Back Pack Project: Sharing the Love. . .
The Back Pack Project is a wonderful love story, one that warms the heart. Well, you could say that about every FOCUS story! And, you are a part of the story: your prayers, your generosity, your work as a volunteer, your faith, and your belief that we can do anything in Christ! Take a few seconds to view this short video about the project!
Let’s Talk Turkey. . .
Tackle Poverty Event donors and All Saints Church (Canonsburg, PA) teamed up with FOCUS+Pittsburgh to make Thanksgiving a memorable feast for 160 Families. Site Volunteers assembled grocery bags filled with all the fixin’s, organized the distribution process and shared the groceries and turkeys on a very cold and windy day, hearts warmed with the opportunity to help others, the generosity of donors, and the blessings received from the families.
Touchdown. . .
On Thursday, November 21, 2013, over 400 people attended the Tackle Poverty with the Polamalus at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. His Eminence, Metropolitan Savas, graciously presided over this true “fellowship” of Orthodox Christians from all jurisdictions, foundation and corporate donors, FOCUS+Pittsburgh Site Volunteers, Advisory Board members, Ambassadors, and friends. By all accounts, this event exceeded everyone’s “wildest” expectations. “We’re all responsible for each other and share the burdens of each other,” said His Eminence as he watched the guests arrive. “The cry for help is unavoidable. You can’t help but be aware of the need. It requires immediate and constant attention.”
The evening began with a VIP Reception, hosted by the Polamalus, followed by a buffet dinner. The program, enthusiastically emceed by Sally Wiggins (WTAE TV), included prayer by Fr. Chris Bender, remarks by Nicholas Chakos, Executive Director, FOCUS North America; Paul Abernathy, FOCUS+Pittsburgh, Director; Theodora Polamalu, Advisory Board, FOCUS North America; and His Eminence, Metropolitan Savas. Larry Richert (KDKA AM) wowed the guests as he conducted the live auction of Steeler memorabilia. Many, many thanks to the volunteers who made this event a success, as well as to our major corporate sponsor Star-Kist. Way to go Pittsburgh. For more information on the event and pictures click here.Pictured below are Kevin Jenkins (Director of Community Initiatives and Senior Program Officer) and Paul Abernathy, FOCUS+Pittsburgh Director; site volunteers and guests; Nick Chakos, FOCUS NA Executive Director and Mark Opacic, FOCUS+Pittsburgh Advisory Board Member.
What you and FOCUS are doing about it! Screened at Tackle Poverty with the Polamalus on November 21, 2013, this slide show is a picture story about the critical need for FOCUS’ Ministry at its Pittsburgh Center and what the Greater Pittsburgh Orthodox community is doing about it. It really is about the “U” in FOCUS. Click on the picture to the left. It takes a minute or to load. It will run on its own or you can click on the arrows at the bottom of the screen to advance it forward at your own pace.
More News. . .
Churches at Work! St. George Orthodox Church (Bridgeville, PA) Sunday School children and teachers started a program called “FOCUS on Food.” Canned goods are collected every month for FOCUS’ Emergency Food Bank. During the month of November, the children collected 365 cans of food. Church School teachers include: Shadia DelVitto, Tracey Abernathy, Rachel Moses, and Chris Antypas. What a blessing!!!!!
During the months of November and December, Holy Trinity (North Hills) GOYANs held another food drive for FOCUS. Keeping up with these enthusiastic young people isn’t easy, but the rest of us are trying! St. Mary’s UO Church (McKees Rocks, PA) concluded its November Food Drive for FOCUS with a special Coffee Hour on December 1, 2013. A mini-raffle of several items raised more money which was used to purchase additional food. It was wonderful fun! Meanwhile, across the river, on California Avenue St. John the Baptist, ACROD (Pittsburgh, PA) wound up their December FOCUS Food Drive. Finally, St. Nicholas Philotochos added to their FOCUS Food Drive efforts, by collecting one food item from everyone who attended The Byzantine Choir’s concert honoring His Eminence, Metropolitan Maximos.
Families at Work! The Family, pictured at right, from Holy Trinity Church (North Hills), decided to celebrate their father’s birthday by making sandwiches for the Clergy Bag Lunch Program. As a family, they purchased food, assembled bags, and delivered them to FOCUS on Saturday, November 23, 2013. This project not only helps the homeless and hungry, but is a very good example of how parents can teach children stewardship–looking after what God has put in our care.
Community Partners at Work! Pictured below: Duquesne University Pharmacy Students help remodel the second floor of FOCUS soon to house the medical and behavioral free care clinic Please, a round of applause.
Thank you. . .
A challenging year has passed. Embracing and embraced by Christ, His Church, volunteers, friends and the community, we prayed, struggled, learned, grew, persisted, prevailed, and continued to build this ministry. We could not have done it without you! We’re humbled by your love and commitment. We look forward to working with you in 2014. Keep us in prayer!
Tackle Poverty with the Polamalus. . .
Join FOCUS Advisory Board member Theodora Polamalu and her husband Troy at an exclusive event to Tackle Poverty as we help working poor families and the homeless here in Pittsburgh! November 21, 2013, at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 419 S. Dithridge St., Pittsburgh PA 15213. Doors open at 7:00 PM • VIP Reception at 6:00 PM. Food, delicious desserts and a cash bar. Tickets are sold on a first-come-first-served basis. $75 per ticket, VIP Reception (includes 1 ticket to main event) $1,000.00; 2 tickets for VIP Reception (includes 2 tickets to main event) $1,500.00. Click here to purchase tickets online: Tackle Poverty or call 412-279-1720.
Site volunteers Creola Williams and Lisa Coleman are passionate about FOCUS. Miss Creola, a recent graduate of the Professional Development Academy, now works for the Pittsburgh Penguins. When asked about FOCUS, Miss Creola said, “My experiences and training at FOCUS have made me a much stronger and confident woman. If it wasn’t for FOCUS and the job assistance program, I wouldn’t have had a chance to work for the Penguins–it’s a great opportunity.” Both volunteers spend many hours assembling BackPacks, distributing clothing, food, and love, as well as working on many other projects. To see what Lisa has to say read “Quotable” in the Sidebar.
Food for Thought. . .
Churches at Work: Fighting Hunger 4 Ways!
Fall Food Drives – Many thanks to the following churches who are conducting or have conducted a Fall Food Drive this year. September and October – St. Nicholas Philoptochos; on-going monthly food purchase – Dormition of the Theotokos (Oakmont, PA); November - St. Mary’s UOC (McKees Rocks, PA), Holy Trinity GOYA; December - St. John the Baptist ACROD (Pittsburgh, PA).
Wednesday Community Dinner – It hasn’t been easy! But, through dedication and commitment, Holy Cross, Holy Trinity, St. George (Bridgeville), St. George (Oakland), St. Nicholas (Oakland), St. Nicholas OCA (McKees Rocks)All Saints (Canonsburg), the Jokola Family and others have sustained a joyful community outreach–FOCUS+Pittsburgh’s Wednesday Community Dinner. Especially heartwarming was the recent visit and dinner prepared by Holy Cross’ Greek Orthodox Youth Association (GOYA). In Pittsburgh, “we’re raising them right.” Bag Lunch Program - There’s nothing like a good neighbor. Even though St. Vladimir’s UOC (Ambridge) is in the next county (Beaver), church members continue to support the Clergy Brotherhood Bag Lunch Program and other FOCUS programs. FOCUS is so glad you’re there. If you’d like to help sponsor and assemble Brown Bag Lunches, ask your pastor how your church can participate and support this vital ministry.
Help us recruit community sponsors (parishes, individuals, businesses and others). Pictured at right Paul Abernathy and Nicole Jokola discuss serving a Community Dinner. For more information or to schedule a dinner provided by your organization, please email Nicole Jokola: email@example.com
FOCUS + Pittsburgh recently received a $72,000.00 Grant for 2013-2014 from McAuley Ministries to sustain and expand BackPack Programs for “food insecure” children in the Pittsburgh City Schools. McAuley Ministries is named in honor of Catherine McAuley who founded the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland in 1831. The ministry serves as a catalyst for change, committing resources and working collaboratively to promote healthy, safe, and vibrant communities. Serving Pittsburgh Neighborhoods, the foundation continues the legacy of the Sisters of Mercy by focusing grant-making on the Pittsburgh neighborhoods traditionally served by the Sisters—the Hill District, Uptown, and West Oakland—and the sponsored ministries of the Sisters in southwestern Pennsylvania. In 2012, FOCUS+Pittsburgh received a grant of $11,700 to expand the weekend backpack food program to students at Pittsburgh Miller PreK-5 African-Centered Academy and enhance the existing food program at Pittsburgh Weil PreK-5. By the end of the school year, the program reached almost 200 nutritionally at-risk children.
Project Lace-up. . .
On September 7, 2013, FOCUS Volunteers (in the Blue T-shirts) gathered at a community-wide event at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Wylie Avenue. Over 500 pairs of shoes and boxes and boxes of school supplies were distributed to community children. Throughout the United States, FOCUS North America’s back-to-school initiatives brought love and hope, providing new shoes, backpacks, and school supplies to 193,000 children from homeless and working poor families in 28 cities. Way to go FOCUS!
Put a Face on FOCUS. . .
Do you want to help FOCUS? Become an Ambassador! Ambassadors serve a unique role, providing an essential communication link between your church or organization. They ensure that the pastor and congregation are informed about how your church can support programs, services, events, grants and other individual and corporate volunteer opportunities. Meetings are held regularly. Can’t attend a meeting. You can dial in by phone and participate. If you enjoy working with a team and getting to know others from the many Orthodox churches in Western Pennsylvania, please consider becoming one of the faces of FOCUS. To learn how to become an Ambassador, please contact Jim Arthur: firstname.lastname@example.org
FOCUS+Pittsburgh Health Center will soon be a reality. For the past two years, under the guidance of Drs. Rocco Adams and John Tumeh, dedicated physicians, health care workers, and other professionals have been working to create a center offering free medical and behavioral health care to those who have no health insurance and do not otherwise qualify for medical assistance. Funding (FOCUS has received a $75,000.00 from UPMC and a $75,000 from The Pittsburgh Foundation) and accreditation are in place for the first year of operation. Final preparations include completing renovations at FOCUS+Pittsburgh’s offices and hiring a part-time Clinic Administrator and Administrative Support Leader. There are over 60,000 residents in Allegheny County (140,000 including surrounding counties) who qualify for these medical services. Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center is the only other such clinic in Allegheny County and sees approximately 7,000 qualifying patients. The remainder have no alternative for medical care, continuing to fall through the cracks.
Acknowledgments: Katrina Yannoulis-Varotsis, Photographs; Orthodox Detroit Outreach, Bible Verse Graphic; McAuley Ministries, Artwork. Underwriter 25/100 Campaign: Printscape
This FOCUS heart graphic is one of many thank you notes Backpack Project children sent to FOCUS at the end of the school year. During 2013-2014, FOCUS will give Backpacks to 300 school children every week in Hill District and Southside Public Schools. Your Wal-Mart Grant votes made this year’s program possible. Many, many thanks from FOCUS and the children it serves.
In FOCUS’ recent campaign, 26 bumper stickers ($100.00/each) were purchased—a very successful outcome. Purchasers included: Dr. Rocco Adams, Fr. Christopher Bender, Dr. Filitsa Bender, Katerina Yannoulis and Dimitri Varotsis, Eric Paljug, Lia Koumbaridou, Nicole Jokola, Michael Sider-Rose, Mark Opacic, Durwood Hill, Kathleen Hazeem, Andrew and Alexis Cross, Darlene Esper, Jim Arthur, Carol and Peter Tsudis (Beechwood Properties, LLC), Tula Velisaris, Denny, Mira and Nada Zdrale, Denny Z. Equipment Sales & Inspection Services, Kari Sera, James and Dae Machin, Georgia Katsasanas, and Linda Barrett Starkey.
On June 26, 2013, FOCUS + Pittsburgh graduated its second Professional Development Academy class. The eight week program teaches non-technical job skills necessary to obtain employment and achieve success on the job. FOCUS Pittsburgh’s Assistant Director, Donna Butler, attended this program. She related how happy she was to be a part of the training that gives insight into the corporate world and teaches participants how to conduct themselves professionally. Those completing the program included: Donna Butler, James Cook, Jolanda George, Tracy Lewis Horton, Devaron Hunter, Annette Johnson, Karen Montgomery, Gregory Thomas, DeShawn Toney, Ebony Ines Webb. FOCUS extended a special thank you to Barnes & Noble Bookstore at Duquesne University, Fifth Third Bank, Mr. Doug Khorey (Professional Development Academy Instructor), The Office of Service Learning at Duquesne University, and St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral.
Churches at Work
Holy Cross (Mt. Lebanon) Vacation Church School – Vacation Church School is a very special time for many Orthodox Children across Western Pennsylvania. Holy Cross Vacation Church School made this summer extra special for FOCUS by collecting much needed baby care products and making a monetary donation of $520.00. Way to go!!!!! Our young people are an extraordinary and integral part of our FOCUS Ministry. Children shall lead us! A big thank you from FOCUS! Dormition of the Theotokos Church (Oakmont, PA) is very committed to FOCUS’ Emergency Food bank, a core part of our FOOD Ministry. So much so that Dormition automatically provides a generous monthly stipend to help keep the shelves stocked (no easy task for FOCUS). This is truly a gift from the heart!
Lazarus Saturday – Family Day
On Saturday, April 27, 2013, a FOCUS Family Easter Egg Hunt was held from 12:30 PM – 4:00 PM. Guests enjoyed a delicious lunch of macaroni and cheese, fish sticks, and French fries provided by the Jokola Family and dozens of cookies and cakes baked by Marianne Carmack. FOCUS was blessed by the attendance of His Grace Bishop Thomas of the Antiochian Archdiocese who gave a brief homily,
played ball with the children and distributed exquisite chocolate candy Easter Eggs generously contributed by the Sarris Family. Other donors included Katerina Yannoulis-Varotsis and Jim Arthur. Site volunteers who helped make this day a success, included: Ebony Webb, Frank Allen, George Frye, Walter Hiells and John Miller, among others.
FOCUS + Pittsburgh Community Day, held on Saturday, June 29, 2013 from 1:30 PM – 6:00 PM, was an outstanding success. Site Volunteers, coordinated by Donna Butler, organized and executed the event which included: picnic foods and desserts, children and adult games and crafts, petting zoo, pony rides, our own DJ Frank Allen, Children’s Bouncy, Cotton Candy, Sno Cones, Art Exhibit, etc. Sponsors of the event included FOCUS Pittsburgh, Donna Butler, Marianne S. Carmack, Katerina Yannoulis-Varotsis, and the City of Pittsburgh.
It’s so easy. . . .to make a difference
During August/September FOCUS + Pittsburgh is conducting an intense appeal for 100 individuals to come forward and donate $25.00/month in support of the ministry. So many FOCUS clients are experiencing positive life-changing moments as the ministry continues to fight poverty in Pittsburgh. Dena Williams, a recent graduate of FOCUS’ Professional Development Academy had this to say: “FOCUS has helped me so much with the Professional Development classes and the women’s group. People care about my problems and those of others–violence, rape and abuse. Knowing people care about me and keeping me busy through my volunteer work there has made a huge difference in my life.” (Just click on the photo to enlarge. Then, use the back key to return to the Newsletter.) Click here to DONATE NOW.
Bag Lunch Program
A Ministry of the Pittsburgh Clergy Brotherhood
Holy Trinity, McCandless; Holy Cross, Pittsburgh (Mt. Lebanon); St. Nicholas Philoptochos, Pittsburgh (Oakland); St. Sava, McKeesport; All Saints, Canonsburg; Dormition of the Theotokos, Oakmont; and St. George, New Kensington packed hundreds of luncheons for the homeless during January, February and March. For over 20 years, this Orthodox Christian ministry has aided the homeless in Pittsburgh. The lunches which include: two sandwiches, fruit, snack and drink are now delivered to FOCUS in the Hill District on Saturday at 12:00 Noon and are distributed to the homeless and needy. If you or your church group would like to sign up to provide 120 bag lunches through FOCUS, there are several open Saturdays for the remainder of the year. Contact your pastor and learn how you can participate in The Orthodox Clergy Brotherhood’s Bag Lunch Program. They’ll help you schedule a date and provide you with instructions on purchasing what you need and assembling the lunches.
Churches at Work
During the month of May, Holy Trinity Church sponsored a food drive for FOCUS Pittsburgh Emergency Food Pantry. The church is participating in this ministry in a significant way by remembering the less fortunate, who have basic nutritional and personal care needs every day. Holy Trinity provided to their members specially-marked bags and marked bins around the church to collect food offerings, helping to replenish the shelves of the emergency food pantry, so no one is turned away empty-handed. FOCUS Ambassador, Mike Kritiotis coordinated the food drive.
St. Nicholas Church Philoptochos (Friends of the Poor) Society collected linens, (fitted and flat sheets, pillowcases, and blankets) in February and March. During April and May they collected (dress and athletic for men, women and children). Other new and slightly used items will be collected in two month increments during the next few months
On April 3, 2013, at 1:00 PM, FOCUS + Pittsburgh held Commencement Exercises for its first Professional Development and Training Academy class. Congratulations to Carmen Williams, Chez R. Ferguson, Frank Allen, and Dena Freeman. Gradulates are pictured with l. to r. Eugene G. Khorey, retired Pittsburgh Public School Administrator; Doug Khorey, Professional Development Academy Instructor; Dr. Lena DeSettio, Duquesne University; and Paul Abernathy, Director, FOCUS Pittsburgh.
Middle School Students Raise $1,050.00 for FOCUS.
On Thursday, May 2, 2013, the Apollo Ridge Middle School Leo Club (A Lions Club International sponsored program), held a Spaghetti Dinner to raise funds for FOCUS Pittsburgh. They raised $1,050.00. What an impressive effort. The club voted to adopt FOCUS Pittsburgh as one of their charities this past January. There are over 2,674 Alpha Leo clubs in the United States. Youth, ages 12 to 18 years old focus on individual and social development, leadership skills and community service. These Middle school students also raise funds for Children’s Hospital during their “Wear a Hat for Cancer” campaign and have recently starting an on-going eyeglass collection project. FOCUS Pittsburgh’s communications group and FOCUS North America staff members worked with Joyce Yucetich, Club Advisor, providing brochures, a recently completed FOCUS informational video and a promotional placemat for the dinner. Mrs. Yucetich is Learning Support Teacher at Apollo-Ridge Middle School and attends St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox church in Monroeville, Pennsylvania.
“I am so happy for Focus Pittsburgh for winning one of the 20,000 grants from Walmart to help fight hunger. Focus is a wonderful organization with a lot of things to offer those in need and with a wonderful compassionate educated staff who are willing to offer assistance if asked. I enjoy being around the positive atmosphere when I stop by to visit whether it is to help carry items to the truck or to drop an item or two off to give to someone who needs it worse than me. Once again Congratulations to Paul Abernathy and the rest of the staff for their hard work and dedication. You really deserved this. — feeling excited at Carnegie Library of McKeesport.” Allison K. Victory (Posted on FOCUS Pittsburgh’s Facebook Page)
FOCUS Pittsburgh Wins $20,000 Grant as Part of Walmart’s Fighting Hunger Together Initiative — One of 100 organizations selected to receive part of $3 million in grants to fight hunger this spring
Pittsburgh, PA, May 10, 2013 – FOCUS North America’s (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve) Pittsburgh Center has been selected as one of 60 winning hunger relief agencies to receive a $20,000 grant from Walmart’s Fighting Hunger Together initiative. The grant will help fund its BackPack Feeding Program for underserved school children in Pittsburgh. During April consumers voted for more than 300 Feeding America Food Banks and their Partner Agencies by visiting www.walmart.com/hunger. As a result of the votes cast, 100 Food Banks and Partner Agencies will receive a total of $3 million in grants — 40 Feeding America member food banks will receive $1.8 million in grants ($45,000 each) and 60 of their partner agencies will receive $1.2 million in grants ($20,000 each).
FOCUS Pittsburgh is one of 61,000 Feeding America partner agencies located throughout the United States. The Feeding America network of food banks and their partner food assistance agencies, such as food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters and after-school programs, feed 37 million people annually, including nearly 14 million children. 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— offering job training and placement, housing, and feeding programs, as well as other human services to the homeless and working poor across America.
Paul Abernathy, Director of the Center stated that FOCUS Pittsburgh’s BackPack Program currently serves children in Hill District Community Schools. The mission of the BackPack Feeding Program is to meet the needs of hungry children by providing them with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to take home on weekends and school vacations when other resources are not available. Currently, FOCUS Pittsburgh’s Backpack Feeding Program for academic year 2012-2013 serves 172 students from A. Leo Weil Elementary School and Miller African Centered Academy. The Partner Agency Grant will allow the program to serve an additional 150 children.
Mr. Abernathy expressed his deep appreciation to the WalMart Foundation and Fighting Hunger Together for providing this opportunity and to The Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank for selecting FOCUS as one of five of its partner agencies eligible to apply for the grant and for its support throughout the campaign. Mr. Abernathy also thanked the Hill District Community, FOCUS staff and office volunteers, the over 78 Orthodox Churches in the Western Pennsylvania area that actively support and are deeply involved in FOCUS’ ministry and Walmart customers throughout the country who cast their votes to support not only FOCUS, but the many Food Banks and Partner Agencies who fight hunger each day.
Julie Gehrki, senior director of the Walmart Foundation said, “We want to thank the local organizations, volunteers and customers who participated in this campaign and work to support their communities year round. Through their efforts, we can bring attention to the need local communities experience during the spring months and help fill the gap by providing ways for customers to generate millions of meals and volunteer.”
The Fighting Hunger Together initiative is part of Walmart’s and the Walmart Foundation’s $2 billion commitment through 2015 to fight hunger. To learn more about the program and Walmart’s commitment, visit www.walmart.com/hunger.