Cherokee FOCUS, a nonprofit collaborative that is part of the Georgia Family Connection Partnership statewide network, has lived up to its name during the past 20 years. FOCUS (Families of Cherokee United in Service) has remained laser-focused on improving the lives of the children and families in Cherokee County. That mission involves a partnership between various organizations, agencies, civic clubs, the faith-based community, law enforcement, business, education, families and individuals.
“By bringing our partners to the table, we are able to identify the community resources we have, the gaps in support services we might need, and, together, strategically plan, develop and implement initiatives and programs that one agency, organization or individual cannot do alone,” founder and CEO Sonia Carruthers said.
Voted by the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce as the 2021 Nonprofit of the Year, Cherokee FOCUS will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in October. “The most important thing we have done over the years is to bring people together to accomplish something for the families and children of Cherokee County that they could not otherwise be able to do alone,” Carruthers said.
“The collaborative-based organization is a wonderful thing,” she said. “Collaboration and collective effort have always yielded collective impact in our community. Any issue that we have addressed, and success that we have helped to achieve are a shared effort of the community who are Cherokee FOCUS.”
The organization has several programs and initiatives that cover the needs of our community.
Cherokee Youth Works, a Work Source Georgia program funded in part by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is designed to work with young people, ages 16-24, who have dropped out of school or have graduated, but need help moving forward. The goal is to assist them in obtaining gainful employment by providing GED classes, assistance with college enrollment, work readiness skills, life skill classes, along with paid and unpaid work experiences in partnership with local employers. Since the start of this Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act program, more than 600 Cherokee County youth have been helped in some capacity.
Andrea is a Cherokee Youth Works participant. “This program has truly been a blessing for me and an answer to my prayers,” she said. “I really enjoy the (Life Skills) group, and I’m actually beginning to enjoy learning again. I’ve learned that with support and motivation you can go a long way.”
The Drug Free Cherokee initiative, which began in 2004, has become a funded grantee of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. This initiative is designed to prevent drug abuse by reaching young people before they start using any kind of alcohol or drugs. Members focus on strategies that range from educating the general and target populations to changing public policy. Youth are invited to the table whenever possible, to make sure the coalition is not planning something without them having a voice in the process.
One way the group gives young people a voice is through the Cherokee Youth Council. Their involvement helps FOCUS members understand how to meet the needs of that demographic. The program is open to students in Cherokee County middle or high schools, as well as home-schoolers. The council meets twice a month and the students have the opportunity to learn strategic planning, and design a drug-free action plan for their peers. In the past, council members have been a part of the Georgia Teen Institute, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of American Youth Leadership Conference and Chick-fil-A’s Leadership Academy.
A recent initiative, the Suicide Prevention Coalition, was established to respond to the rise in cases of teen suicide. Through a partnership of organizations, agencies, businesses and individuals, issues have been assessed and work has begun to address them. Bullying prevention is part of the efforts, which are summed up in the mission statement: to prevent deaths by suicide in Cherokee County, to bring awareness and education to the community, to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness, and to bring hope for a brighter future.
A major collaborative effort of Cherokee FOCUS has been the ongoing development of the Cherokee County Resource Guide, which lists county resources, and is available at www.cherokefocus.org, or by calling 770-345-5483.
– Susan Schulz is a Bible teacher and mentor who lives and plays on the Etowah River in Canton. Connect with her on social media or at susanbrowningschulz.com.