Focus America is a New Jersey nonprofit corporation that is solely run by volunteers and develops and enhances the business acumen of young high school and college students who then go on to create, implement and manage their own community-service programs.
Shelly Zimmerman, a college professor at an all-women’s college in New Jersey, started focus America in October 2002. Zimmerman’s desire was to address business development needs of her undergraduate students. The primary concern of Focus America is to provide structured service learning opportunities for high school and college students while addressing the needs of low-income communities throughout the United States. In May of 2003, it was granted 501©3 nonprofit status by the IRS and it was retroactive to October 21, 2002 when the company was founded.
Focus America’s fledgling project focused on a poor community in Pembroke, Illinois when volunteers began collecting food, clothing, educational materials and school uniforms for the poverty-stricken children. That Christmas, volunteers collected and shipped more than 300 Christmas gifts for the children, most of whom had never experienced the joy and hope of this wonderful holiday.
In 2003, the organization turned their attention to the communities in their own backyard – northern New Jersey. In addition, they adopted Breast Cancer Research as the main medical project for volunteers. As a result, student volunteers have implemented programs that include but are not limited to providing free babysitting services for children of cancer victims, endorsing literacy for young Americans and mentoring first generation American youths.
Since its inception, the organization remains managed and run by volunteers. They have provided more than $300,000 in charitable services with overhead expenses of less than 1.5%. Focus America emphasizes two major programs annually. Project Pencils collects and distributes new backpacks filled with educational supplies to low-income children in New Jersey. During 2003, they supported 300 children and their goal for 2004 was 1,000. Project Holiday Cheer collects and distributes new holiday educational gifts as well as winter clothing to children in need in New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and several other states. In 2003, Focus American supported in excess of 1,200 children, and their goal for 2004 is 2,000.
The program recently started a preschool for children aged 18 months to 4 years. Puzzle Pieces Playschool provides drop in babysitting for children of women going through cancer treatment. All proceeds are funneled back to the charity to fund the organization’s community-service programs.
In addition, Focus America runs special projects throughout the year including food collections for day laborers, literacy collections for schools in impoverished communities, cell phone collections for domestic violence victims, mentoring programs for young girls and nationwide book clubs held over the Internet.