The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop Focus: HOPE, a non-profit organization, from supporting Detroit residents.
Early Childhood Specialist for Focus: HOPE Juan Ruiz said, “We were really comprehensive in our COVID protocols, we worked closely with the state, the county and the city before we opened up anything.”
Impact on volunteers
With COVID cases increasing, the stay-at-home order and people leaving jobs, Focus: HOPE was worried about a decrease in its volunteers.
“We were concerned that we would lose our volunteers,” said Kubik. “We lost a lot of our corporate groups because their businesses worked from home, but we gained many individuals who were sent home from work, had time to get away for a few hours and came and helped us out, so we never really missed a beat with the volunteers.”
Impact on seniors
With the stay at home order in place, it urged families to not leave the house unless it was to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, engage in outdoor activities or go to the hospitals. With these rules in place, many seniors didn’t want to leave the house, which caused Focus: HOPE to think of a solution for getting the food boxes to the seniors.
“We would get calls from seniors who were afraid to leave the house because of the stay-at-home order,” said Kubik. “Our next solution was to drop the boxes of food off at their front porches.”
During the pandemic, curbside pick-ups became the next best thing to prevent too many people in one room at the same time.
Kubik said “You pull up in your cars, show us your ID then we put the food in your cars.”
History of Focus: HOPE
Non-profit organization Focus: HOPE provides an early learning and youth development program, workforce development and job training program and food for seniors program for Detroit residents.
Focus: HOPE was established in 1968 in Detroit, Michigan by founders Father William T. Cunningham and Eleanor M. Josaitis, followed by the historic 1967 Detroit Riot, also known as the Detroit Rebellion, to unite the community and bring peace.
Learn more about the Detroit Rebellion here.
Father Cunningham and Eleanor Josaitis realized many of the people in the city of Detroit weren’t working, which made them want to help and support the community in any way possible.
“Father Cunningham asked the people what do y’all need and want,” said Ruiz. “Father Cunningham was adamant.”
Food for seniors program
Food for seniors program is a program in the organization that ensures every senior citizen receives monthly food packages that contain food such as rice, beans, cereal, milk, juices, cheese and canned fruits and vegetables.
The food for seniors program became a seniors only program in 2014, after starting out as a mom and kids program in 1971. This program was similar to WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
Director of the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Frank Kubik said, “We are here to make sure people are receiving food, that’s the main thing we are here for.”
There is no cost that goes into this program, you just have to meet the eligibility requirements.
To be eligible for the food for seniors program you must provide a number of people in the household, you must be 60 years old or above and reside in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb or Washtenaw counties.
“Seniors shouldn’t have to worry about whether the funding is there for the program, we’ll fight that battle,” Kubik said. “We work on both ends to get the funding, but also make sure our seniors gets their boxes,”
Focus: HOPE’s goal for the food for seniors program is to get many seniors in the program and not to be afraid to ask for help.
“A lot of seniors don’t want to ask for help, they feel maybe someone else needs the support more than they do,” Kubik said. “We try our best to let the seniors know this is something that we want to do for you.”
While Focus: HOPE’s food for seniors program focuses on supporting senior citizens to meet their basic needs, they get a lot of support and help from the community with the help of volunteers.
With the help of the manager of volunteers and community outreach, Khristi Miller, the organization is supported by plenty of volunteers to help out with the different programs within Focus: HOPE. Miller also organizes events to offer information to people about what Focus: HOPE does.
Volunteers are individual who are not on the payroll, Miller said. A volunteer can be an intern, someone from a federal program, or any supportive services.”
People who wish to volunteer for packing food boxes for seniors must sign up, show up and put food items into the boxes to be distributed to the seniors.
Anyone hoping to volunteer with Focus: HOPE can volunteer here.
Workforce Development Program
Since 1981, the Workforce Development and Education division has focused on supporting and lending a helping hand to individuals, while preparing them for successful careers.
Director of Workforce Development and Education, Jewel Chapman said, “We focus on finding, assessing, training, upscaling, credentialing, placing and then retaining individuals into the employment we connect them with.”
Besides individuals who just want support in the workforce industry, the workforce development program focuses on a specific population.
Chapman said, “We focus on people who are labeled as under prepared whether that’s academically, socially, financially or economically.”
Focus: HOPE’s workforce development program gives people the opportunity to reach their career goal and network with others who are in that career.
“I love that we’re positioned to connect people to employment, especially those who are occupants of the city of Detroit,” Chapman said. “More importantly I like that we are a trusted voice in the community.”
Allowing individuals to go into the workforce program gives them ideas and support towards their next step and the hope to overcome many things in the community.
“Honestly, I want us to go away,” Chapman said. “I want us to go away because going away means we’ve done our job, we have a mission to overcome poverty, racism and injustice and evidence of that would mean there is no need for Focus: HOPE.”
Early Learning and Youth Development Program
Focus: HOPE’s Early Learning Program is a comprehensive program with a family engagement approach that started in 1987. This program helps educate over 200 children per year to prepare their children for kindergarten and a successful school year.
“We create a goal with the families as well as work with kids to reach school readiness goals,” Director of Early Learning Waymond Hayes said. “We partner with each parent to ensure that the kids are successfully transitioning from Kindergarten to eighth grade into high school.”
Being one of the first students to attend a Head Start program on the southeast side of Detroit, Hayes wants to ensure every kid is going to school.
“Father Cunningham’s thought process for Early Learning was to support families while they were going through the workforce program,” Hayes said. “While parents were going through the workforce program, they needed a place for their children to go.”
“Head Start was designed to not only work with kids but to support working families,” Hayes said. “The Early Learning Program has impacted Detroit by ensuring each child is getting the proper education and care to prepare themselves for a successful future.
With Head Start being a popular program for children before they attend Kindergarten, it is considered a good way to point your child in the right direction for school.
Ruiz said, “In my role with the early learning program, I am in charge with making sure our children are meeting the goals for kindergarten and school readiness.”
With the help of the early learning program, all children and their parents are prepared and meet all the expectations for their first year in school.
“We make sure we aren’t just supporting the child, but the family,” said Ruiz. “When the child goes to kindergarten, they are ready and the parents are the best advocate for the child to be successful in school.”
Learn more about Focus: HOPE here.