Impact Partner Spotlight
Focus on Community -
Sep. 14, 2021
Focus on Community is Racine’s primary substance abuse prevention agency. It works directly with youth and families to help them develop important skills, improve relationships and avoid risky behavior. This work is done by teaching important social, emotional and practical skills that will help each participant navigate and manage many of the challenges they will face throughout their growth and development, whether as an individual or a family.
What first drew you into the work of Focus on Community?
I have always believed that prevention is the best approach to dealing with many of life’s challenges. Prevention, at its essence, is about being proactive now to ensure the best outcomes in the future. Focus on Community is a forward-thinking agency from its mission to its performance. By committing to unifying our community to prevent substance abuse and inspire healthy life choices, we ensure our work prioritizes the development of youth and promotes family empowerment.
The message of Focus is one of hope and of investing in our most valuable asset: children. I was drawn to Focus because I knew it would be a challenge but would also help me grow as a person and give me the opportunity to impact our community in a meaningful way. After twelve years, I am still excited about the direction of our agency and our vision for the future.
How has Focus adapted over time—whether that’s in the last year due to the pandemic, or since its start as an organization?
One of the most exciting things about Focus on Community is that we are constantly evolving to better meet the needs of our community. This includes ensuring our approach remains relevant and informed. The landscape around substance abuse and prevention strategies is ever-changing, which requires our agency to be the same.
While adaptability, creativity and ingenuity are staples of our approach, the pandemic accelerated some of our efforts. We were able to expand our capacity by integrating seamlessly into the rapidly developing virtual world. Our programming is now available in multiple formats, including in-person, virtual and downloadable content.
Can you share a story about a moment you saw your work leave a positive impact in someone’s life?
The beauty of prevention is that we are teaching young people and their families skills they can use in every phase of life. It isn’t only about teaching the dangers of drugs and alcohol; it is about building healthy and supportive relationships and teaching life skills that transcend any one objective. This is never more evident than when a young person uses skills they learned from our programs in their own life, often without realizing it. Prevention enables us to stop problems before they start simply by being a part of these young people’s growth and development.
Every year, we are witness to countless stories of success. One example came in the form of a 10-year-old girl who was a participant in our Lifeskills program. In Lifeskills, we spend time in the classroom with fifth-grade students to help them learn, practice and incorporate important skills into their lives. When learning how to deal with anxiety, one student approached our Lifeskills team member with a concern. She expressed fear because she didn’t feel accepted in her class; she was having trouble making friends and wasn’t sure what to do.
Our team member worked with the child to help her practice engaging her classmates in a way that opened opportunities for friendship. The student began to make connections, and her classmates responded well to her new approach. After a few weeks, she was laughing and engaging enthusiastically. Only a few days later, we received a call from the student’s mother to thank us and that team member for the skill and care with which they had handled her child. The mother had seen a dramatic change in her daughter’s attitude and behavior; she was now happier and more engaged than she had been in a long time.
We know that emotional barriers like anxiety and depression can take root at a very young age. We also know that this can be a direct path to substance use and abuse. By creating a safe environment to teach these young people the skills to navigate difficult situations, we see the power of prevention.
What is some of the impact Focus on Community has brought to the community in its lifespan?
Focus has been serving Racine and Racine County for over 40 years. This entire time, we have been the primary provider of prevention-specific programming in the area. One of the programs that we created to fit this need was the Families and Schools Together (FAST) program, which works to help families build stronger bonds and improve communication. Another is the Lifeskills program, which teaches young people skills to build resilience and avoid risky behavior. These, among many other efforts, continue to make a positive impact on youth and families throughout the community.
We've also been instrumental in impactful efforts throughout the community. For instance, we helped introduced the 40 Developmental Assets and 4 Core Measures to the community. These helped us ways our community can increase its youth's assets.
Throughout our time in our community, we have served over 200,000 youth, 30,000 families and 15,000 teens.
How can readers get involved with Focus on Community?
As school gets underway, we are once again entering our busy season. Throughout the school year, we will work with nearly every fifth, sixth and seventh grader in Racine Unified. In addition, we will host FAST Programs at local schools and continue to serve people navigating life’s challenges through our Advancing Family Assets (AFA) program. AFA pairs each client with a “Life Coach” who will help them manage their personal goals.
Our organization is entering a new chapter as we move into our new Uptown location at 1240 Washington Ave. Soon, we will renovate the first floor to create a community-focused space, including an Old Time Soda Shop for youth and adults to safely hang out and a unique "first job" experience for local teens. We're also developing an event space for nonprofits and community events to use for free, a community garden and several spaces for community art displays. These renovations all are designed to offer surrounding neighborhoods a place to gather, create and grow and help United Way of Racine County build an educated workforce. To bring this work to life, we have a fundraising goal of $200,000 and are excited to connect with new partners and supporters to bring this dream to life.
For another way to give back, keep an eye out for our Taco Tuesday on a Wednesday fundraiser in October. All proceeds from this event will benefit United Way of Racine County.
To participate in AFA, learn about any of Focus' programs, or support their upcoming fundraisers, visit FocusRacine.org or call (262) 632-6200.
Jason Meekma is the executive director of Focus on Community. To read more about their work, check out their previous spotlight.