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Updated 11:00 AM March 15, 2004
 

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Focus:HOPE co-founder keynotes community service symposium


Staff and volunteers at Focus:HOPE support each other during the really tough times by giving each other a penny, because the words "In God We Trust" stand out.

And there have been many tough times when that penny eased the burden, said Eleanor Josaitis, chief executive officer of the Detroit-based civil and human rights organization that she founded with the late Rev. William Cunningham following the 1967 riots.
The 2004 Symposium on Community Based Work: Working Together for Change included a fair where students, faculty and community partners showcased their collaborative work. Here, Scott Steiner from Focus:HOPE talks with student Marcia Lee. (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)

She was the keynote speaker at the Second Annual Symposium on Community-Based Work. The March 11 event was presented by U-M's Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service Learning as an opportunity for students, faculty and community partners to share and showcase their collaborative projects in local, national and international communities. This year 55 projects were on display.

Josaitis described a life-changing experience, which occurred when she was a suburban housewife watching images of a Nuremberg Nazi trial reenactment and news footage of police attacks on civil rights marchers.

"I dedicated myself to doing whatever I could to change for the better the lives of minorities especially, but ultimately all people. Against strong disapproval from family members, my husband and I moved with our children back into Detroit, where Father Cunningham and I went to work," she said.

Emphasizing the themes of passion, persistence and partnership, Josaitis recounted the extreme difficulty of Focus:HOPE's early efforts toward eliminating racism, poverty and injustice in the wake of the riots.

"We faced strong opposition from governments, business and community leaders, and many others, for all kinds of reasons," she said.

As their first project, Josaitis and Cunningham faced down grocery chains and local food stores who were price-gouging the residents of Detroit's minority inner city communities. With the help of more than 500 volunteers and university researchers, they documented that people of color systematically were being charged 30-40 percent more for food than non-minorities in the same stores.

The effort led to a major food program for mothers, children and senior citizens, and later Focus:HOPE's internationally recognized Centers of Opportunity, which train minorities in manufacturing skills. Additionally, a new Information Technology Center now is operating. A child-care center provides support for trainees, allowing them to develop the skills to improve their lives, Josaitis said.

Josaitis expressed deep gratitude for the partnerships between Focus:HOPE and universities, especially U-M. University faculty members have provided research support, and many students have volunteered.

"Most recently, we had 300 students helping us during the weekend of March 6 and 7," she said. "We couldn't function without the passion and dedication of volunteers such as these."

The symposium was sponsored by the Ginsberg Center, Arts of Citizenship, the Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good, the Michigan Community Scholars Program, Residential College, the School of Art & Design, the School of Information, the School of Nursing, the School of Social Work, and the Taubman College of Architecture Urban Planning.

For information on the Ginsberg Center and its programs, visit http://www.umich.edu/~mserve/.

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