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.