Free from debt, Focus: HOPE relaunches aid efforts

By: Brendan Losinski | Metro | Published October 24, 2022


METRO DETROIT— The team at Focus: HOPE is getting the word out that the nonprofit is back after several difficult years.

Focus: HOPE celebrated that with its March for Hope on Oct. 9.

The organization, the aim of which is to take practical action to overcome racism, poverty and injustice, had to confront mounting debt coupled with the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that its debt has been taken care of, its members want to reassure the community that they are once again active in helping the community.

“We really had difficulties before COVID,” explained Portia Roberson, the CEO of Focus: HOPE. “I have been here as CEO four years. Initially, when I got here, we were about $6 million in debt. It was extremely important to get out of debt. We wanted to make sure the money we got from our funding went directly to our programs. We feed about 42,000 seniors per month, we have a vital workforce development program, and we have an early education and youth development program. We do all of this under the umbrella of addressing issues of combating racism and fighting poverty.”

Roberson added it took so long for the organization to rectify its financial troubles because they were determined not to cut employees to do so.

“We were able to get out of debt earlier this year, and we did this by selling some property but not laying off any workers,” she said. “Ironically, this helped us survive COVID, as well, when everyone was having a hard financial time.”

Now back on its feet, Focus: HOPE, which is based in Detroit but helps the entire metro Detroit area, used its March for Hope to highlight its current focus on employment aid and equity.

“Our March for Hope took place Sunday. This year, we wanted to highlight employment equity and discuss the changes in the workforce in the last three years,” Roberson said. “We want to open up a dialogue with people about how more people are looking to work a hybrid model or working remotely. … It was the 50th year we had it (the March for Hope).”

Nicholle Larry is a placement and retention services manager with the organization. She helps find viable careers for those searching for gainful employment in fields such as manufacturing, IT and construction.

“We help them overcome barriers such as transportation and clothing so they can move into professional careers,” she said. “We also help them with money management, handling taxes and other wraparound services.”

Larry confirmed that Focus: Hope is once again able to take the proactive steps it wants toward helping community members.

“I do see an improvement,” said Larry. “The world is opening up again. Employment is always very competitive, so we are helping groups connect both students and businesses. I think we’re once again very successful with job placement.”

Roberson said that they are trying to get the word out to people struggling to find good jobs to reach out to them.

“I think we want to highlight, to prepare people for future careers,” she said. “We want to help people find jobs in changing automotive industry jobs, for instance. We want to help people not only get jobs but jobs that will be stable for the future. We encourage people to check out our website and see if we have any resources that can help them. Our website is”

Larry said the goal is to place at least 300 students from the nonprofit’s programs each year into jobs. She added that they are on track to achieve that.

“We were at 80% last quarter, and we have a lot of students currently attending classes this quarter,” she said. “I think the biggest challenge is employers assessing new students or job seekers. I have one employer who says they want six months of experience, for instance, but students and others entering that field don’t have that real-world experience yet. I think businesses need to be more lenient when dealing with positions, especially entry level ones.”

There are a variety of fields and classes that individuals can find help getting into through Focus: HOPE.

“Some examples of classes are work readiness, where we highlight outside aid, accountability and so forth,” said Larry. “There are specific programs like teaching IT. There also are advanced training programs, such as training Python for computer-related courses. The last thing we do is move into job placement. … There are careers in construction, truck driving, customer service and a lot more. Most of our programs run 15 weeks.”

Roberson said she hopes the march will alert the public that Focus: HOPE is there as a resource.

“Focus: HOPE was started in 1967,” she said. “Each year, we highlight a particular topic. We work with our community partners, and we use it as an opportunity to reach out to the community and let people know what we are doing and how we might help.”