William F. Jones Jr., CEO of Focus: HOPE
The head of the Detroit nonprofit, which is dedicated to aiding the community, oversees the various programs aimed at strengthening the city
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William F. Jones Jr. isn't originally from Detroit, but he was drawn in by the automotive industry. So in 1981, he moved to the city from Virginia to work for Chrysler, where he held a career for 26 years.
"I never felt like an outsider in Detroit. It was a very, very welcoming community," he says of moving here. He acknowledges the energy, pride and resilience of Detroiters. "I think there is a resurgence."
Moving back to Detroit after living in Europe for a spell, Jones had a realization. "I was looking for something I could do to help the community even while I was working at Chrysler."
He was invited to join the board of directors at Focus: HOPE, a Detroit nonprofit with a rich history of helping to solve problems troubling the community. Since 1968, when Focus: HOPE was founded by Father William Cunningham and Eleanor Josaitis, the organization has been dedicated to diversity, empowerment through education and resources, and reducing poverty.
After about nine years on the board, Jones retired from Chrysler Financial, leaving his position as chief operating officer. Soon, Jones found himself in leadership at Focus: HOPE. He's now been the CEO for about five-and-a-half years—and he's continuing to build on what he says is an incredible legacy built by the founders.
"I've adopted the mission statement of the organization," he says, which in part promises "intelligent and practical action to overcome racism, poverty and injustice. And to build a metropolitan community where all people may live in freedom, harmony, trust and affection."
Focus: HOPE concentrates on core areas—education, opportunity and community—but "I see them all as interconnected," Jones explains. The group runs the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides qualifying individuals with nutritious food, as well as other services like assistance with certain utility bills, eye exams and other health screenings. When it comes to education, Focus: HOPE has career training programs in professions like information technology and machinery, GED prep classes, college degree programs and a College Bound Career Ready program for high school students. The organization boasts that about 12,000 have started careers thanks to the programs.
"(It's) creating opportunities and putting folks on a path to meaningful careers," Jones says. He adds that the organization is hoping to expand the training program to other industries.
Along with several services meant to support the community, the organization has also created the HOPE Village Initiative. Honing in on the areas around Focus: HOPE, Jones says the goal is for those living in the community to be well educated, economically self-sufficient and living in a safe community in 20 years.
"We continue to grow (and) evolve—and I'm very, very proud of that," Jones says of the 46-year-old nonprofit. What makes the organization especially unique is its "strong commitment" to helping Detroiters. "We literally care. It is an important part of our DNA, and it's also what people respect and appreciate about Focus: HOPE."
Predicting revitalization for Detroit, Jones believes there's a lot of "creativity and innovation" in the city. "Motown has moved away, but Motown is still here in terms of the creative spark and spirit." With all its events and talented residents, he says, "there are just so many things to like." For Jones, he'd like to see Detroit become a place "where anybody can live and anybody can have a great career."
40th annual Eleanor's Walk for Hope
Named after Focus: HOPE co-founder Eleanor Josaitis, the annual Eleanor's Walk for Hope event is meant to raise awareness about the organization while also raising funds for Focus: HOPE's various programs, explains Bill Wenzell, manager of volunteers and community outreach at the nonprofit.
The event, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, will take participants on a 4 1/2-mile walk through Detroit and Highland Park starting at the Focus: HOPE campus. There also will be food, live entertainment, booths and activities for the kids.
There's no registration fee, but it is a fundraiser, so those interested in helping can build teams for the walk and donate money via the event website. Donors who reach $25 will get a free T-shirt.