Frequently Asked Questions

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General Information

What is FOCUS?

Fellowship of Christians in Universities and Schools, Inc. (FOCUS) is a diverse community of students, alumni, parents, faculty, clergy, and professionals from a variety of Christian denominations drawn together by a common faith and purpose. Through relationships, area meetings, programs, and events, we offer a safe space for students to consider life’s most important questions. We have eleven local area ministries, and offer 19 National Programs each year.

What does Local Area Ministry look like?

Our presence on campus is the result of an invitation by faculty, headmasters, and sometimes a student group. We seek to respect all members of the school community regardless of their religious beliefs. FOCUS staff members often help schools with coaching, or visit schools to support students in clubs, plays, or musical events. Sometimes students invite FOCUS staff to guide their discussion in on-campus small groups such as a Bible study or a fellowship meeting. Many areas also host regular meetings in a family’s home for fun and food, followed by a simple talk or Bible discussion. Staff may also be invited to speak at assemblies, chapels, or in class.

Who attends FOCUS?

FOCUS welcomes students from both independent (i.e., private) and public schools to all its meetings, events, and programs. However, FOCUS was founded to fill an important gap: many independent school students have limited opportunities to explore the Christian faith. Our primary aim is to enable independent school students to discover – in a non-coercive setting – the reality of faith for themselves.

How does FOCUS relate to the church?

FOCUS is not a church. Rather, it is committed to local congregations and seeks to be an arm of the wider Church as it relates to the independent school community. Because we are non-denominational, we have no formal affiliation with any religious body, and our staff members have been theologically trained in a variety of traditions. We encourage both students and staff to participate actively in their local churches.

Where is FOCUS based?

The organization has a National Ministry Office in New Canaan, Connecticut. We also have Area Ministry offices in eleven locations, along the East Coast and in San Francisco. For more information, please visit our Local Areas page. Additionally, we host National Programs, both Fall Weekends and Summer Programs. While our Summer Programs primarily occur at the FOCUS Study Center on Martha’s Vineyard, we also host several off-site adventure, service, and leadership training programs. For Summer Programs specific FAQs, please see below.

Who runs FOCUS?

FOCUS has an Executive Director and a staff of 40 who work in a variety of Local Areas and as support staff in our National Ministry. The ministry is overseen by a Board of Trustees composed of a diverse group of leaders committed to the FOCUS vision. In addition to this National Board, we have Area Sponsoring Committees who support and guide the work in their respective areas.

Does FOCUS work on university campuses?

Not directly. Our concentration is on Middle and Upper School students. However, when they graduate, we commend these students to various campus-based ministries at the universities they attend. We also invite and train our college-aged students and graduates to serve as volunteers, both locally and at National Programs.


Program Information

What is the FOCUS Study Center?

The FOCUS Study Center is located on 30 acres in West Tisbury, MA on Martha’s Vineyard. Our property is situated on Lambert’s Cove Road, 10 minutes from Vineyard Haven, MA and 15 minutes from Edgartown, MA. The Study Center offers 10 buildings designed for housing, dining, and gathering. Also onsite are the tennis courts, basketball court, sand volleyball, and the ever popular Seth’s Pond.

What does a typical day at the Vineyard look like?

FOCUS is dedicated to making a student’s time with us unforgettable. While every program is slightly different, a typical day may look like the following. Our mornings start each day at 8:30am with breakfast, followed by a time for personal reflection, free time, a morning meeting, small group discussions, and a camp wide game or activity. Lunch is followed by afternoon activities which take advantage of all the island has to offer. Afternoon activities can include anything from swimming in the pond, going to Lambert’s Cove Beach, a bike ride to Edgartown, playing famous FOCUS games, sailing off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, going on a hike, seeing the cliffs at Aquinnah, or having a foosball tournament. This is a time for students to choose what they want to do from each days’ offerings. Everyone meets back at the property by 4pm for “tea time” – a delicious snack. Students then have free time or can attend optional special sessions about culturally relevant topics. Another camp wide activity will follow dinner, then evening meeting, “coffee house” (another snack and hang out time), and back to the cabins for cabin time before a 10:30pm lights out. Morning and evening meetings are for the whole program and include a variety of elements including a fun game or icebreaker, music and singing (both familiar and new songs), a personal story from a leader, and a brief time of teaching on the Christian faith.

Where do students stay?

Housing is provided in two dormitories located on opposite sides of the property. Our girls stay in “The Palace,” while boys are in the upper and lower “Bunk Houses.” The Palace has six cabins that open both into a central hallway and out onto the porch. Bathrooms are accessed through the central hall. Each room houses 4-6 students and 1-2 leaders. There are four cabins in each of the bunk houses. (The upper and lower bunk houses are adjacent.) Each cabin opens to both the front and rear side of the porch. Each room houses 3-6 students and 1-2 leaders. The “Barn-Ex” is a separate cabin that is used for additional housing at larger programs. It is located near the middle of campus and is a favorite among those who have had the privilege of staying there. In the spirit of the Vineyard, all housing has both indoor and outdoor private showers, fans, and screened doors.

What is the program leadership and supervision?

During the summer, FOCUS programs have a leadership team made up of FOCUS staff and volunteer leaders. Our staff work in FOCUS areas and schools with students throughout the year. Our volunteer leaders are college students and professionals from fields like teaching, nursing, law, ministry, and finance. Most volunteer leaders were involved with FOCUS as middle and high school students, and enjoy the opportunity to come back and give their time as a program leader. Every FOCUS program has a ratio of at least 1 leader for every 3 students. These small leader-student ratios are an important part of the community fostered at FOCUS programs. The safety of our students is a top priority. All leaders undergo thorough national and local background checks and complete an online Child Safety Training course. Safety guidelines and emergency procedures are reviewed by the leadership team at the beginning of every program. Drivers must be at least 21 and have an exemplary driving record. All activities on the waterfront are supervised by at least one certified lifeguard and additional trained waterfront safety staff.

What does the program fee cover?

Program fees cover room and board, direct program expenses, and activities. Transportation to the program is not included. Program scholarships may be available to help cover the cost of the program fee and/or transportation. Please fill out this form to apply for a scholarship.

What is the food like?

FOCUS has a full-time Food Services Manager who runs our kitchen, in addition to an Assistant Food Services Manager, four college-aged interns, and a team of rotating volunteers. Fresh fruit, tea and hot chocolate are available throughout the day in addition to 3 meals, and an afternoon and evening snack time. We offer a wide variety of healthy and delicious freshly prepared foods; many students highlight the food at FOCUS as one of the favorite parts of their program experience! Whenever possible, we are committed to using fresh, local products and produce.

What if I have specific food allergies?

Through the years, we’ve had students with a variety of food allergies and dietary restrictions. We have typically been able to accommodate these needs by tweaking our general menu or providing special meals.

Do you have a nurse available?

During the summer, FOCUS employs a registered nurse who visits daily to oversee the medical care of students and leaders at our Martha’s Vineyard property. Our standards of care are regularly updated by an overseeing doctor in the local medical community. Additionally, each program has several leaders who work as infirmary assistants to provide additional care. All prescription and over-the-counter medications are turned into the infirmary upon arrival at a program, and dispensed by the nurse or infirmary assistants at the appropriate times. In the event there is illness or injury that cannot be handled by our infirmary, parents will be contacted and students taken to the medical clinic or emergency room for additional care.

Can students have cell phones?

For all middle and upper school programs, cell phones are not permitted during the program. Phones, smart watches, and other such devices will be collected upon arrival and returned at the end of the program.

During the program, you can contact FOCUS staff and students in a couple of ways. To leave a message for your child, please call the FOCUS Study Center Office: (508) 693-1359 or send an email with your child’s name in the subject line to [email protected].


Study Center Volunteer Information

What kind of work will I be doing?

You will be working alongside our staff to create simple and delicious meals for students. You can expect to be doing different kitchen tasks including baking and other food prep, as well as working with a team to wash dishes and to keep the dining hall clean and sanitary. We will work hard together to not only serve great food, but also have a lot of fun!

Working in the kitchen or on facilities can be a physically strenuous experience. We require our volunteers to be able to be on their feet for 6-8 hours at a time, and be able to lift at least 30 lbs without much difficulty. That being said, there are a variety of jobs for all types of workers, and we will work to accommodate the many different skill levels and abilities. We just ask for people who are eager to help and willing to learn! Please email [email protected] to discuss whether or not the work would be a good fit.

Why is volunteering important?

We could not serve and care for students with excellence if not for our wonderful volunteers. It is absolutely essential, so thank you in advance!

Does the program cost anything for me to volunteer?

The only charge is a suggested donation of $50 to cover the cost of the background check that we require for all volunteers that will be around our students, housing, food, etc. To donate, please click here and select the fund as “Study Center Programs”.

What will my schedule be?

Your schedule will be an eight hours. You will be responsible for either a morning shift lasting from breakfast through mid-afternoon (starting at approximately 7am) or an evening shift lasting from the end of lunch through the service of dinner and clean-up (starting at approximately 1pm). There will also be times of community and fun to engage with the programs and the island.

What are the best ways to get to the Vineyard?

There are several different ways to get to the Vineyard. The most common (and the only ferry that transports vehicles) is the Steamship Authority out of Woods Hole, MA. Martha’s Vineyard also has a small airport and many find flying a quick and efficient alternative to the ferry. For more information about how to get to the Vineyard, please visit our travel section.

Please be sure to complete your travel form accurately on your registration to ensure that someone from FOCUS will be at the ferry or airport to pick you up. For day-of travel communications, please contact the Summer Programs Office on Martha’s Vineyard at [email protected] or 508-693-1359.

Ideally, we would like volunteers to arrive before 5:00 pm in order to get settled and join us for dinner the evening of their arrival. We ask that you make your departure plans for after 9:00 am. By default you will not be scheduled to serve in the kitchen on your arrival or departure day.

Please do not make any travel arrangements until you have received registration confirmation by email.

Is there transportation provided while on the Vineyard?

Once you are on Martha’s Vineyard you will have limited access to a few vehicles owned by FOCUS. In accordance with the FOCUS Driving Policy, only cleared drivers are allowed to borrow these vehicles. To be cleared, drivers must be 21 years or older, have an MVR (Motor Vehicle Record) review performed on them prior to their arrival, and have a clean driving record as defined by the FOCUS’ Driving Policy.

What is the housing for volunteers?

The housing for volunteers will typically be a 6-bedroom cottage on FOCUS’ property. If you are volunteering as an individual there is a good chance that you will be sharing a room with another volunteer from your team due to limited space. We can accommodate married couples, but most rooms have two twin-sized beds.

Each cottage is equipped with a small working kitchen (refrigerator, stovetop, oven, and microwave) that we suggest using if you have dietary preferences and would like to eat something other than what is being served to the program for a meal. In addition, FOCUS has laundry services that volunteers are welcome to use, as long as it is not a heavy laundry day for the program.

Can I volunteer while my child is at a program?

We would love to have you here volunteering while your child is on a program. In our experience it is also very important to give them the space to fully engage in the program.

What activities does the Vineyard offer?

The property sits on gorgeous Uncle Seth’s Pond, which is always accessible. Lambert’s Cove Beach is only a short walk or bike ride away as well. There are a number of shopping and dining options in the towns around the island that we would love for you to experience. Martha’s Vineyard also offers a vast array of outdoor hiking and biking trails.

Are there certain things I need to bring?

For work in the kitchen we recommend comfortable clothes and shoes. Shoes are required to be close-toed and if you have long hair, you need to be able to pull it back or bring a hat to wear while you are working.

Who will I be working alongside?

Besides the other kitchen volunteers, you will be working with our Food Services Manager, Assistant Food Services Manager, and four college-aged Vineyard Staff kitchen interns.

Who do I contact about volunteering in the kitchen?

For questions about signing up, transportation, and other inquiries, please contact the Programs Office at [email protected] or 203-505-7522.

For day-of travel communications, please contact the Summer Programs Office on Martha’s Vineyard at [email protected] or 508-693-1359.

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