Bobby Maddex interviews Nicholas Chakos, the new Executive Director of FOCUS North America, the Orthodox service organization devoted to serving “the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned by providing Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, and Shelter.”
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.
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.
Absentee 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 the 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 NORTH AMERICA BOARD 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!
Panayioti describes his first hand experience with FOCUS North America’s Youth Equipped to Serve (YES) program. Panayoiti and several other peers travelled throughout Pittsburgh gaining a new perspective on the poor of the city all the while helping and serving those in need. Watch and listen Panayioti’s experience as this week’s Everyday Icon.