Voted by the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce as the 2021 Nonprofit of the Year, Cherokee FOCUS (Families of Cherokee United in Service) will celebrate a major milestone this year: its 20th anniversary.
Cherokee FOCUS is made up of hundreds of community partners, including service agencies, youth-serving organizations, health organizations, law enforcement, education, business, the justice system, civic clubs, youth, and parents. These local, regional, and state-level partners work toward measurably better outcomes and meeting the needs of children, families, and the community of Cherokee County.
The work of this powerful community collaborative is grounded in three principles: people, partnerships, and possibilities.
Cherokee FOCUS was originally established to be the Georgia Family Connection local collaborative governing body. The Georgia Family Connection is the only statewide network of its kind in the country focusing on children and families, with collaboratives in all 159 Georgia counties.
According to founder and CEO Sonia Carruthers, “By bringing our partners to the table we are able to identify the community resources we have, the gaps in support services we might need, and together strategically plan, develop, and implement initiatives and programs that one agency, organization, or individual could not do alone.” Bringing everyone together and using local level data, Cherokee FOCUS coordinates and manages efforts to address the most pressing concerns of the community by identifying needs and crafting local solutions.
Over the years the Cherokee FOCUS collaborative has put in place several partnership initiatives and continues to see positive outcomes from these efforts. Some of the current programs and initiatives of Cherokee FOCUS include the following:
Cherokee Youth Works, a Work Source Georgia program funded in part by the Atlanta Regional Commission designed to work with out-of-school youth ages sixteen to twenty-four. This program assists youth in obtaining gainful employment by providing GED classes, assistance with college enrollment, work readiness skills, life skill classes, and paid and unpaid work experiences in partnership with local employers.
Drug Free Cherokee is the county’s youth drug prevention program. It targets youth and their parents with the facts about the hazards of marijuana, tobacco, and vaping devices as well
as the underage use and misuse of alcohol and misuse of prescription drugs. Much more than education, these partners take a hard look at local retail compliance in alcohol and tobacco sales, social hosting ordinances in relation to underage drinking, and other policies that protect our youth.
The Cherokee County Suicide Prevention Coalition is the collaborative’s newest initiative. Because of the increase in suicides in Cherokee County over the past few years, this prevention initiative focuses on youth as well as adults. Like many of the other initiatives under the Cherokee FOCUS umbrella, this coalition sees the importance of mental health services and programs in our county and connects community members to them.
The Cherokee County Youth Council is open to middle and high school-aged youth who live in Cherokee County who want to be involved, make a difference, meet other youth, and have a great deal of fun.
This leadership program came out of the saying “Don’t do anything for us without us.” While each initiative, program, or project is designed to support and protect the youth of our community, it is only by listening to the youth and strongly considering their viewpoint of the issues that the collaborative can truly be successful in meeting their needs.
Cherokee FOCUS plans to celebrate its 20th anniversary with a celebratory party this fall. “The collaborative-based organization is a wonderful thing, while it is also a bit difficult to describe,” said Sonia. “What we do know is that collaboration and collective effort have always yielded a collective impact in our community. Any issue that we have addressed and success that we have helped achieve is a shared effort of the community that is Cherokee FOCUS.”
Visit: Cherokee FOCUS
Katie Wheeler is a Canton native, born and raised. She has a degree in English Writing and Publishing and loves both the creativity and structure that comes with writing. Katie is passionate about the interesting stories found within our community. She also loves spending time with friends and family and venturing to new places.