacations. FOCUS Pittsburgh’s BackPack Program works in partnership with the Pittsburgh Community Food Banks and currently serves children in the Hill District Community of Pittsburgh. The grant will help sustain and expand the program.

Research has shown that food insecurity and hunger are serious threats to children’s health, growth and development. The nation’s economic growth depends on the well being of our children. As such, the existence of childhood hunger in the United States threatens future American prosperity.

Thank you for your ongoing support for this and all the other vital ministries throughout FOCUS North America. Because of you children are supported each and every day. Thanks again.

Christ is Risen!

FOCUS and OCF Offer Students a Real Break

A group of college students is embarking on a one-of-a-kind spring break this week, the result of a partnership between FOCUS’s Youth Equipped to Serve (YES) and Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF). Rather than sun themselves on the beach, the students are participating in a Real Break—a service trip to Los Angeles’ Skid Row, a community known for its acute poverty and homelessness.

Working with two local organizations—the Fred Jordan Mission and Midnight Mission—the students will spend their spring break serving the poor and gaining a first-hand experience of the many faces of poverty. The students are being led by Father Apostolos Hill, Proistamenos of St George Greek Orthodox Church in Prescott, AZ. 

YES is a ministry of FOCUS North America that provides local parishes and youth workers with the resources to engage  high school students in community service and short-term missions projects. Its goal is to encourage youth to live out their faith in service to others.

“YES has been involved in service activities in Skid Row for years”, said Katrina Bitar, YES Program Director. “We are so pleased to be a part of the OCF Real Break to Los Angeles. We are looking forward to sharing this life-changing experience with the members of OCF.”

OCF began its Real Break program in 2000 to give college students an Orthodox Christian alternative to the “traditional” spring break. Since then, more than 1,000 students have participated in Real Breaks in more than a dozen locations, engaging in prayer, fellowship, witness, and service.

FOCUS North America is a national movement of Orthodox Christians, united in faith and joined by a desire to provide action-oriented and sustainable solutions to poverty in communities across America. FOCUS has operations and youth volunteer experiences in more than 20 cities in the United States.

Join FOCUS This Lenten Season


1 out of every 5 households with children in America are food insecure.  This means that they are regularly in fear of hunger or starvation. Food insecurity exists in every county throughout the nation, with 48.8 million people living without enough to eat.

Fast for FOCUS Daily Meals: This year, FOCUS will provide 110,000 free meals to the homeless and working poor.  Providing these meals allows families to save on groceries, so that they can afford to pay their rent, utilities and support their children.

Fast for FOCUS Weekend Food Sacks for Children: Poor children often go hungry over the weekends.  FOCUS works with schools to give kids a weekly backpack full of nutritious food to sustain them and their siblings.

Fast for FOCUS Urban Gardens: Our community gardens continue to thrive and offer a healthy food options for families who don’t have regular access to or can’t afford nutritious food.  Our gardens also serve as gathering places where community is built through planting, cultivating, harvesting and eating together!

More than anything, our meals and feeding programs serve as gathering places where Orthodox communities join together to offer something back to their neighbors in need while putting their faith into action and serving as a witness to the selfless love of Christ.


47.5 million people, including 23.5 million children, live in working poor American households. These are working families who just can’t make ends meet. FOCUS helps these families which in turn keeps kids in school, builds healthy communities, and a stronger nation.

Pray for FOCUS Men: FOCUS operates two men’s shelters where we train and help men with employment, teach them necessary life skills, and support them to be better husbands, fathers and family leaders.

Pray for FOCUS Women: FOCUS offers mentorship, employment, education and family support to women so they can live empowered and inspired lives. FOCUS helps thousands of women each year and they in turn give back to others.

Pray for FOCUS Children: FOCUS provides children with positive role models, educational services, and an ‘extended’ family through our FOCUS Centers to ensure that kids grow up healthy, smart, and strong to the best of their abilities.  

Pray for the continued good work of FOCUS, for those we serve, and for all those who volunteer and support this vital ministry.


In 2012, the poverty rate in America hit 16%, the highest rate in 50 years. 50 million Americans live in poverty-stricken families. A family of four making less than $21,200 a year is considered to be living in poverty. Today families and individuals from every age, race, and socio-economic class are experiencing poverty.

Give once: Make a one-time gift to FOCUS that will support our programs to help keep kids in school, provide shelter to the homeless, and help to the working poor.

Give often: Sign up for a recurring donation to FOCUS, which will allow us to better budget for current programs and develop new initiatives.

Sponsor A Center or Program: Become personally invested in a FOCUS program. Support a specific area of interest such as medical aid, education, mentorship, housing, and employment.

Volunteer: Become a part of the FOCUS nation, no matter who you are or where you live. Giving your time and talents to FOCUS will create a personal and meaningful relationship with those in need!

FOCUS North America Welcomes New Chairman

Brian Gerich, Senior Vice President of Public Storage and a well-known Orthodox philanthropist, has been named the new Chairman of the Board of Directors for FOCUS North America. Gerich succeeds Charles Ajalat, who completed a four-year chairmanship in January, 2013.

“FOCUS is a dynamic ministry and an expression of Christ’s love — offering jobs, housing, feeding programs, and other human services to the homeless and working poor of America,” said Gerich.  “FOCUS also plays a vital role in bringing Orthodox Christians into direct relationship with the poor, positively impacting their own lives while helping those in need.”

Under Ajalat’s leadership as founder and first board chairman, FOCUS grew into a vibrant and strong organization with eight flagship FOCUS centers across the country and a dedicated volunteer corps of more than 6,000 people.  In 2013, FOCUS has forecasted an annual budget of $10 million, with service outreach programs planned for 29 cities.

Gerich said he is humbled to succeed Ajalat. “I have worked with Charles for over 25 years.  Charles is an amazing man whom God has blessed with many gifts and talents. His commitment to serving the poor is amazing.”

“In just four short years FOCUS has touched the lives of so many, and we’re growing daily,” said Executive Director Nicholas Chakos.  “It’s an exciting time in FOCUS’ history.”

FOCUS North America is a national movement of Orthodox Christians, united in faith and joined by a desire to provide action-oriented and sustainable solutions to poverty in communities across America.

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 to learn how you can volunteer at a FOCUS Center or on a short-term volunteer team.