Category: Ministries (page 1 of 18)

More than Meals: Summer Feeding 2017

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Beck and Keaton, two high school students from Columbus, Ohio, had no idea how their lives would transform when they signed up to volunteer with FOCUS North America’s Summer Feeding Program. The two suburban teens first volunteered to serve meals to underprivileged kids about halfway through the program’s run last summer, and they quickly became regulars at the site. They even brought their lacrosse team to serve and play with the children who attended. Nathan Smith, the Site Supervisor of Columbus Summer Feeding, described these young men as “magnetic” forces that made Summer Feeding an exciting experience for volunteers and children alike.

Beck and Keaton’s passion for the children at Summer Feeding propelled them to get their lacrosse coach involved in fundraising for a Summer Feeding family. The team raised thousands of dollars to provide a family of nine with a Christmas tree, gifts, and winter clothing. The young men’s mothers were so inspired by their sons that they fundraised money to pay the rent for another Summer Feeding family.

As I sat down to talk with Nathan Smith from Columbus, I realized that Beck and Keaton’s story is a window into a larger picture of what Summer Feeding means. But before he got to that, Nathan reminded me about why Summer Feeding exists in the first place.

Summer months are particularly difficult for impoverished families whose children qualify for free or reduced meals through federal programs. Since children are not in school to receive free, nutritionally balanced meals, their families must provide for them out of their own pockets. As a result, these families have to make difficult choices between feeding their children and paying their bills.

“Unfortunately, in poverty culture, nutrition isn’t a priority that’s in the hierarchy of needs,” Nathan said in our interview. “If you’re struggling to pay rent and keep the lights on, whether or not your child gets the correct proportion of fresh produce a day goes on the backburner.”

Not only do children struggle to get nutritious meals that fuel their brains in the summer, but they also suffer from other hunger-related challenges. While in elementary school, hungry children are likely to repeat grade levels and fall behind in language and motor skills development. In a larger sense, they have lasting social and behavioral problems that put them at a disadvantage throughout their lives.

13 million children suffer from hunger in the United States. FOCUS North America developed the Summer Feeding Program to meet the needs of these hungry children and to create meaningful service opportunities for Orthodox volunteers in localized areas.

As Beck and Keaton’s story shows, Summer Feeding serves another large-scale purpose: to grow volunteers. Nathan remarked that when it comes to volunteer work, teens and young people often play small roles in projects operated by adults. What made Summer Feeding worthwhile for Beck and Keaton is that they were able to be key players in the simple but critical tasks of day-to-day operations. “This was something they could do,” Nathan said. “This was something that allowed them to be the motor for what’s going on.”

Besides becoming indispensable servants at Summer Feeding Columbus, Beck and Keaton’s love for service grew past what they or their families had imagined for them. The young men’s new interests include mission trips and local fundraising events for FOCUS. Their story reflects what Nathan calls the “untapped Christian goodwill” of Christians who do not know how or are afraid to get involved with serving the impoverished in their communities. Summer Feeding is the perfect entry point for working with FOCUS ministries since it is a simple way that volunteers can experience the power of building relationships through service.

The greater Christian message of Summer Feeding, according to Nathan, is the opportunity to connect with others on a very human level. Christians who volunteer at Summer Feeding commit to more than feeding hungry children. They commit to sharing the transforming love of Christ through building meaningful relationships. Serving meals is just the beginning.

Nathan believes that in order to fully meet people where they are and love as Christ does, volunteers should put their hands to work alongside their wallets. “Christian nonprofit work should be asking me to open your heart to another person, not just with a checkbook, but in an ability to serve another human person.” When volunteers and children come together at Summer Feeding to create community with one another, they participate in the work of Christ, in whose eyes there is no distinction between rich and poor. This kind of love is what brings people from all walks of life closer to one another and closer to God.

This summer, FOCUS North America invites you to participate in the life-changing work that Summer Feeding is doing in our three target areas: Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Orange County. We have already served over 1,000 meals in just a few weeks. In each of these areas, we still need volunteers to give their time, energy, and love to serve hungry children and to show them that they are important in God’s eyes. For more information about how to get involved, visit our website and step up to the task today.

By Addie Pazzynski, National Programs Intern

Press Release: FOCUS North America Announces New Executive Director

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Carnegie, PA (July 23, 2017) — FOCUS North America announced today that its Board of Directors has appointed Seraphim Danckaert the organization’s next Executive Director. Danckaert, who previously served as Director of Mission Advancement at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, will succeed Nicholas Chakos, who resigned to pursue other opportunities.

“We want to thank Nick for his service over the last five years. During his tenure, FOCUS has grown significantly to become a high impact and highly regarded Orthodox Christian charity,” Dr. Eric Paljug, Chair of the Board, said. “Today, we are thrilled to welcome Seraphim as the new Executive Director and look forward to his leadership as the organization continues to grow.”

Danckaert, a graduate of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, has held leadership roles at Princeton Theological Seminary, Orthodox Christian Network, and St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.

“I am grateful to the board for the opportunity to lead this exceptional organization, which is not only transforming the lives of people in poverty across the country, but also transforming the hearts of the thousands of volunteers who participate in our service-oriented programs,” Danckaert said. “I look forward to working with the talented staff and getting to know the entire FOCUS network of donors, volunteers, and partners.”

FOCUS North America helps working-poor families and the homeless move from dependency to lives of self-sufficiency. As the only Orthodox Christian organization to hold the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance National Charity Seal, FOCUS works collaboratively with communities, parishes, and partners nationwide. In 2017, FOCUS will feed over 300,000 people; offer job training, employment, educational support, and housing to over 1,000 families; and keep thousands of children from going hungry. 

A key feature of FOCUS programs is volunteer engagement. Hands-on service programs unite the giver with the underserved, thereby transforming all of our lives and breaking the cycle of poverty. While many FOCUS volunteers are Eastern Orthodox Christians, FOCUS provides services without discrimination of any kind, and there is no faith commitment required either to volunteer or to receive assistance.

FOCUS’ Jonah House featured in the Word Magazine

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Nicholas Chakos, Executive Director of FOCUS North America, said, “ The Jonah House will be bringing a credible solution to a dire need in Columbus. While FOCUS provides infrastructure and organization to centers around the country, the folks in Columbus have done all of the groundwork and are stepping up to impact their community meaningfully.”

Click Here to read the full article on this great new project

‘We showed that together we are great’: Reconnecting in one Pittsburgh neighborhood

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“Staff from FOCUS Pittsburgh (Food, Opportunity, Clothing, Understanding and Shelter), a social service nonprofit in the Hill District, knew some residents there and believed they would successfully pioneer a new kind of community development model, one that was very personal.”

Click HERE to read the full Pittsburgh Post Gazette article about our Trauma Informed Community Development program.

FOCUS West Central PA is raising money to feed needy children

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Crowdfunding campaign raising money to feed needy children in Beaver Falls.

Click HERE to read the full Times article about FOCUS West Central PA feeding

Redirecting

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Image from Phil Whitehouse on Flickr

I had two of my best friends in my 11th grade physics class, which was a lot of fun. One day, we came in and our teacher presented us all with paper and some masking tape. Our teacher was going to drop eggs from different heights, our task was to build something that we could drop the eggs onto that would prevent the eggs from breaking. My approach was to build a tower and put crumpled up pieces of paper inside of it to absorb the fall.

But one of my friends had a different idea: he built a much smaller tower, about 8 inches tall, and put a curved ramp on the inside with an opening in the tower wall at the end of the ramp. It looked like a quarter-pipe, that you would find in a skate park. The egg would be dropped in the tower, go down the ramp and roll out of the side of the tower. He explained that instead of using his resources to try to stop the egg’s energy, he would simply redirect it into horizontal momentum, which is not harmful for the egg. His tower did better than mine did.

Here’s the bad news: the devil knows well the power of redirection. He sees the gifts that God gives us, and he tempts us in a distinct way. He tempts us to use that the very gifts God gives us, not to move toward Him, but to make us drift further from God. He sees the momentum that our gifts can give us toward spiritual progress, and so he redirects our momentum so it draws us away from God.

Here’s the good news: this means our approach to “fighting” sin doesn’t have to be as complicated as we often make it. We can, through prayer and God’s help, figure out the hidden good concealed in our sins.

For example, if you find that you are too concerned with what people think of you and it is preventing your spiritual growth, there are so many good qualities hidden in this sin that are simply being misused. For instance, if you are simply worrying what people think of you instead of God, redirecting that back to God can help. Also, it shows concern for how your brothers and sisters around you are feeling, which in itself is good, but you are expressing it in a way that is harmful to you. So instead of fighting against this passion directly, your new task is that whenever you find yourself being concerned with what others think of you, try to keep your concern about them, while caring only for what God thinks of you.

More good news: God also knows the power of redirection, and He likes to use the bad things in our lives–whether or not they are brought about by our own doing–for our benefit. When we think back to the worst times of our lives, we often see so many blessings that have come out of them, sometimes because beautiful situations were born out of them, other times because of personal growth. Regardless, it is critical that we recognize these blessings and even thank God for them, because then we can make the most of these redirections.

I pray that we can all look more deeply into the things in our lives, and that we can see them in the ways that will be most beneficial to us. How we see things has a massive effect on what we do about them, so may God help us to see them in the right way.


headshotPaul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.

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New Podcast! “Living Sacramentally” with Fr. Gabriel Bilas

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Listen in to hear College Conference Midwest 2016 workshop speaker Fr. Gabriel Bilas help us understand what it means to live a life through the sacraments.

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New Podcast! “Come and See the Orthodox Life” with Fr. Panagotis Boznos

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Listen in to hear College Conference Midwest 2016 keynote Fr. Panagotis Boznos tell us what it means to “Come and See” in his final talk.

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South Regional Retreat: A Home Away From Home

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So it was about 4 o’clock when my good friend picked me up from Norman, Oklahoma to go to the OCF South Regional Retreat (which was well organized by Katherine Sackllah and George Katrib, who did a wonderful job!) I was pumped to see my old friends from camp and make new friends in the faith. The drive was long but well worth it when we arrived.

When we arrived at 9 o’clock at night after our last stop at CVS because someone who shouldn’t be named had a fever and potentially could have infected everyone at the retreat, but on the bright side no one got sick! So as I walked in with my obnoxious Bob Stoop visor and an OU PFG shirt, I interrupted what was probably the most fascinating talk of my Orthodox Christian life. The talk was with Fr. Simeon and he discussed various topics about the faith that were thought-provoking and led me to further understand Orthodoxy.

Throughout the retreat, we enjoyed each other’s company and we could really dive into the talks. The weather was perfect, the people there were amazing, and the experiences that we had were unforgettable (especially when some people flipped their canoe after a game of King of the Hill). Even though everyone there was looking for a good Orthodox Christian wife or husband (just kidding), we were able to make new friends in the faith and overall have a grand ol’ time.

To be more specific, my biggest take away was the fact that every college student was struggling with the same issues that I was. Being a college student, as we all know, is difficult, especially in the secular world which we live in. We have issues that we have to deal with, such as drinking on a Saturday night or being pressured into sex by a boyfriend or girlfriend. After going through a rough spot in my life, and then attending this retreat, I was able to become rejuvenated in the faith and live as a light on my campus.

Our calling is to get to Heaven and take everyone with us that we can through Christ. This was evident at the retreat. The people, like I said, were amazing and really felt the Holy Spirit work through them, because they felt comfortable and more at home. I felt that the people there trusted everyone and could share their experiences with the Orthodox church in a non-judgmental way. It was truly a “home away from home.”

After returning back to my university, I reflected on the retreat and was really inspired to contribute back to the Orthodox Church.

Shout out to all the regional leaders (Valerie Hanna and Anna Sobchak) that were there and the OCF leaders (Katherine Sackllah and George Katrib) who made this experience such a blessing. Lastly I would like to thank Fr. Simeon for providing us with his wisdom and taking time out of his busy schedule to visit and talk with us.


Peter Huseth attends the one and only University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. He is an advertising major with a minor in English Writing. He’s currently a sophomore, and when he isn’t in deep theological thought, he’s playing guitar for the beautiful handmaidens of God.

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There’s a Saint for That: St. Xenia of St. Petersburg

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Our newest “There’s a Saint for That” guide features St. Xenia of St. Petersburg, the patroness of houses, spouses, and jobs! She’s a great saint to know after graduation!

Click Here to Learn More!

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