Nearly 40 years ago a small group of women in the Coronado Cays began an organization to help improve life for children around San Diego. Over time the organization has evolved into what FOCUS is today, a group of men and women in Coronado dedicated to providing direct support for charitable foundations and partners that seek to assist children in need locally. Today Pat Robitaille is the president of FOCUS, (Friends of Children United Society), and I had a chance to speak with her more about the group.
“When I first moved to Coronado just a few years ago,” Robitaille began, “my neighbor happened to be a part of FOCUS and said I should start out shopping [for FOCUS] and get involved.” While FOCUS raises money to support charitable groups and agencies (100% of which always goes to the foundations), members also take a direct approach with support by providing agencies with much-needed items such as beds, clothes, food – whatever immediate needs are requested that can be met. “When you go into the agency and find out what it’s all about, you find how much these things can really make a difference,” Robitaille said.
She recalled one of the first agencies she shopped for after joining FOCUS being Angels Foster Family Network, who at that time needed starter kits for infants. “I wasn’t understanding at first why people were adopting infants if they weren’t prepared for it,” Robataille explained, telling me how there has been so much she’s learned since she first got involved. “I had no idea that many people adopting are pre-qualified by the foster agencies and they don’t when an infant is suddenly going to need to be placed in their home. So understanding how that worked, why the need was there, and how many kids are involved these agencies and process…for me it was really an ‘aha’ moment.”
The more Robataille volunteered her time to provide items for these agencies, the more Robataille saw how issues like homelessness, trafficking, or incarceration effected children here in San Diego. “I understood things on the periphery before and seeing how big it impacts kids, that really drew me in,” she told me. “Once you come in and get more educated about the work these different agencies are doing and what you’re helping support, you get hooked for life. I think that’s why so many of our members are long-time members.”
FOCUS has grown in membership and reputation around San Diego to be able to support around 40 agencies every year now. The group has been offering aid to some of these charities since their inception and have watched them grow, and always remains open to receiving new requests. “Some agencies have come to rely on us for certain things, and new ones come to us also,” Robataille commented. “And as long as it’s benefitting children in need then it aligns with our support, and for the four years I’ve been with FOCUS, never seen us deny a request.”
While typically the board members will meet to set a plan at the beginning of the year to know how much money will be set aside for grants for different agencies, the group also works year round on fulfilling agency requests. “Every month we have proposed projects. At our board meeting each month these monthly projects are determined, which then goes out to membership for vote. We do all the shopping for that request that month,” she explained. “And sometimes there are time-sensitive requests and we’ll work with agencies around dates in those instances.”
In some sense, Robataille said FOCUS is able to stand in as an immediate provider of sorts to agencies. “What agencies like about FOCUS is we’re like an emergency response team,” she mentioned. “They know they can come to us and tell us they need a new washing machine, for instance, and we can go out and get that to them that day.”
The pandemic brought some challenges for the group, but Robataille has also seen how it’s brought more visibility to some of the issues FOCUS works to address and a great response of generosity as well. “We’ve seen more people reaching out to us [this past year]…At the recent Halloween event we had over a 1,000 bags of candy and we had so many people show up to the Yacht Club to help bag candy and we’re finding people really want to get out and help,” she said. “I feel really good about our member engagement this period, and even though we had to pivot and not have monthly meetings [with the pandemic], the level of involvement has been tremendous.”
“We found we had so many requests for food; a lot more than in years past,” Robataille noted of their work over the pandemic and ways they’ve adjusted to accommodate under the unusual circumstances. “And instead of saying, ‘Here’s a project we’ll fund,’ we put together a food drive and that was huge. It was something people could still get involved with and feel personally connected to in a way.” FOCUS hasn’t been able to hold their annual gala since 2019, which is typically a main funding source for them to fulfill grants and other requests, and yet Robataille has seen members rise to occasion. “Over last two years donations from members have equaled what we normally make on the gala. They are incredibly generous and every agency request we received we fulfilled the last two years.”
Things are beginning to return to normal for FOCUS and Robataille hopes their usual meeting format can return in the new year. “We’ll look to get back to the monthly get-togethers next year; luncheons, bingo parties, chili cookouts…lots of different things. And typically with our monthly meetings, we like to invite an agency in to let them share what they do to support kids and do something fun at the meetings as well.”
On Nov. 20 FOCUS is back to hosting their Holiday Boutique on the Bay event at the Coronado Cays Yacht Club (CCYC), and looking forward to partnering with CCYC to host the annual Boat Parade and Chili Dinner on Dec. 11. Both events are welcome to everyone, with the Holiday Boutique running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a $10 admission fee at the door that goes directly to supporting San Diego children in need. “It’s always fun to see the local artisans and fun to see new vendors coming in,” Robataille mentioned of the upcoming event.
“CCYC loves it as a kickoff to the holiday season and they provide a glass of champagne to everyone who comes.” Instead of asking for donations from proceeds, this year FOCUS has asked each vendor to donate an item for a silent auction at a future event (Robataille is hopeful for the return of the FOCUS gala this coming spring). “We love that this will give our vendors more exposure and we’re really looking forward to the event this year,” she added.
With their 40th anniversary coming up in 2022, Robataille is looking forward to FOCUS getting even more involved in the community and would like to get more families involved with their work as well. “We’re hoping we can plan a lot of events around our 40th year and get out there around Coronado like we were for the Halloween event this year and will be for the Flower Show in the spring,” she told me. “We would like to just be out there with community more and entice people to join Focus.”
One thing the past couple of years has enabled FOCUS to do is invest more time in the group’s infrastructure and presence online. Robataille comes from a background in technology and is excited for the refresh for the group’s software and website.
“We just launched a brand new website – we owe a lot to a company out in Mexico who did everything for us pro-bono; designing a new logo and website and just helped freshen things up for us,” Robataille said. “We’re ready for the next 40 years.”
To learn more about FOCUS, how to get involved in the group, or see more about their upcoming events and activities, you can visit the group’s website at https://focus-sdkids.org or find the group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Focus92118/.
The FOCUS Holiday Boutique on the Bay is this Saturday, Nov. 20 at CCYC , 30 Grand Caribe Way, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. where you can meet FOCUS members and help support charitable efforts to help the children of San Diego.