What’s New at FOCUS

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In this post, read about

Moving forward with “FOCUS” – Where are we going? How will we get there?, GOYA Going for it – Holy Trinity GOYA Hosts FOCUS Valentine’s Day Breakfast, 2015 Scheduled Events, Churches at work: A Sing-ular Moment Benefiting FOCUS Pittsburgh, What’s in a name: kindness, compassion, love, generosity, faith and a FOCUS Christmas, How to talk about FOCUS – Keep it Simple, Food. . .Glorious Food. . .FOCUS’ Emergency Food Pantry Handbook

Moving forward with “FOCUS”

dinner3Where are we going?  How will we get there?

In 2014 FOCUS+Pittsburgh achieved significant milestones in its programs and services, including:

Expanding the Backpack Feeding program to reach 600 students in three different Pittsburgh neighborhoods + Bringing online FOCUS Pittsburgh’s Free Health Center + Taking critical first steps to initiate trauma-informed community development + Continuing to expand efforts to train and find employment for the unemployed + Serving and distributing thousands of meals, clothes, and food pantry items.  All made possible by the support of Orthodox Christians, foundations, universities, and the surrounding community.

On Saturday, November 2, 2014, FOCUS+Pittsburgh’s Advisory Board met to discuss the future of FOCUS+Pittsburgh, review Advisory Board structure and the Center’s operating systems, revisit and refine FOCUS Pittsburgh’s strategic plan, and calibrate measurable goals (metrics) to monitor progress and continuous improvement.  On January 8, 2015, the Board met to continue the dialogue and map activities and goals for its management teams. 

The Board has affirmed and chartered eight strategic management teams, including:  Communications (Education), Finance (Fund-raising), Governance, Orthodox Engagement, Facilities, Workforce Development and Social Enterprise, Trauma-informed Community Development, and Health Center.  Current Advisory Board members, include:  Paul Abernathy, Rocco Adams, MD, James Arthur, Marianne S. Carmack, Galin Griener, Kathleen Hazeem, Mark Opacic, Cathy Pandelidis, Pharm.D., Eric Paljug, Ph.D., and Michael Sider-Rose, Ph.D.  The advisory board is designed to bring cross-cultural and cross-professional skills and knowledge to build capacity and serve FOCUS’ ministry.

GOYA – Going for it

Holy Trinity GOYA Hosts FOCUS Valentine’s Day Breakfast.  .  .

Many warm hearts braved the frigid weather on Sunday, February 15th, 2015, to attend Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and stay afterwards for a breakfast fundraiser. The proceeds of the brunch, sponsored by the McCandless parish’s chapter of the Greek Orthodox Youth Association (GOYA), were donated to FOCUS Pittsburgh. Fr. John Touloumes, the parish priest, said, “We are blessed to have FOCUS Pittsburgh to fulfill the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially on this Sunday of the Last Judgment.”

About 150 parishioners filled half of the banquet hall at Holy Trinity despite the sub-zero temperatures. GOYA advisor Jim Balouris traded his coach’s whistle for a chef’s hat, and supervised the kitchen crew to produce a delicious meal of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, waffles, fruit, juice and coffee.

During their Valentine's Day Brunch to raise funds for FOCUS Pittsburgh, Holy Trinity Goyans celebrate Basketball Tournament Awards
During their Valentine’s Day Brunch to raise funds for FOCUS Pittsburgh, Holy Trinity Goyans celebrate Basketball Tournament Awards

Holy Trinity GOYA President Becca Georgiadis demonstrated her leadership qualities, saying, “Not only is FOCUS a great cause, but, by showing how our youth help others, it sets an example for others to follow. We are grateful for what we have, so we are happy to share our blessings.”  The group’s treasurer, Melina Georgiades, described spending time the previous two weeks at the FOCUS Pittsburgh Center and the profound effect that it had upon her. “I was able to speak to some of the people at the center served by FOCUS Pittsburgh and learned how FOCUS has helped them. It is nice to be able to help out people who are suffering,” said Georgiades.

The Holy Trinity Valentine’s Day Brunch raised $1,300 for the ministries of FOCUS Pittsburgh.   Article submitted by Theophilus

2015 Scheduled Events

March 1 – 31, 2015
FOCUS + Pittsburgh 25/100 Campaign

Saturday, April 4, 2015
Lazarus Saturday Children’s Day (Lunch and Easter Egg Hunt)

Saturday, June 13, 2015
FOCUS Pittsburgh Communications Workshop

Friday, June 26, 2015
SS. Peter and Paul Family Day Celebration

Sunday, August 23, 2015
Orthodox Day at PNC Park (Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants)
Pan-Orthodox Choir sings our National Anthem (Proceeds benefit FOCUS)

Friday, August 28, 2015
St. Moses the Black Celebration

Thursday, November 19, 2015
FOCUS Pittsburgh Annual Benefit Gala

Thursday, December 10, 2105
Volunteer Appreciation Dinner

December 18 and 19, 2015
Christmas at FOCUS

Churches at work

A Sing-ular Moment. . .Benefiting FOCUS Pittsburgh. . .

Choir ConcertOn Sunday, December 14, 2014, Orthodox Choirs from the Greater Pittsburgh area gathered at Holy Cross Church in Mt. Lebanon (Pittsburgh, PA) to make a joyful” noise.  The following choirs (directors) filled the holy space with music celebrating the Nativity:  The Greek Choir of Pittsburgh (Steve Andrews), Carica Milica Choir (Snezana Lazich), Tsar Lazar Male Choir (Marco Trbovich), The Saint Nicholas Choir of Homestead (Andrew Talarovich), St. George Antiochian Cathedral Byzantine Choir of Pittsburgh (Stephen A. Esper), with Bill Jesin, Organist.  In addition to the beautiful hymns and choral works performed by the choirs, the audience participated in singing many carols with the choirs.  The evening concluded with a resounding and triumphant rendition of George Fredric Handel’s, “Hallelujah Chorus” sung by the combined choirs and audience.  Many thanks to the choirs, the host parish Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church and Philoptochos, Mike Orfanopoulos, Snezana Lazich, and Theanne Gagianas.

Pictured clockwise: Kristina Elias, Clinic Administrator; Paul Abernathy, Center Director; Fr. Michael Kallaur, Presbyter, Holy Cross; Elaine Sofis, Holy Cross Philoptochus Preisdent; Nick Chakos, FOCUS NA Director; Larissa Hatch, FOCUS NA Development Officer; Nuns from the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery; Combined Choir members

What’s in a name:   kindness, compassion, love, generosity, faith.  .  .

Kochis 2
Father Michael Kochis, St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ambridge (Beaver County), prepared lunches with his youngest Altar Servers.

The Pittsburgh Clergy Brotherhood’s Bag Lunch Program continues to be one of the cornerstones of FOCUS+Pittsburgh Food Ministry.  Thanks to these churches, organizations and individuals thousands of lunches were served to the homeless and hungry during 2014:  All Saints, Canonsburg – Phyllis DeRienzo + Dormition of Theotokos, Oakmont – St. Barbara Society – Judy Contes + Holy CrossPittsburgh – Rebecca Babb, Cindy Heddaeus, GOYA, Maria Paul, and the Gidas Family +  Holy Trinity, Ambridge – Joanne Janis Cain + Holy Trinity, Pittsburgh –  GOYA, Chris Balouris; St. Lydia’s Women’s Group; Stacy Dickos; Mike and Julie Kritiotis; Penny Balouris Tomalski; Zikos Family; Jeremy Tracik; Tacy McCann + St. George, New Kensington – GOYA, Joseph Shaheen; St. Nicholas Philoptochos, Pittsburgh – Michelle Kotsagrelos + St. Vladimir, Ambridge – Fr. Michael Kochis.

 A FOCUS Christmas. . .

Christmas TiltThere was much anticipation as FOCUS+Pittsburgh prepared for its Annual Christmas Celebration.  Each year Churches, Ambassadors, and Site Volunteers welcome with a warm and loving embrace our Senior Citizens and children.

The joyous activities included rousing Christmas carols sung by all, delicious food and, of course, a visit from St. Nicholas (Santa Claus).  All made possible this year by the following churches:  Holy Dormition Greek Orthodox Church (Oakmont), All Saints Greek Orthodox Church (Canonsburg), Holy Cross and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Churches (Pittsburgh), St. George (Bridgeville) and St George (South Oakland) Antiochian Orthodox Churches, St. John the Baptist Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church (Northside, Pittsburgh), SS. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church and St. Matrona Society (Carnegie).  The Ambassador Team, led by Jim Arthur, once again did an outstanding job of organizing the event.  Truly all brought the love of Christ and His Joy to the world.

How to talk about FOCUS

Paul Abernathy, Pittsburgh Center Director
Paul Abernathy, Pittsburgh Center Director

Keep it simple. . .

This year FOCUS Pittsburgh will launch a Communications Education Program.  The first workshop is designed to equip those who have a passion for FOCUS’ ministry with the skills needed to become storytellers and advocates for FOCUS.  Our message is simple, but powerful.

The following was published in October 2014 on WESA Blog “90.5 Celebrates People who Make a Difference.”  It’s really about you– what you’re doing to make a difference and it’s simple.  The story and photo by Debbi Casini Klein

“What looks like an ordinary thrift shop on Centre Avenue in the Hill District is so much more. It’s called FOCUS, the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve.

It also stands for Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding and Shelter, which are many things the people of this community need desperately.

When Paul Abernathy graduated from the seminary four years ago, he knew where he needed to be and who needed his help: the people living in the Hill District. He moved there, spent countless hours raising money to open FOCUS, which under his tutelage, serves the community in a multitude of ways.

“We have clothing and food for families that need clothing and food and all of it is free. We don’t charge for anything,” Paul said. “We have employment counseling here three days a week. We have a professional development academy that’s an eight-week program that helps prepare people for work. We have a backpack feeding program and feed hundreds of children every weekend, and we give them five meals to get through the weekend. And we have a free health center that gives primary and free behavioral health care for people that don’t have any health insurance.

“The median income is $18,000 a year. Seventy percent are single households, and all of the statistics we can go through, but beyond the statistics, I really believe the story is around the human person … Our hope and our prayer is that the Hill District becomes known for first and foremost as a community that loves one another. This is the goal.”

Food. . .Glorious Food. . .

FOCUS’ Emergency Food Pantry


Hosting a food drive for FOCUS’ pantry is a great way for you or your organization to become involved in FOCUS+Pittsburgh’s ministry to those in need in the Greater Pittsburgh community. We can help you promote your drive and arrange to pick-up donations, if necessary.

If you’re interested in sponsoring a Food Drive, please review our Food Drive publication.  There’s information on organizing, planning and promoting your Food Drive.  Even if you’ve held one before, you might get some new ideas.  We can also provide someone to help plan and/or attend a kick- off event, give a presentation on FOCUS+Pittsburgh highlighting what we do and our urgent needs.

Your church’s FOCUS Ambassador will work with you and support your efforts. Don’t have an Ambassador: FOCUS will send an Ambassador from another Church to work with you, and also help find one for your church.

Click here to view the Handbook


FOCUS Backpack Feeding Program Food Drive

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Give a Child a Chance. . .

Click here to print out Flyer in black and white:  Team up with Sam BWC

Food Drive

Focus Stories

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 FOCUS+Pittsburgh Free Health Center

fphc14Key Milestone Reached. . .

FPFHC reached a key milestone at the end of September.  The 100th patient successfully completed the screening process.  Caring for each patient involves multiple visits, testing, and examinations to ensure comprehensive health care management.  Each patient has close, ongoing contact with a clinician.  That clinician ensures the patient is referred to the appropriate specialists, as needed.

The mission of the Health Center is simply articulated in the following statement:  To promote the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the community and to foster the desire of the youth of the community to pursue a career in the health-related professions.  FPFHC maintains a “Culture of Caring” that recognizes the patient as a whole person, respects their dignity and treats each person with care–an intensive labor of love.. 

Volunteer. . .

There is an acute need for the kind of health care the Center provides across the region.  However, expanding Health Center care depends on recruiting qualified medical professionals to volunteer a few hours each month.  For more information on medical professional volunteer opportunities, click here You will be contacted by Kristina Elias, Clinic Administrator.  You can also call 412-502-5024.

UOC of USA:   High School Mission Trip

Renew my Spirit. . .

Final HMTUkrainian Orthodox Church of the USA High School Mission team visited FOCUS+Pittsburgh in August. The team led by Natalie Kapeluck Nixon, Archdiocesan Youth Director, spent several days working at the center. Paul Abernathy, Center Director, gave the team a first-hand look at Center programs and services and introduced them to the Free Health Care Center. The team formed several work teams: one group organized and inventoried health clinic supplies, another group sanitized and prepared the supply room for clinic operations the next day, and another worked outdoors. The team also organized and refurbished the clothing room, providing more space and thoroughly cleaned the building. Local residents attending the Sixth Hour prayer service and those in need visiting the Center enjoyed lunch provided by the team.  FOCUS Pittsburgh provides the opportunity for prayer and worship seven days a week and is currently supporting several catechumens in the local community.

FOCUS PDA Does it Again. . .

Congratulations to our most recent graduates

GraduatesOn August 13, 2014, the Professional Development Academy honored five more graduates with a special celebration (four of the graduates are pictured with Kristina Elias, Clinic Administrator and Paul Abernathy, Center Director).  The first class graduated on August 3, 2013.  And, in just one year, 41 students have successfully completed this vital program.  The academy gives participants the professional skills needed to get and keep a job and creates employment opportunities.  It also generates funding for FOCUS programs through the creation of small business partners.  Members of the class include: Terry Boyd, Andre Campell, Angelo Pitrell, Donna Lewis, and Terrha Gordon.

Celebration on the Hill. . .

A children’s story of life and love. . .

At the end of June, learning, fun, laughter, fellowship, food, music, and lots and lots of love uplifted spirits and brought together FOCUS families.  Click on the picture below to see the complete picture story of this four-day celebration at FOCUS+Pittsburgh headquarters.  It’s remarkable.  Nick Karafilis, of South Fayette (All Saints Church, Canonsburg, PA), created and planned the event for Hill District children to fulfill his Eagle Scout requirements.  The children sang and danced, interacted with Disney inspired characters, and participated in many learning activities. There was fun and food for all.  The Children’s Museum, National Aviary, Living Treasures Petting Zoo, 99.7 Wish, and Home Depot were among the many companies and organizations that sponsored activities designed to enrich each child and foster their aspirations.  (There is a complete list of sponsors in the presentation.)


Thy Staff Shall Comfort Me. . . 

Kristina Elias, Clinic Administrator

EliasLinking names with faces and letting everyone know “who” does “what” helps define “Fellowship.”  Selected in March for the position of Clinic Administrator, Kristina Elias has worked tirelessly to bring the Center online and manage complexities of Free Health Care Center programs.

Ms. Elias has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a Masters Degree in Community Leadership.  The former Development Associate (Special Events and Social Media Coordinator) for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh brings passion and enthusiasm to the FOCUS Ministry.

The Clinic Administrator oversees day-to-day operations, including, but certainly not limited to:  patient intake, scheduling, recruiting and training volunteers, purchasing, quality of care, maintaining patient records, patient privacy, etc. 


Churches at Work. . .

Fighting Hunger

Holy Trinity (North Hills Pittsburgh, PA) didn’t miss an opportunity to fight hunger.  A food drive held during their annual Greek Food Festival at the end of August was just-in-time to stock empty shelves–an innovative approach that involved  the North Hills community.   The on-going support of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral’s Philoptochos is particularly heartwarming–no task is too big or too small.  Each month during this year, they’re collecting much needed items:  clothing, food, linens, school supplies, etc.  Pictured below are members Denise Dougherty, Paul Abernathy (FOCUS+Pittsburgh’s Director), Michelle Kotsogrelos, Marty Peterson and Toula Peterson.  Also, pictured are the food bins stationed strategically at Holy Trinity’s Food Festival.

churchesatworkEvery other month St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks (celebrating their Centennial year) cooks and serves a FOCUS Wednesday Community Dinner. Their commitment and that of a growing number of churches including, All Saints (Canonsburg), Holy Cross (Mt. Lebanon), Holy Trinity (North Hills), St. George (Bridgeville), St. George (Oakland) and their member organizations are vital to building community by reaching out to the those in need.   FOCUS was particularly blessed when Nuns from the Nativity of Theotokos Monastery (Saxonburg, PA) visited and served dinner in September.  On Thursday evening, October 9, 2014, Holy Trinity’s (Ambridge, PA) FOCUS committee made bagged lunches. The evening was awesome. You can see the joy on the faces of the seventeen friends and kids who worked with the committee. That’s putting the fellowship into FOCUS. Everything for the lunches was donated (again!). Many thanks Holy Trinity.  See Special Feature “Sandwich Love” by Joanne Janis Cain below.

Sandwich LOVE. . .

It was a Sunday in early spring of this year and I was in church. As I rounded the corner from the pews, Alexa was holding her baby daughter and standing in the narthex.

“Joanne, I would like to talk to you about FOCUS.”

Of course I gave her my full attention. Alexa went on to say, “What is FOCUS? What do they do?”

 Having been a past ministry team member of FOCUS Pittsburgh, I knew those answers. And I did pick up the ball after speaking with her and say “Let’s start a FOCUS committee here at Holy Trinity Ambridge.” 

We invited Paul Abernathy to come and speak to us. There were only five or six people at that meeting but it didn’t matter. Paul encouraged us and brought us up to date on FOCUS initiatives and accomplishments.

The decision was made that participating in the Saturday bagged lunch program was a good way for us to get started. Our own Father Emmanuel accessed the list through The Brotherhood and we signed up for two dates- one in September, one in October.

Sandwich Love1We placed announcements in our monthly and weekly bulletins. For the first sandwich date, we approached local businesses and got almost everything donated- the bologna, bread, apples, snack bars. Some kind parishioners gave us monetary or real donations for ziploc and lunch bags, snack bars and bottled waters.

The second time we were to make sandwiches, I knew something had shifted. Parishioners came up to me beforehand and told me they were coming to help. Without asking, many donations came in for lunch meat, cheese, waters, snacks, and fruit. I had an idea and at the start of the new Sunday school year, I asked the heads of our JOY group and Sunday school to have the children decorate the lunch bags for the FOCUS center guests. They did a beautiful job of coloring crosses, words about Jesus, and many other happy symbols onto the bags.

Sandwich Love 2When we gathered last week to assemble 240 sandwiches and 120 bagged lunches, we had seventeen volunteers! We were done in one hour and there was such a wonderful Christian spirit among everyone. We had young to old doing something whether it was opening and setting up the bags, filling them each with mayo packets, or assembling the actual turkey and cheese sandwiches.

On delivery day, my son John and I arrived at Holy Trinity to fill our 1996 Chevy trunk full of those decorated and filled lunch bags. We headed to Pittsburgh and when we arrived, there were FOCUS friends waiting outside for us. They helped us unload the trunk and take everything inside. There, Paul said the Lord’s Prayer and blessed all the lunches.

I know the residents had a good lunch, humbly offered by Holy Trinity Ambridge. John and I got a tour of FOCUS Pittsburgh with Paul (and an update!) but really, we got so much more. The feeling we got inside our heart, that feeling you get when you do something for someone else, something nourishing, something soulful, just can’t be beat. I said Hello! and Bless You! to many of the FOCUS guests and I hope we made their day just a little bit better.

I encourage you to start a FOCUS committee at your church or sign up and make bagged lunches. It’s a great feeling! You can access the FOCUS sandwich list by emailing nenajovonovich@gmail.com.

By Joanne Jamis Cain, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Ambridge, PA — Joanne writes a Grace and Love blog at katherinesdaughter.com

Tell your FOCUS story. . .

On November 20, 2014, FOCUS+Pittsburgh’s annual fundraising event at Holy Trinity will kick-off at 6:00 PM.  Help us tell the FOCUS Story.  Be a part of the occasion.  Let us know how FOCUS has impacted the mission of your church, how it’s changed your ministry or changed your life, how it’s inspired you and/or your group, what it means to you.  Tell us your FOCUS story by clicking on Our/My FOCUS Story below.  Different media will be used to share stories at the event by FOCUS Pittsburgh Communications in Exhibits and presentations.

 Submit you FOCUS Story here.



Tackle Poverty with the Polamalus

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Register Now

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!

100_0271When:  Thursday, November 20, 2014
6:00 PM: VIP Reception
6:00 PM: Cocktail hour (cash bar)
7:00 PM: Dinner

Location: Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
985 Providence Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15237  

When:  November 20th, 2014 6:00 PM   through   9:00 PM

Contact:  Phone: 412-279-1720 Email: info@focusna.org

Event Fee(s):

Touchdown ($10,000):
10 Gala tickets at VIP table
10 VIP Reception tickets
Photo with the Polamalus
1 full-color page advertisement or greeting in event program.

Interception ($5,000):
5 Gala tickets at VIP table
2 VIP Reception tickets
Photo with the Polamalus
 1 full-color page advertisement or greeting in event program       

Safety (1,500):
2 Gala tickets
2 VIP Reception tickets
Photo with the Polamalus
 name printed in event

Individual Dinner Ticket ($100.00)


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Free Health Center Welcomes Patients. . .


FOCUS+Pittsburgh’s Free Health Center is now accepting patients at 2228 Center Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA.  The Center is booked for medical health appointments through August. The patient list grows on a daily basis thus there is a desperate need for primary and mental health care in the neighborhood. In order to reduce the wait for patients, we are in need of volunteer doctors, nurses, and specialty health professionals (to help us complete the follow-up for our patients).  Learn how to support the Center’s development, become involved as a medical professional volunteer, become a donor and the need by clicking on the following links:  Free Health Center Information and The Need.

Amazing. . .

Apollo Ridge Middle School Leo’s Club Does it Again!!!

Apollo Ridge

Pictured above:  Left – Apollo Ridge Middle School Leo’s Club members at Spaghetti Dinner.  Right – Paul Abernathy, FOCUS Director; Joyce Yuvetich, Leo’s Club Advisor; and Kristina Elias, Clinic Administrator.

On Thursday, April 3, 2014 – Apollo Ridge Middle School Leo’s Club (Joyce Yuvetich, Advisor) held their second Spaghetti Dinner to benefit FOCUS + Pittsburgh’s Backpack Feeding Program.  Paul Abernathy, Director; Kristina Elias, Clinic Administrator; Sherelle Taliafero, and staff volunteers Daryl Williams and Marianne Carmack dropped buy to support their efforts.  On behalf of her students, Mrs. Yuvetich personally delivered  a check for $2,300.00, more than doubling last year’s contribution of $1,050.00 (Total:  $3,350.00).  An outstanding effort from a group of very special young people! The spaghetti was good, too. (Visit our April/May 2013 Post to read more about the Leo’s Club).

Food is always on our mind. . .

During the summer months its tough to keep our Emergency Food Bank stocked to meet the growing needs of the community.  It’s also a perfect time for your organization to sponsor a Wednesday Night Community Dinner.  Food continues to be a FOCUS + Pittsburgh priority.  So, please help us!

Summer.Fall Food

Looking Forward to your visit. . .

Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA Youth Ministry
High School Mission Trip

Mission Trip

ANNUAL REPORTAll things are possible . . .

2013 Annual Report

FOCUS North America’s 2013 Annual Report is now available.  Take a few minutes to read the report and think about how you would like to help grow and support the Fellowship.  Many share Brian Gerich’s, our Chairman, sentiments who stated in the report:  “Reflecting on 2013, I am humbled by the growth of this ministry. Through God’s grace, we had a remarkable year. We more than tripled our revenue over 2012, allowing us to reach more men, women and children than ever before. As I traveled across the country visiting FOCUS Centers, one thing was plainly clear: our work is not “ours”. It is the work of communities—of the people we serve and passionate, committed volunteers and donors who make this ministry possible.”


2013 FOCUS + Pittsburgh

We couldn’t do it without you (Click on the picture to enlarge.). . .


advAdvisory Board Elects New Chair. . .

Michael Sider-Rose, Ph.D. has been elected Chair of FOCUS + Pittsburgh’s Advisory Board for 2014-2015 He is a member of the Faculty and Director of Programs for CORO Pittsburgh.

Michael grew up in Philadelphia, where he had visions of becoming the next Mike Schmidt even though his little-league slugging percentage never reached triple digits. After college, he settled in Pittsburgh for a Ph.D. program in History. Eight years later Michael emerged from the library with a completed dissertation on religion and politics in post-WWII America.  Keen to link the academy and the community, he then took a position with Chicago Semester, an off-campus, experiential learning program.  He worked there from 2000-2006 and enjoyed it so much that he decided to create a similar venture in Pittsburgh as part of a The Pittsburgh Project.  Michael was Director of Pittsburgh Semester from 2007 through 2008.  In January of 2009, he joined Coro Pittsburgh, where he now serves as Director of Programs.  He designs curricula, develops new programs, trains and facilitates in programs, oversees internal efforts to develop the training capacity of staff, and spearheads customized projects.  In his spare time, Michael enjoys moving (running, hiking), not moving (reading, seeing plays), and sampling food from around the globe (the perfect balance of moving and not moving).  Michael has the great privilege of being married to Randi and father to Ana, Molli, and Eliza.

Words That Really Count. . .

MrKFrom a patient:

What has the Focus free healthcare clinic meant to me?  In a word—everything. Having health coverage means that I’m not caught in between the scary bridge of not being able to obtain my medication for my asthma and being able to cross that bridge by knowing that there are organizations like FOCUS that have my back. At my current age it’s imperative that I have health coverage because you can never know when some nagging ailment or hereditary-related malady will show its face—that’s scary.  FOCUS has given me that safety net  that I need.  Thank God for FOCUS.  Amen!! Mr. Kim Platt


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Picture1Clinic Dedication. . .

On Sunday, January 15, 2014, His Grace, Bishop Thomas, presided at a blessing service for FOCUS Pittsburgh’s free health care clinic offering medical assistance and behavioral support to those who have no health care options.  The clinic will begin patient care in early May at its FOCUS Pittsburgh Centre Avenue location.  In his remarks, Bishop Thomas emphasized the importance of FOCUS’ urban ministry and the significance of this milestone to Orthodox ministry in Western Pennsylvania.  The opening of the clinic is the culmination of a vision shared by a dedicated FOCUS Medical team who have worked for the past three years on the project.  His Grace also prayed for Carmen Williams and Katherine Miller, two Catechumens, who will be received into the Orthodox Church.  Carmen Williams and Katherine Miller will be Chrismated on Lazarus Saturday, April 12, 2014, at St. George’s Church, Bridgeville, Pennsylvania . Volunteers and graduates of the Professional Development Academy, Carmen and Katherine are dedicated to FOCUS and it’s mission and ministry in Pittsburgh.  Pictured below are:  Carmen Williams (L) and Tracy Abernathy and Katherine “Angel” Miller (R).  Picture4

Churches and Community at Work. . .

Holy Cross Philoptochos (Mt. Lebanon) is conducting a Lenten FOCUS Food Drive: March 9, 16, 25, 30 and April 6. This is a total parish effort. In the appeal, Philoptochos President, Elaine Sofis, highlighted the impact of the recent cuts in food stamps that increased the need for additional food sources to fight food insecurity.  Mike Kriotitis, FOCUS Ambassador at Holy Trinity GOC reported that Holy Trinity and St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (both located in Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs) combined their efforts in an Outreach Project for FOCUS Pittsburgh’s bag lunch program (sponsored by the Clergy Brotherhood) on January 4, 2014.

Youth Groups from Holy Trinity GOC and St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral OCA join forces to make Bag Lunches for FOCUS Pittsburgh
Youth Groups from Holy Trinity GOC and St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral OCA join forces to make Bag Lunches for FOCUS Pittsburgh, a project sponsored by the Pittsburgh Clergy Brotherhood

 A Faithful Encounter. . .Picture3

A few years ago, I saw an announcement for a fundraiser at the Holy Cross church in Mt. Lebanon. It was for a new Orthodox mission center that was to be in the poorest part of Pittsburgh. The name of the organization was FOCUS.  I was intrigued enough to call and make a reservation for the fundraising dinner. My priest, Father Emmanuel and his wife Anna, were also attending. I sat with Fr. Emmanuel and his wife that evening and watched as Theodora and Troy Polamalu showed their dedication to the new FOCUS center. Sometime that evening, Father Emmanuel told me I was to be the FOCUS representative for our church! I laughed and said “Sure!”. Later that year, I planned a furniture drive at my church, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox church in Ambridge. When the day of the drive arrived, I had a list for Paul and his helpers of where to go and what time people were expecting them. I was worried they would not garner enough donations to make the trip to Ambridge worth their time. Little did I know but our parishioners were to be very generous that day. When the truck returned it was full To The Brim with furniture and other donations. I was stunned but overjoyed. When I mentioned my gratitude to Paul he said of his assistants- “And they are witness to it.”

I asked Paul if I could assist FOCUS Pittsburgh in its early growth stages, during which time a faithful committee and I hosted a fundraiser at Bella Sera. It was a wonderful experience to see the great turnout and such support for FOCUS Pittsburgh. I love everything that FOCUS is and stands for but I have to confess what I love most about FOCUS is PAUL. I am sure my sentiments are echoed by others as well, but I cannot describe to you how I feel when I am in his midst. He is uplifting, devoted, God and Christ centered and never wavering. His love for others is never tiring- he seems to have endless energy when it comes to FOCUS. May God grant all the people associated with the FOCUS Pittsburgh center HIS great love and abundance. And to Paul, I wish him continued boundless energies for his devotion of making life better for many deserving people. By Joanne Jamis Cain

25/100 Campaign. . .

55555Thanks to your participation and support, Tackle Poverty with the Polamalus, held on Thursday, November 21, 2013, was an overwhelming success.  It demonstrated your commitment to FOCUS+Pittsburgh’s vital work.  It also underscored how the Orthodox Community, working together, makes a real difference in ending poverty in Allegheny County and the Western Pennsylvania region.

What your donations accomplish!

Your donations provide:  training for the unemployed, job search assistance and support, food through the backpack program for over 300 children each week, clothing, transportation, documents, and emergency food supplies for at risk families, seniors, and the homeless.  They also provide the infrastructure that sustains drug and alcohol abuse programs, medical and behavioral health initiatives, orthodox discussion groups/services, and fellowship.

How you can help!

At the event, many of you expressed a desire to make a monthly contribution to FOCUS through the 25/100 Campaign – 100 people donating $25.00/month.  By becoming a FOCUS’ 25/100 Contributor, you will receive a FOCUS Bumper Sticker, an invitation to a special bi-annual prayer breakfast/luncheon and briefing for 25/100 contributors, a special blessing and certificate, and our grateful appreciation for your generosity.   You can become a 25/100 Contributor by calling Larissa Hatch at 412-279-1720 or 1-866-267-3803.  We look forward to hearing from you as we approach the Feast of Feasts.


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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.

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Touchdown. . .

100_0220Tackling Poverty with the Polamalus

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.”

100_0271The 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.
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Poverty in Pittsburgh. . . .Poverty in Pittsburgh

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. . .

unnamedChurches 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!!!!!

100_0291During 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.

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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!