Since 2018, Portia Roberson has led Focus: HOPE as its CEO.
Photo courtesy of Focus: HOPE
For over 50 years, Focus: HOPE has served tens of thousands of people in Metro Detroit by providing community programs dedicated to addressing racism, poverty and injustice.
In March 2022, the organization announced it had paid off, since 2008, the remaining debt of $5.5 million. For the first time since 2002, Focus: HOPE is debt-free after getting out of $16 million in total arrears.
Portia Roberson, CEO of Focus: HOPE, told the Michigan Chronicle the organization is reflecting on its humanitarian history, overcoming recent challenges and focusing on what’s next on the horizon.
“It became really clear to me that we needed to do things a bit differently and get back to our core,” said Roberson, who joined the organization in 2018.
“Not having debt always gives you a little breathing room and allows you to focus on what you want to be doing and focus on what the future has in store. We are 54 years old; we want to be sure we can service people in the coming years and see growth every step.”
Focus: HOPE provides several keystone programs for residents in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties including early learning, youth development, job training, food for seniors and community advocacy.
The Food for Seniors program became especially vital during the thick of COVID-19 when Roberson said many elderly and vulnerable community members encountered barriers trying to get their basic needs met.
In partnership with federal and state agencies, Focus: HOPE provides over 42,000 seniors with monthly food packages and opportunities for health and financial support.
On a campaign stop last week in Detroit, Vice President Kamala Harris was joined by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist for a tour of Focus: HOPE’s job training facility.
“When I think about what’s happening here, I’m very excited,” said Harris.
“This truly is a model. It’s a partnership between union work and apprenticeship training, it is a partnership that is about understanding the extraordinary potential of an investment in technology and innovation. In particular, it is a perfect model of the success we will achieve as an entire nation when we invest in the God-given capacity of the American people to develop their skills to meet the challenges of the moment.”
Focus: HOPE’s workforce development program prepares individuals for careers in information technology, construction, logistics and transportation and industrial manufacturing.
“We want to make sure that we’re helping to build the middle class by putting people in good paying jobs,” said Roberson.
“I really think if you want to revitalize a neighborhood or a city, you get people working and then they can do the things they want to do. In terms of buying a home that they’ve been renting or buying a second home because they’ve been living with their parents. And that’s what will bring back our neighborhood and community.”
Now debt-free, Focus: HOPE is determined to reinvigorate its dedication to continuing the legacy of community empowerment, which has been a hallmark since its inception.
In 1968, during a time of national civil rights unrest, Father William Cunningham and Eleanor Josaitis intentionally founded Focus: HOPE’s northwest Detroit site adjacent to grounds of the now-historic 1967 Rebellion. Its legacy is rooted in anchoring Detroit residents in supportive programming that systematically meets a family’s social, economic and financial needs.
During COVID-19, the organization identified some of the challenges residents were facing and immediately worked to adapt their offerings appropriately, including curbside food pantry pick-ups and home deliveries and virtual training. They provided a quarter million food boxes for families in need during the height of COVID 19.
“The landscape of the workforce has changed tremendously over the last few years because of COVID,” said Roberson. “And so now, we want to make sure that everybody has an opportunity for some of those jobs in a virtual or hybrid society. We see what that looks like for Black and Brown people that are typically working jobs that don’t have work from home capacity. Poor people, no matter what race, sometimes the jobs they’re in are not doable with their circumstances. When we are getting people back to work, we try to ensure equity across the board for everyone.”
Looking ahead, Focus: HOPE is eager to let people know they will continue to be a community anchor and advocate for many years to come.
The organization’s five-year strategic goals include expanding its capacity for community services, which includes closing the education gaps for children with Early Learning programs (Early Headstart and Headstart) which are designed to provide the next generation a competitive edge in their educational and professional lives.
“I’m really excited about the potential of growth for us,” said Roberson. “We provide such vital resources to our neighbors, and we will continue to be in the business of making sure we can do some great things in service of all individuals that come through our doors. We are largely known for our food pantry, and while important, there is also so much more. We need folks to know we are still very much here as a resource and partner in helping people grow and thrive.”