Empowerment through Learning with Focus, Inc.

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In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Greenbrier spoke with NE Arkansas non-profit organization, Focus, Inc. (Focus). Greenbrier and Focus were introduced in 2020, shortly after Greenbrier acquired American Railcar Industries’ manufacturing business, including Greenbrier Paragould and Greenbrier Marmaduke. While Greenbrier and Focus, Inc. are recently partnered, the organizations have already built a strong foundation and look forward to working together in the future.

Focus, Inc. Mission Statement

To empower individuals, with or without disabilities, to pursue their goals and take their place in our community.

As a subset of the Department of Human Services, Focus serves individuals who are recommended by the State of Arkansas or by doctor referrals. Most people who require the services are experiencing poverty and have a developmental disability, such as autism or cerebral palsy.

Sabrina Woodson, Focus, Inc.’s CEO, joined the team right out of college and never looked back. In fact, she recently celebrated 22 years at the organization and couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Focus is a group of 200 employees, down 100 from pre-pandemic times.

Many organizations, including Greenbrier, feel the pressure to obtain dedicated talent and Focus is no exception. Sabrina detailed some of the ways employment and talent acquisition challenges impact the organization: “We see turnover around 30 percent. This work is incredibly rewarding but very difficult and it takes a special person to dedicate themselves to the mission.”

Programming

One of the most striking things about Focus is its programming accessibility for all ages. The organization started in 1978 and only offered programs for small children. Today, it has expanded to include both early childhood support, adult development, and one-on-one supportive living (Waiver services).

According to Sabrina, programs for children generally gain more funding than programs for adults. Focus operates two early childhood programs focused on developmental milestones.

  1. The Focus Early Childhood Program emphasizes learning through play while providing cognitive, social, self-help and language development, and gross and fine motor skills among other instruction areas.
  2. The Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program offers early education services to children under the age of five who exhibit multiple developmental and socioeconomic risk factors.

Focus is a proponent of early intervention and tailored support depending on the individual’s needs. They offer speech, occupational and physical therapy to ensure each child is receiving high-quality care in all risk areas.

Focus is among one of the only programs in the region that supports adult learning and care – a traditionally overlooked demographic. Through its adult development program, Sabrina states the organization’s vision for every individual is to foster lives where individuals can be self-sufficient. While self-sufficiency varies for each participant, services Focus supports range from bringing them into day programs, facilitating living arrangements and supportive living, and providing real-life work experience.

Moving individuals from assisted living to their own apartment is among the most empowering offerings Focus facilitates. The organization helps physically move the individuals, takes them furniture shopping and coaches the day-to-day life skills required to do things like grocery shop and budget.

“There’s not always a lot of natural support for this [adult] demographic. We have two ‘Focus houses.’ They are in the community, integrated in neighborhoods. Most have four bedrooms, so our participants live as roommates. Staff will also live with them,” said Sabrina. “The participants do their own budget and grocery shopping, and Focus is the supplier that will help get the clients where they want to go.”

Some of the participants at Focus want to work. Five years ago, the organization introduced the supported employment development program. The program assists participants in finding and keeping rewarding employment by partnering with local businesses. Focus ensures that the individual’s interests and long-term goals are taken into consideration when finding a position.

After fulfilling the job search, Focus provides a certified job coach to help participants train. The job coach assists the participant in learning their job and will slowly step back as the participant becomes more independent at work. “Many of the people in their lives are paid to be there, so securing jobs brings our participants new social activities,” said Sabrina.

Finally, some individuals require day programs, rather than housing assistance or supported employment. For this service, Focus runs a transportation program with 27 busses that pick-up children and adults across NE Arkansas. Some bus routes are up to 1.5 hours long. “We don’t get reimbursed much, and the bus program is always in the red.” However, this is an essential program, as approximately 95% of participants take the bus and it brings everyone to a Focus center. “We rely on the transportation because parents don’t usually get to bring the kids and adults every morning.”

Funding for programming is a challenge. “We have limited funds and resources. If we leave a building and go on field trips, we eat the costs because there are no reimbursements. But we like to go to the movies, the zoo or any other excursion because for some of the kids and adults, this is the first time they get to attend these activities.”

Get Involved

Sabrina is proud of the Paragould, Arkansas community and their dedication to supporting Focus. In fact, she calls the Paragould area “a hidden treasure” and recognizes that much of the work Focus does is dependent on a supportive and tight-knit community. As part of Greenbrier’s involvement with the non-profit and greater Paragould, we contributed $10,000 in October 2021. We are proud to work with Focus, Inc. and look forward to further developing our partnership.

How can you get involved with Focus?

  • Donate
  • Volunteer
    • Focus hosts several events, almost all requiring volunteers
    • Create your own volunteer time by visiting our website
  • Become a supported employment partner by emailing swoodson@focusinc.org

Holistic Care

Focus looks out for young children with developing minds (early intervention) as well as supporting adults in all living situations. The organization tailors its approach to ensure it supports each person individually, rather than a one-size-fits-all attitude.

“What is normal for you and me? It should serve as a bar. We empower our participants to choose what they want and what makes them happy.”

– Sabrina

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