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)