The turning point in Eleanor Josaitis’ life came in 1963 as she watched a televised report on the violence inflicted on civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama. The horrific scene ignited Josaitis’ passion for justice.
She became a civil rights activist – and a few years later co-founded Focus: HOPE in the wake of the 1967 violence that erupted in her own city.
Eleanor Josaitis, who passed away in August 2011, was widely regarded as a leader who fought with courage and tenacity to open opportunities to African Americans, women and others. She experienced the jubilation of winning Congressional approval of a national food program that has helped hundreds of thousands of women, children and senior citizens; the loneliness of a lengthy, and eventually victorious, federal discrimination lawsuit against a local employer; and the satisfaction of having talented men and women gain access to the financial mainstream.
The firebombing of Focus: HOPE’s offices in the 1970s, the passing of Father Cunningham in 1997, and the tornado that inflicted $18 million in damages to the campus two months later, never discouraged her.
“I refuse to be intimidated,” she said frequently. She was determined to make a difference in the community and she continued to work everyday until she became ill in the fall of 2010.
Josaitis served as CEO for nine years after Father Cunningham’s passing and received numerous national and local awards and 13 honorary doctorates.
She often attributed Focus: HOPE’s success to passion, persistence and partnerships. “I am grateful for the many partners that share our mission and make our work possible,” she said. “They have helped us immeasurably in our mission to overcome racism, poverty and injustice.”