FOCHUS (Friends Of the Central Highlands in the US) is a nonprofit organization founded by Steve and Susanne Parker in 2013 to provide educational support services and resources to the children of Montagnard refugees. The couple had moved to Charlotte in 2010 to work with the refugee population, but they soon found themselves directing their energies specifically toward the Montagnard people. This happened after a group of Montagnard children began hanging out in their home.
“I guess it was our collection of Disney movies,” Steve Parker said. “Or maybe my iPad. But anyway, about half a dozen Montagnard kids decided that our place was their second home. And we fell in love with them. Soon, we started asking ourselves what we could do to help them build a successful life in this country. And of course, the key to that is education.”
So in 2013, the Parkers put together a six-week enrichment program to help Montagnard kids keep their math and reading skills sharp over the long summer break. “We actually bribed them to attend at first,” Parker said. “We told them that if they came, we would take them to Carowinds in August before school started. But what we found after a couple weeks is that they would have been there regardless of Carowinds. They loved being in a safe place with us and with each other, learning and playing, laughing and growing. It really was quite remarkable.”
At the end of the summer, Steve and Susanne felt like they needed to keep their momentum going, so the summer enrichment program evolved into an afterschool called Focus Academy, meeting every weekday afternoon in the fellowship hall at Westview Baptist Church in the Westerly Hills of West Charlotte.
In September of 2016, the program entered its fourth year of operation. Because of the addition of an entrepreneurial training program, the space at Westview was no longer sufficient. This led to a partnership with Covenant United Methodist.
“Westview was very good to us,” Parker said, “and we greatly appreciate our time there. But we are so excited to be at Covenant, not only because of the extra space, but because this church has been ministering to the Montagnard community longer than any other church in Charlotte. Covenant’s members have a real love for the people we serve, so this is a really good fit.”
Besides the addition of the entrepreneurship program, called STEAM, FOCHUS has also expanded its scope to include short-term missions trips back to Vietnam for Montagnard young adults, training in conflict resolution here in the US and in Vietnam, and working with international agencies specializing in indigenous advocacy. All of this has taken place in 2016.
“We took three trips to Vietnam this year to learn more about the current situation in the Central Highlands, and to explore ways in which the Montagnards here in America could help,” said Parker. That has opened doors for us that we never dreamed possible. Plus, we’ve made two trips to Brussels, Belgium to connect with UNPO (Unreached Peoples and Nations Organization), learn about indigenous advocacy, and receive training in international diplomacy. We’ve also been to the United Nations for a consultation concerning the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. At this point, it has been less than one year since I first thought of even going to Vietnam. We have seen an expansion that I never would have dreamed possible in 2016. I can’t even begin to imagine what we might see happen in 2017.”