But the failure rate may be higher. John Gruder, owner of Phoenix Die Mold, has hired about 10 Focus:Hope trainees and has let three go. Their training had some "shortcomings," he said. Still he is generally pleased with the quality of Focus:Hope graduates--particularly their strong work ethic.
While the center is drawing kudos, even its biggest supporters note that the program's impact is limited.
For instance, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a key backer, acknowledged that Focus:Hope may be difficult to copy because it takes years to develop the trust and relationships that make such efforts succeed. Stern, who helped Los Angeles County apply for federal support for a program modeled on Focus:Hope, said it remains to be seen if the Detroit program can wean itself from federal money.
"The question is: Can they sustain it long term and without federal aid?" he said. "That chapter has yet to be written."
Cunningham, however, has no doubts about Focus:Hope's sustainability. The priest has little patience for those who urge caution and criticizes past job training programs, saying billions of dollars have been wasted on efforts that brought no jobs--or offered only dead-end work.
After more than 25 years working with the disadvantaged, he still has the fervor of a zealot. But he is preaching a new sermon. Cunningham says Detroit and the United States can only regain their competitive edge by adopting new ideas and technologies and taking advantage of the nation's diversity.
"Our goals are too limited, our focus is too narrow," said Cunningham. "What about helping people to be productive to the extent of their capability? Then, we would have an economy."