Today it’s all about jobs. In 1967 in Detroit, it was about picking up the pieces after racial violence had ravaged the city. Eleanor Josaitis, a suburban housewife with a family, and her parish priest, Father William T. Cunningham, co-founded Focus: Hope, an organization with the stated aim of bridging the racial divide in the Detroit metropolitan area by providing critically needed basic human services. Mrs. Josaitis believed that "there’s no greater way to eliminate racism and poverty than to see that people have education, skills, jobs, and opportunities in life."
Mrs. Josaitis and Father Cunningham may have seemed like an unlikely team, but the results prove just how effective they were together. The list of Focus: HOPE’s accomplishments includes lobbying Congress to approve the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to feed low income families, and eventually extend it to include senior citizens. The program has been adopted by 39 states.
Early on, they determined that equal opportunity employment meant that training in work skills was as desperately needed as mentoring in life skills. The Center for Advanced Technologies (CAT) was established in the mid-1990s in collaboration with local universities and businesses to provide programs leading to college degrees in advanced manufacturing and management. This wasn’t Focus: HOPE’s first venture into training for manufacturing. In 1981, it had established its Machinist Training Institute to provide training for young African Americans to compete in the local job market. Within weeks of the death of Father Cunningham in 1997, the Focus: HOPE campus sustained $18 million of damage from a tornado. Mrs. Josaitis took the reins as CEO for the next nine years , presided over the organization’s first multi-million dollar fund raising effort, and never looked back. To date, job training and support services have put more than 11,000 men and women into successful, good-paying careers.
The Machinist Training Institute has trained more than 2400 graduates on 100 conventional and CNC machines and three 24-station CAD laboratories in its 59,000 ft² (5481 m²) facility. The Center for Advanced Technologies graduates degreed engineers, and certifications in Microsoft, Cisco, and other IT technologies are earned through its Information Technologies Center. The Information Management and Systems Engineering (IMSE) program, in conjunction with local businesses and universities, offers courses and internships leading to engineering degrees.
Mrs. Josaitis passed away August 9, 2011. A recitation of her accomplishments, her many awards, and 13 honorary doctorates doesn’t tell the story of her warmth and humanity and efficiency in making her city a better place to live and raise a family. To see why Mrs. Josaitis was an angel to so many, please visit the Focus: HOPE web site at www.focushope.edu.
This article was first published in the September 2011 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.