During my masters, I took a very special class that introduced me to three incredible gems at the same time. One, was my humane professor that I am honored to know and still count as a friend to this day, Ofelia Garcia. Second, was one of my dearest friends Zeena whose beautiful heart is only matched by her incredible mind. And third, was the concept of non-profit organizations that are there to serve Arab American and Muslim American immigrant families.
One of the classes I took was on languages and policy where we were asked to research a case study about language learning. Zeena and I partnered up and did our project about a class at the Arab American family center in Brooklyn, NYC that opened up in response to 11 Yemeni mothers, who were inspired to learn to read and write when they brought their kids in for help with their English language skills and their general homework. It was really something to talk to this amazing group of spirited women. I walked away so deeply touched by the real difference that the center was making in lives that were otherwise unnoticed and uncared for in general.
A few years later, I was delighted to hear about the daughter of a cousin on my father's side who had opened a similar service which even surpassed their offerings both in scale and impact. I remembered Nahla so clearly from my childhood, with her beautiful three sisters and charming brother, God Bless his soul. I remember their kindness, genuineness, and character. They immersed me in laughter and love. What the best of family love can offer, if one is lucky to have it!
We lost touch because California is so far from the Arab world where we live, but then by virtue of Lina's son, Tarik and my sister's love for family, we were connected again! When we paid them a visit, their warm and generous hospitality was the perfect space for our joyous and heartfelt reunion. Many generations of our family got the opportunity to meet for the first time!
Part of that hospitality was being taken to visit Access California. We went on a Saturday, so it wasn't the lively beehive it normally is with people in it, but it was still so elegant and real with its touches of Arabic or Muslim visuals to make the people coming to America from the Middle East, and those of Muslim background feel at home. It was also a place for those who are not of Arab or Muslim background to get a feel for the culture’s beauty, warmth and richness.
The space was huge, ma sha Allah and used so cleverly, with clear function and focus. As we moved between receptions, classrooms, offices, play areas and so much more, we could see how the center was purpose built to fit the needs of the organization and the community that it was created to serve.
There were motivational posters, awards and photos everywhere that told the story of a long and fruitful journey as well as reinforcing Access California’s vision.
Nahla started the organization when she herself was going through a hard time and couldn't find an expert that was culturally sensitive to assist her. She started with a foldable table, chair and a box to file her papers. The center was fulfilling such a deep and real need that it grew and blossomed, serving immigration processes and problems, english language, day care training and licensing, computer literacy for elders, child day care, after school programs, counseling and therapy services, and the list goes on and on!
When I visited, I had the chance to speak with Nahla's sister, Lina, who helps with immigration issues and does the work of lawyers by helping immigrants do their papers and process their visas. As Lina walked by a photo of a woman whom she had helped, she told the story of how the lady had arrived feeling totally helpless and how she was able to help her to start a new life. Those pictures, Lina said, serve as a constant reminder of the importance of the work they do.
I loved seeing the photos of the sisters' kids now doing service and volunteering at Access California. What a blessing to have service in your own family network, so easily and beautifully within reach and part of your everyday to shape the compassion and gratitude in your heart.
What an amazing story of a woman who came as a refugee herself at 16, freshly married and with schooling that stopped at ninth grade. It's a story that shows each of us that our needs and pains can become the very things that get us to thrive and help others to do the same. All we need is to have faith in God, show up and reach for the stars!
LEARN more about Access California
Established in 1998, Access California Services is a culturally sensitive community-based organization dedicated to empowering all underserved populations, with a focus on Arab- American & Muslim- American communities. They strive to enhance the quality of life and foster self-determination through direct health & human services.
CONTACT Access California
EXPLORE Access California's Services
AccessCal’s Programs include:
- Case Management & Client Advocacy
- Counseling & Support Services
- Employment Readiness & Placement
- Emergency Financial Assistance
- English as a Second Language Classes
- Computer Classes, Parenting Classes
- Citizenship Classes
- Home Daycare
- Licensing Training
- Enrolment in Government Health Coverage
- Refugee Social Services & Health Services
- Citizenship & Immigration Services
- Tax Preparation assistance
- After School Enrichment Program
- Youth Group Program
- Community Services & Recreational Activities
- Civil Engagement Activities.