Attention also turned toward engaging elementary and high school students in arts-related programming to build understanding of different cultures. The Pen Pal program paired third graders from city and suburban schools in a letter writing and cultural diversity program. Children met periodically at Focus: HOPE for diverse entertainment and arts activities.
Budding high school journalists also participated in an annual journalism competition. The students conducted interviews and wrote stories in a one-day competition judged by professional journalists.
But the decade that began with such promise ended in heartbreak. Father Cunningham passed away on May 26, 1997 after a year-long battle with cancer. Just two months later, while his colleagues and the community were still in mourning, a tornado inflicted $18 million in damages to buildings. Miraculously, no one was injured.
Within a day, Focus: HOPE colleagues were working out of temporary locations and reconstruction was underway with tremendous support from individuals and the business community. The stage was set for revitalization under co-founder Eleanor Josaitis.