Joy Carson was a good student at a Columbus City Schools high school, but she admits she lacked motivation and direction at times. That all changed when she joined FOCUS during her freshman year. After seeing the friends and opportunities her older brother gained through FOCUS, which stands for Future Opportunities Created for Urban Students, she decided she needed to be involved as well.
Offered by Community for New Direction, FOCUS is one of the many local programs supported by United Way of Central Ohio that provide opportunities and resources to our community’s teens. The youth-led leadership development program serves about 30 high school students annually. FOCUS prepares students like Joy for the job force and higher education by connecting them to monthly service projects, community leaders and business professionals, college tours and other opportunities they might not otherwise have.
“The FOCUS program gave Joy the opportunity to learn about things that will help her be successful, not only in college, but in life,” said Linda, Joy’s mother and her biggest fan. “It’s a program the community needs for our youth to know someone cares for them.”
Joy says there are many things she appreciated about her four years in FOCUS, but she enjoyed the people most of all. The program gave her the opportunity to meet students from throughout central Ohio as well as Community for New Direction staff members who genuinely cared about her and the other youth.
“The staff was always there for the youth to make sure that they could provide whatever services and information they needed,” Linda said. “Sometimes it was about life skills, financial empowerment or taking them to community events. Even during the pandemic, they continued to offer and provide services through Zoom meetings.”
Linda acknowledges that both she and Joy appreciated FOCUS even more once the pandemic hit. The program pivoted quickly to virtual and began including professional speakers about mental health issues, self-care and other topics that helped the teens work through the isolation they were experiencing.
“They were able to inspire the students,” said Linda. “And it helped them get through a really tough time.”
Joy’s dreams for her future took shape through the FOCUS program as she learned how to set goals and achieve those goals, lead service projects and give presentations. The college tours taught her about academic majors and opportunities she hadn’t known existed, she says, and solidified her decision to enroll and commit to obtaining a college degree. Even better, she received a FOCUS college scholarship to help pave the way.
Today Joy is a confident freshman at the University of Akron where she plans to major in marketing and hopes to run her own business one day. Her future is bright, thanks to FOCUS and her own commitment to using the tools and opportunities the program provided.