Washington, DC — The Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao presented Focus: HOPE with an Exemplary Public Interest Contribution (EPIC) Award today in Washington, D.C. in recognition of its success in opening employment opportunities for minorities and women over the last 25 years.
The award is presented each year to a select few organizations that support equal employment opportunities and work with federal contractors. Since 1981 when it opened the Machinist Training Institute (MTI), Focus: HOPE has received more than $22 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to support training in the areas of manufacturing, engineering and information technology.
“EPIC Award winners such as Focus: HOPE can take great pride in their efforts to provide access to equal employment opportunities to women, people of color, veterans and people with disabilities,” Chao said.
Focus: HOPE has graduated more than 4,500 students into sustainable careers since 1981, and provided skill enhancement courses to approximately 6,000 students. After tailoring its machinist training to the needs of area machine shops, it was able to place the first African Americans and women into nearly 300 shops in southeast Michigan during the early 1980s.
“This award recognizes our long history of working with the federal government to open education and training opportunities for talented, inner city men and women,” said Eleanor Josaitis, who co-founded Focus: HOPE with Father William Cunningham in 1968 in the wake of the Detroit riots. “We broke the race and gender barriers in the machinist trades and proved that the color of your skin doesn’t matter when you have the appropriate skills and work habits. We are truly making a difference in our community.”
Focus: HOPE’s first federal program was the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program which started in 1971 and currently provides 43,000 women, children and senior citizens with food each month. The education programs evolved out of the desire to help people support
their families, and eliminate the need for food assistance programs. The
MTI program which opened 25 years ago was followed in 1993 with an engineering program in the Center for Advanced Technologies (CAT). Through CAT, machinist graduates can earn a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering and obtain hands-on work experience while pursuing their academic studies. The engineering program was funded, in part, through the National Science Foundation.
In 1999, the Information Technologies Center (ITC) opened with a $2.3 million three-year grant from the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. It has since graduated more than 700 students into careers in PC technology, network administration, and desktop and server administration. ITC will launch a new college degree program in January that addresses the need for more minorities in the high technology, highly skilled, and higher wage technology careers.
CEO Keith Cooley noted that Focus: HOPE’s partnerships with the U.S. Departments of Labor, Commerce, Defense and Education and the National Science Foundation have enabled the organization to help more minority students get into science, technology, engineering and math areas. “These are our growth areas,” said Cooley. “We are encouraging more young men and women to get into these fields to help our country maintain competitiveness in the global market. We will continue to expand our programs in these areas to continue opening career opportunities for underrepresented minorities in our community.”
This is the first time since 1999 that the EPIC award has been presented to a midwest organization. Last year’s winners were from Tennessee, Georgia and California.
In addition to education, training and food programs, Focus: HOPE is engaged in community arts initiatives to increase understanding of different races and ethnic groups and community and economic development efforts to revitalize the community around its Detroit campus. The organization also has a child care facility open to colleagues, students and area residents as well as a conference facility that serves the business and residential community. Through Focus: HOPE, thousands of individuals especially women and minorities have become financially independent. www.focushope.edu.