Impact Stories

First-person stories from people impacted by Ford Fund

Innovating for Impact: Portia Roberson's Vision for Focus: Hope

This February, we celebrate Black leaders and Black-led organizations with the annual kick-off of Black History Month. The once week-long event became a month-long celebration in 1976, as a time to honor the legacy and contributions of African Americans.

At Ford Fund, we are amplifying the work of our partner organizations by showcasing their past, present and vision for the future. In the coming weeks, stay tuned for additional features with Black leaders making an impact in our communities.

As CEO of Focus: HOPE, Portia Roberson is leading a mission to combat racism, poverty, and injustice, fostering a community where everyone can live in freedom and harmony. Drawing on her experience heading Detroit's Civil Rights, Inclusion, and Opportunity Department, Portia has been a driving force in promoting local employment, encouraging collaboration between Michigan-based businesses, and advocating for inclusive economic development. "This community has always been filled with hope-builders. Their stories of coming together continue to inspire my purpose here," Portia shared.

Quote: This community has always been filled with hope-builders. Their stories of coming together continue to inspire my purpose here. Portia Roberson CEO of Focus: HOPE to left of smiling African American female wearing red, blouse with neck detail and longer sleeves

For over half a century, Focus: HOPE has played a key role in providing an intergenerational mix of services to communities across Southeast Michigan. In all aspects of her work, Portia understands communities' needs and how existing systems make it challenging for people to break free from the cycle of poverty. While many of Focus: HOPE's foundational programs continue today, they have adapted to meet the evolving needs of the times with wrap-around services. For instance, each year, the organization nurtures the minds of over 200 children through early education initiatives and provides over 41,000 monthly meals to seniors. In its commitment to adult workforce development, Focus: HOPE is always looking to what will be the jobs of the future.

"We had a gentleman complete our IT program, funded by Ford Fund, and get a job starting at $27 an hour. It's truly transformative, coming from a position that may not have offered a sustainable career," Portia shared of a recent job training success. Initially concentrated on manufacturing pathways, Foucs: HOPE's training programs now encompass diverse fields such as construction, commercial driving, landscaping, and beyond. "My hope is that when they walk in the door of that first new job, they're confident they will be successful," Portia says of program attendees. In 2022, the organization enrolled more than 400 students in job training and pre-apprenticeship programs.

In terms of what's next for the organization, Portia envisions expanding community partnerships and continuing to reach more people who are unable to physically visit the site. She adds, "I want to build upon the successes we've had in the areas we're already in.

If you’re interested in amplifying Focus: HOPE’s impact, consider donating your time to pack food boxes, assist senior shoppers, or support early learning activities.