Entries with tag orthodox outreach .

How to Make Outreach Part of Your Family's Lenten Journey

A major challenge for Orthodox Christians today is to leverage the strengths of technology while understanding that our faith places a high value on external and personal relationships.  Fulfilling Christ’s commandments to love God completely and to love and serve our neighbors typically takes personal interaction.  It would be hard to worship properly online (even though streaming the Liturgy is a sometimes useful innovation) and participating in any sacrament through an app will never be an option.  Similarly, it can be difficult to build rich and meaningful online experiences that serve those in need -- the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the sick and imprisoned.  At some point, if we are going to live up to Christ’s commandments and stand on His right side at Judgment, we must put the tech down, go out and meet people where they are. 

But who has the time to go out and help others?  Life is busy – plain and simple.  I’m the first to admit that my wife and I struggle to keep a balance among Church, work, school, Greek school, baseball, Greek dance, modern dance, Girl Scouts, family vacations, gymnastics, swim team, soccer, house chores, and homework.  With all of these activities, it’s fair to say that there is no balance in life.  Many of us suffer from the fleeting desire to give our children every material opportunity to prosper in life while we fail to give them the peace, calmness of home and dedicated time that is necessary to grow together as a family and to work together, family-as-church, towards our salvation.  

Keeping Christ and His Church at the center of our families’ Lenten journey starts with parents leading by example -- allowing our children to see us actively praying, fasting, attending church regularly and participating in acts of service to others.  As faithful parents a we must root our Faith deep into our homes and then take that faith back out into the world, building it into the routines and habits of our children through actions, not words. 

A key component of Lent that can often be overlooked is acts of mercy and outreach to those in need.  Whether it’s sponsoring a parish food or clothing drive, visiting the elderly or shut-ins, helping a neighbor take care of their home or working with homeless families and children we should all seek opportunities to engage in outreach activities and make service to others part of our weekly routine.

Working together as a family on outreach projects is not only a wonderful way to instill the teachings of Christ into our children, but it strengthens family togetherness, helps children learn, and empowers them to understand that they can help others.  Serving others benefits a child's psychological, social and intellectual development. It increases self-esteem, responsibility and helps children develop new social skills. The time that you spend together as a family helping others will be rewarding and more memorable than almost any other family activity this year. 

This Lent, make outreach a habit.  It will take time for your children to be comfortable at a nursing home or serving meals at a soup kitchen.  Don’t expect them to feel comfortable on their first volunteer experience.  But know that with each time they volunteer, they are building an inner strength that will help them throughout their lives and on your family’s journey to salvation. 

What can your family do to serve others?

  • Start at home: Read the daily readings, watch Be the Bee, and have a conversation with your kids about the topic covered. Teaching your children to focus on others and be aware of people’s needs is an important step in raising compassionate children. 
  • Sponsor a food drive at your parish or youth group and let your children be involved.  Let your younger children color a poster or flyer advertising the drive.  Bring your older children to the food bank or shelter when you drop off the collected items.   Local food banks are incredibly strained this year and there is always a need for non-perishable grocery items
  • Make greeting cards for children who are hospitalized with chronic illnesses
  • Visit the elderly and shut-ins, visit parishioners in their assisted living.  Bring them a small gift – a flower, plant, small icon, greeting card.
  • Invite FOCUS to your parish or youth group for a “family day” of service.  FOCUS will lead a day-long outreach into your community to help people in need while helping you learn and experience the root causes of poverty and understanding what you can do to help. email: info@focusna.org 
  • Listen to your kids – ask them for ideas of how you can help someone in need. 
  • Shovel the driveway or rake leaves for an elderly neighbor.  Lead by example.  It won’t do to tell your kids, “go rake Mrs. Pappas’ leaves!”  But if you get a few rakes, put them in the hands of your kids and lead them over to her house, you will find that it is wonderful to work together. 
  • Help FOCUS cook and serve meals to hungry children when they don’t have access to free/reduced meals at school.  Contact FOCUS for info on how your parish can help. www.focusnorthamerica.org or info@focusna.org 

 

 

 

 

How Do Homeless Kids Get Ready to Go Back-to-School?

As the new school year gets underway, parents and children know the anticipation and excitement that accompanies the first day of school: the simple joy of a new backpack, a new outfit, new shoes, or a clean notebook. Yet for many parents and children across the US, these items are luxuries they can’t afford.

It’s something we all know – that there are poor and homeless families who live in our own cities and towns.  But most of us don’t realize just how bad the situation is. 

Across the United States, homelessness and poverty are at unprecedented levels.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reports that since 2007, family homelessness skyrocketed by 20%. 

It’s important to define what is meant by “homeless”.  When we think about homeless people, most of us think of bums living under a bridge or winos begging for change.  But this is not an accurate picture of the homeless today.  Sure, there is a “chronic homeless” population that mostly lives outdoors, but the majority of people who are homeless today are working individuals and families with children who cannot afford to rent or buy a permanent home. 

According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the lack of affordable housing is the leading cause of homelessness in every city, county and state nationwide.  A study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found that there is no jurisdiction (no town, city, county or state) in the United States where a working family of four, earning the poverty threshold wage of $24,000 can afford even a one-bedroom home at fair market rates. 

So where do these families live?  Where do you go if you’ve been bankrupted by an illness, lost your home to foreclosure, or just don’t earn enough to rent a suitable home?  Many cities offer family homeless shelters where families can stay together.  Other families live in motels, trailer parks, or camp grounds.  Families often live in the basements or attics of friends or relatives, while waiting to hopefully get placed in some sort of government subsidized housing. 

Wherever they stay, it’s not a permanent home and children tend to suffer the most from repeated transitional living.  What school will children attend if they have no permanent address?  How will the kids adapt, manage and succeed in their education if they have no stable place to live?  If parents can’t afford a place to live, how will they equip their children with the supplies, clothes and shoes necessary to attend school? 

About four years ago, FOCUS North America began working with school districts around the country to provide meals to poor children.  Almost every school in America has a free and reduced lunch program that operates during the day when children are in school.  However, over the weekend, many of these kids don’t get enough to eat.  To combat hunger over the weekends when the free lunch program isn’t available to kids, FOCUS packs up meals each Friday and sends these meals homes with the children so that they can feed themselves and their siblings. 

Through our work with school districts, we also learned that homeless and poor families struggle with another major item that they find difficult to afford:  Shoes.  Even a low cost pair of shoes from a discount store can cost $10 - $15.  And even $10 -$15 is a big expense for people who are living paycheck to paycheck. 


Thousands of homeless and underprivileged children attend an Operation Lace Up event in St. Louis on 8/2/14

Based on this, FOCUS developed “Operation Lace Up”, our national back-to-school program that has assisted 252,000 children in 250 school districts across 30 cities nationwide over the past two years.  Operation Lace Up gives children everything they need to get back to school and succeed in acquiring an education: back packs, school supplies, new athletic shoes, clothes, and even medical and dental checkups so that they can go back to school prepared -- and healthy. 

While FOCUS works on creating stability in these families’ lives by offering sustainable and affordable housing assistance (FOCUS helped almost 1,000 people assisted with housing last year) we are addressing the immediate needs that homeless children face each August as they go back to school. 

Each year, thousands of Orthodox Christians, united in faith and joined by a desire to provide action-oriented and sustainable solutions to poverty in communities across America come together through Operation Lace Up and provide much needed assistance to children in need.  Last year, the Metropolis of Chicago Philoptochos helped more than 25,000 homeless children get back to school in Chicago, St. Louis and Minneapolis.  Throughout California - in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego – and all across America, parishes, people young and old, and communities forged a wonderful partnership that stands as a witness to the practical nature of the Orthodox faith and our combined efforts to live out the commandments of Christ to love and serve our neighbor. 

This year, Operation Lace Up will continue to serve homeless and underprivileged kids throughout the nation.  To learn more, or to volunteer, please visit the FOCUS North America website: http://focusnorthamerica.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=307&Itemid=231

 

Orthodox Health Center Opens in Pittsburgh

Despite the best efforts of many policy experts and lawmakers to bring universal healthcare coverage to all Americans, 16% of the population – 45 million people – still do not have health insurance, a number that is higher in 2014 than it was in 2008, according to a recent Gallup poll. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has exacerbated many of the reasons that people do not have coverage and 2% of the American workforce, more than 3 million people, have lost their employer-sponsored coverage due to loopholes and other consequences of the Act, making the net benefit of the Act debatable.   

But this blog post is not written to discuss why the ACA is, or is not, succeeding.  Rather, it is written to show how Orthodox Christians are responding to a problem in the United States that has been pervasive for decades and will continue with no clear end in sight. 

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, FOCUS North America recently opened the first comprehensive Orthodox health care facility in America. The FOCUS Pittsburgh Free Health Center targets uninsured individuals and provides them with access to quality physical and mental health care as well as pharmaceutical and laboratory services.  In addition, The FOCUS health center is a place where skilled Orthodox medical practitioners can put their talents to good use for the glory of God and in service to those in need right here in America. 

FOCUS North America is an Orthodox Christian faith-based nonprofit organization that provides sustainable jobs and permanent housing solutions for the homeless and working poor families across America.  FOCUS has operations and activities in 50 cities in the US and Canada.

Why did FOCUS extend its services into healthcare? Because it’s not much good to give someone a job or a place to live if they are not healthy enough to maintain them.  It is very difficult to sustainably transition a person or a family from homelessness, poverty and dependency to a life of self-sufficiency without providing for their health.  Offering free comprehensive healthcare and health-related services is a natural fit with FOCUS’ work to transform the lives of the homeless and working poor in America.

Why Pittsburgh?  Because western Pennsylvania, and specifically the 10-mile radius around the City of Pittsburgh has an extremely high, and increasing, population of working-aged people who are uninsured.  According to a study by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, there are approximately 142,000 working uninsured individuals and family members in the greater Pittsburgh region, with approximately 70,000 living within 10 miles of Pittsburgh.

The FOCUS Pittsburgh Health Center is organized and managed as a Volunteer in Medicine type clinic, which is specifically designed to provide care to uninsured working adults that fall through the cracks in today’s health care system.  In today’s environment, there exist government programs, such as Medicaid and CHIP, that provide healthcare to all children, the elderly, and to adults receiving public assistance.  On the other end of the spectrum are those people who have employer-sponsored healthcare insurance.  The FOCUS clinic specifically targets and serves working adults caught in the gap between these groups, ensuring that they have access to regular and high-quality healthcare. 

But the FOCUS healthcare initiative is about more than just numbers and gaps.  It is about the faces, names and stories behind these statistics.  Each day we meet men, women and families who are struggling to get by. We meet people like Linda, whose life was upended by a medical condition that turned deadly.

Linda and her husband Kevin were working full-time, he as a janitor, she as a nursing aide. With three children, they were barely making ends meet. The children qualified for free health insurance through the county, but Linda and Kevin weren’t eligible.

Kevin suffered from hypertension, but without insurance his condition went untreated. He died suddenly, at age forty, from a heart attack that could have been prevented by routine checkups and hypertension maintenance that is available to anyone with insurance.  With Kevin’s income gone, Linda was unable to pay the rent and so she and her children were evicted from their apartment. When the family came to FOCUS, they were living in their car.   It was our encounter with Linda that set FOCUS on the path to establish a free health center, understanding that health is equally as important as job or a house.

The FOCUS health center model addresses psychosocial, physical, mental and spiritual aspects of care. Rooted in the Orthodox Faith, we understand that all of these are essential to a person’s total wellbeing.  By capturing all aspects of care, and making the FOCUS health center an easily replicable model, we hope to expand an Orthodox Christian presence in health care. 

While the FOCUS health center in Pittsburgh is designed to operate five days per week, the model that FOCUS built was specifically created so that a health center could be replicated and operated on an intermittent basis in many different types of facilities, such as a church hall, office building, or classrooms, serving as a witness to the Orthodox faith and providing care that is desperately needed to those that live nearby. 

FOCUS health centers are staffed by Orthodox Christian volunteer physicians and other health care providers.  Medical malpractice liability protection under the FOCUS model is provided by the federal government and the Federal Tort Claims Act for free to any physician or medical staffer serving at a FOCUS clinic. 

Using this model and all its advantages, FOCUS hopes to launch more health centers in areas where Orthodox physicians are available to donate their time and skills to serve the uninsured and working poor.  We all know that our faith teaches to love and serve those in need.  The FOCUS health center model is just one way that skilled Orthodox medical practitioners can put their talents to good use for the glory of God and as a witness to the practical teachings of our Orthodox Faith.  

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