The 1990s: Innovation, expansion—then disaster and recovery


Excitement and innovation marked the beginning of Focus: HOPE’s third decade. Education opportunities grew with two new programs to help incoming students upgrade math and reading skills. Called First Step and Fast Track, the programs helped incoming students improve reading and math by as much as two grade levels through intensive study.

In 1993, an innovative college degree program was launched in the new Center for Advanced Technologies (CAT). Envisioned
by Father Cunningham as a unique opportunity for students from the inner city, the CAT opened with support from the National Science Foundation and the Greenfield Coalition, a collaboration of industry and university partners.

Retired General Motors President Lloyd Reuss volunteered to lead the innovative program which gave MTI graduates the opportunity to earn a tuition-free college degree in manufacturing engineering. As this hands-on program gained national attention, prominent business and government leaders took note. Even President Bill Clinton came to Focus: HOPE to see the program in action.

Attention also turned toward engaging elementary and high school students in arts-related programming to build understanding of different cultures. The Pen Pal program paired third graders from city and suburban schools in a letter writing and cultural diversity program. Children met periodically at Focus: HOPE for diverse entertainment and arts activities.

Budding high school journalists also participated in an annual journalism competition. The students conducted interviews and wrote stories in a one-day competition judged by professional journalists.

But the decade that began with such promise ended in heartbreak. Father Cunningham passed away on May 26, 1997 after a year-long battle with cancer. Just two months later, while his colleagues and the community were still in mourning, a tornado inflicted $18 million in damages to buildings. Miraculously, no one was injured.

Within a day, Focus: HOPE colleagues were working out of temporary locations and reconstruction was underway with tremendous support from individuals and the business community. The stage was set for revitalization under co-founder Eleanor Josaitis.