Community News (V13-I24)

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Sarrah Shahawy, Valedictorian at USC

shahawyLOS ANGELES,CA– Sarrah Shahawy  graduated at the top her class from University of Southern California obtaining the coveted valedictorian status.

Shahawy is a graduating senior in USC’s honors general education program, Thematic Option, majoring in biological sciences and French in USC Dornsife. She is president of USC’s Student Interfaith Council and was instrumental in getting the Dalai Lama to speak in May at USC for the first time.

Shahawy was born in Orange and raised in Pasadena and is first generation Egyptian American. Fluent in Arabic and French, she will attend Harvard Medical School in the fall.

In her recent commencement baccalaureate ceremony speech, she said that interfaith work, while celebrating differences, reminds us of our common goals, such as working to eradicate hunger, poverty, disease and corruption.

Nabeel Rahman: top ten of Spelling Bee

Nabeel Rahman, 13-year-old spelling superstar made it to the second round of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee finals last weekt. Rahman was done in by “dockmacky” after incorrectly spelling the word “dockmackie. ”  Rahman ended up tied for ninth place out of 275 competitors and only 13 who made it to the finals. The winner of the spelling bee, Sukyana Roy, received more than $40,000 in cash and prizes in the annual contest by correctly spelling the world “cymotrichous,” which means to have wavy hair.

Dr. Ali Shirani Donates Dental Care to Antioch Children in Need

ANTIOCH,CA–Many of California’s children today are suffering from dental problems because their family is uninsured and they are undereducated about proper dental care. Dr. Ali Shirani, a general dentist practicing in Antioch, California, is doing his part to help by volunteering his time to treat local children who don’t have insurance. Most of the children have never visited a dentist, so Dr. Shirani uses humor and rewards to calm them down. He hopes his generosity will inspire other dentists to volunteer their services to kids in need.

Dr. Shirani has been volunteering his services since he was in dental school at USC, including trips to treat needy patients in Tijuana. He made this service part of his Antioch practice because he wanted to help local children whose families lack the means to bring them to a dentist. He recently told the Contra Costa Times that for a lot of the families, the choice is, “Do I feed my kids or take them to the dentist?” Now these kids have access to his state-of-the-art facilities, and receive the highest level of care.

The kids who visit his practice are in need of serious dental care; root canals, extractions, fillings, or multiple procedures. He is friendly and gentle as he talks the kids through the process, and he rewards kids who keep their mouth open with toys and stickers. He also teaches them about the importance of brushing and flossing. Dr. Shirani usually treats eight to ten needy children each month. The children are referred to Dr. Shirani by Contra Costa Health Services.

The Contra Costa Times noted the dire state of pediatric oral hygiene in California, stating that “one out of four children in the state’s elementary schools have untreated tooth decay, according to a recent study. Four percent of elementary school students are afflicted with pain from rotting teeth, abscesses and infections.”

Dr. Shirani is fighting to change those numbers, but he knows how big the problem is. “The most frustrating part is no matter how much I do, it’s not enough,” he stated. He hopes other dentists will view his practice as a model.

Amena Ali appointed as CMO of Earth Networks

Earth Networks™, the owner of the WeatherBug® brand and operator of the largest weather observing and lightning network, announces the hiring of Amena Ali as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). In this role, Amena will oversee the development and implementation of worldwide marketing and product initiatives, and will be responsible for advancing strategic programs involving the company’s enterprise solutions for commercial and public-sector markets and the popular WeatherBug consumer brand. She will also drive Earth Networks’ expansion into new markets and support the company’s mission to “Take the Pulse of the Planet” by deploying environmental networks – including the largest and first privately funded global greenhouse gas (GHG) observation network – that provide weather and climate intelligence through precise observation, actionable information and advanced alerting.

A skilled leader, Amena brings to Earth Networks more than 20 years of management experience with innovative high-tech firms ranging in size from $10 million to $30 billion. Prior to joining Earth Networks, she served as CMO at Bethesda, Md.-based Arxan Technologies, a leading developer of application security solutions. Amena’s experience includes senior marketing positions at Softek Storage Solutions (now a part of IBM) and EMC Corporation. Prior, Amena held similar positions at Legato Systems and OTG Software, both of which were acquired by EMC. She also held executive-level consumer marketing and finance positions at MCI, and was a management consultant with Bain & Company. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and an MBA from Yale University.

“We are extremely pleased to welcome Amena Ali to Earth Networks,” says Earth Networks CEO Bob Marshall. “Her depth and breadth of experience in both consumer and enterprise marketing, with notable accomplishments in market expansion, product positioning and partner relationships, as well as branding and go-to-market strategies, will be invaluable as we increase our business globally. Her insight, creativity, and leadership will be essential as we rapidly grow our business to provide global weather, climate and GHG intelligence to businesses, governments and consumers on a scale that has never been done before.”

Cultural awareness overcomes lies and misconceptions

BOSTON,MA–Many Americans have adopted false impressions of Muslims, said Muhammad Ali-Salaam, the former deputy director of special projects for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, who converted to Islam in 1975.

Speaking at the Arab, Muslim and Sikh Cultural Awareness Program in the Behrakis Health Sciences Center on Tuesday, Ali-Salaam told some two-dozen members of the Northeastern University community, “People thought all Muslims wore turbans, had brown skin and were most likely associated with Afghanistan or the Middle East.

“The stereotype of what a Muslim is,” he said, “doesn’t hold water.”

The event provided insight into the cultural, religious and historical traditions of Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs, said Naomi Thompson Hall, the associate director of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, which sponsored the program.

“The presentation,” she said, “is part of an on-going discussion about diversity, religion and being respectful.”

Sara Rivera, an administrative assistant for the Latino Student Cultural Center, learned that Islamic women are allowed to vote and required to pursue an education.

“Now, when someone makes a false statement,” she said, “I’ll be able to say, ‘that’s not true.’”

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Community News (V12-I12)

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Seven Muslims Awarded Soros New American Fellowships for 2010

Soros fellowship There are seven Muslims among thirty awarded of the Soros New American Fellowships for 2010. The awards are granted to high achieveing immigrants or children of immigrants in the United States. The fellowships are funded by income from a $75 million charitable trust created by philanthropists Paul and Daisy Soros, of New York City and New Canaan, Conn. Since its founding, more than $33 million has been spent to support graduate education of immigrants and the children of immigrants.

The Muslim Observer will be publishing the profiles of Muslims each week beginning this issue.

ABDULRASHEED ALABI is the son of supportive Nigerian parents who were seeking advanced degrees in the United States.  He is now pursuing MD and neuroscience PhD degrees at Stanford Medical School.  AbdulRasheed grew up in Nigeria but then returned to the United States to complete an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University where he was, and remains at Stanford, an active member of the Muslim community amongst other activities.  Balancing complex personal and financial responsibilities, he soon made his mark as a young researcher, a student leader, and a civic volunteer.

For three summers, he conducted biomedical research with Dr. Emery Brown at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital culminating in a co-authored article in the American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology.  As an Undergraduate Scholar at the National Institutes of Health, he worked with Dr. Kenton Swartz on electrical signaling proteins in the nervous system, research that netted him a first-author article in Nature.  At Stanford he has been leader of the Student National Medical Association and the annual SUMMA (Stanford University Minority Medical Alliance) conference—where over 500 young people are encouraged to consider science and medicine. AbdulRasheed plans on a career as a physician-scientist-public advocate intent on innovative basic science for diagnostic, therapeutic and preventative applications. He also has a defined interest in international scientific exchange for biomedical development and enhanced educational opportunities in Africa.

Jewish students tour Islamic center

HAMPTON,VA–Far from the conflicts a world away efforts are being made in Virginia to bridge the misunderstandings between Muslims and Jews. On a recent Sunday, students from Beth El Temple in Williamsburg visited the Mosque and Islamic Center of Hampton Roads for an educational tour. The two dozen students, their parents and teachers, and their Rabii were given an introductory talk about Islam and the Muslim faith.

The reactions by the grown ups and the children were positive. Rebecca Feltman, 10, was struck by the egalitarian nature of Islam. “I didn’t know Islam was such a popular religion,” she said. “I like that it’s open to different races. I didn’t know that they [Judaism, Christianity, Islam] were so alike.” Esther Shivers, attending with her daughter Erin, 8, was also impressed by the similarities between the religions. “They’re burdened with that terrorism. They have a lot of damage control to do,” she said. “All religions have extremists. We have more in common. It’s wonderful that they open their facility and educate the children.”

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School Districts struggling to pay for needs of uprooted kids

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

TIDAL WAVE OF HOMELESS STUDENTS HITS SCHOOLS

By Karl Huus, MSNBC

OXNARD, Calif. – Nine-year-old Daniel Valdez is absorbed in “The Swiss Family Robinson,” the fictional story of a family shipwrecked on a tropical island. In real life, he and his family also are marooned, but there is little romance in their tale of survival in this seaside town northwest of Los Angeles. Daniel, his mother and five brothers, ages 1 to 17, live in a garage without heat or running water in a modest, low-lying neighborhood that sits between celebrity-owned mansions in the hills and the Pacific Ocean. Each morning, they arise at 6:30, get dressed and then leave quietly; they return only after dark — a routine born out of the fear that detection could mean the loss of even this humble dwelling. Daniel and his brothers have been sleeping in the garage for more than a year — members of what school officials and youth advocates say is a rapidly growing legion of homeless youth. While the problem may be worse in economically stricken regions like Southern California, where foreclosures and job losses are taking a harsh toll on families, anecdotal evidence suggests it is a growing issue nationally and one with serious ramifications for both a future generation and the overburdened public school system.

Research shows that the turmoil of homelessness often hinders children’s ability to socialize and learn. Many are plagued by hunger, exhaustion, abuse and insecurity. They have a hard time performing at grade level and are about 50 percent less likely to graduate from high school than their peers. “Homeless children are confronted daily by extremely stressful and traumatic experiences that have profound effects on their cognitive development and ability to learn,” said Ellen Bassuk, a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor and president of the nonprofit National Center on Family Homelessness. “They tend to have high rates of developmental delays, learning difficulties and emotional problems as a product of precarious living situations and extreme poverty.” Mary Aguilar, Daniel’s mother, said she believes the family’s tenuous existence is largely responsible for her son’s struggles with his third-grade lessons.

“He’s depressed a lot,” she said of Daniel, whom she says has been the most affected of her sons by the loss of their home. “He does his work for class, but very slowly, like he’s thinking. He worries a lot about living like this.” Under federal law, schools are charged with keeping homeless students like Daniel from falling behind their peers academically. This can mean providing a wide range of services, including transportation, free lunches, immunizations and referrals to family services.. But with insufficient federal funding and budgets that are severely strained, many schools are struggling to meet the rising need. In Vista, Calif., about 35 miles north of San Diego, the population of homeless kids in the local school district reached 2,542 this year — about 9 percent of the student body and nearly 10 times the number just two years ago, said Rebecca Benner, the district’s homeless liaison.

“It’s like a tidal wave this school year,” she said. Benner’s role as homeless liaison — only part of her job providing student services — is now full time, as she scrambles to register homeless students for free lunches, arrange for transportation, provide P.E. uniforms, line up counseling and cover SAT fees. “It was supposed to be one small piece of my day,” she said. “… Now it’s almost insurmountable to get to the bottom of the phone messages.” Hard-to-get numbers – The number of homeless people in the U.S. is the subject of much debate and disagreement. An annual one-night count, performed by social service organizations and volunteers who then report to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, attempts to tally the number of people living on the street, in cars or makeshift tents and in emergency shelters.

The most recent survey — conducted in January 2008, before the full brunt of the recession hit — tallied 759,101 homeless Americans. Roughly 40 percent of them — or about 300,000 — were families with minor children, according to the survey. Advocates for the homeless say a more reliable picture of what is taking place comes through a separate count conducted in public schools, in which the definition of “homeless” is broader. Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, “homeless” includes not just children who live on the streets, but “any individual who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” In addition to those living in shelters or cars or sleeping on the street, that figure includes children whose families are doubled up with other families or living in trailers due to economic hardship, those who live in substandard housing and kids awaiting foster care placement.

In 2007-2008 — the last school year for which data is available — the nation’s 14,000 public school districts counted more than 780,000 homeless students, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. “I think that was the beginning of seeing the foreclosure crisis impact,” said Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. In a voluntary survey late last year by the association and another nonprofit, First Focus, 330 school districts reported that the number of homeless students appears to be far higher, said Duffield, co-author of a report on the survey published in December. She estimated that the number of homeless students is now close to 1 million — exceeding numbers in the period right after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“It’s this year, 2008-2009, that the rug was pulled out from under many school districts,” she said. Stimulus package to boost funding – Federal funding for schools to provide services fo r homeless kids is allocated through McKinney-Vento, a 1987 law that was bolstered by the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2002. “Under McKinney-Vento, every district is required to have a liaison with the responsibility to identify homeless kids,” said Duffield. In addition to the staff, the school districts are responsible for providing a number of services, which can include everything from meals and clothing to athletic uniforms and educational field trips. One of the biggest costs in serving homeless kids is providing transportation to and from school, required even if the kids move out of the immediate area, she said.

The law included funding, but school districts must apply for grants to tap into it. Duffield estimated that only about 6 percent of the nation’s school districts received money through McKinney-Vento last year, though many more applied. This year, schools were slated to receive $64 million to aid homeless students under the act. The newly passed federal stimulus package will add $70 million more in funding. That will be a big help, Duffield said, while maintaining that the program “was woefully underfunded” even before the economic crisis pushed more people over the brink. Duffield is now combing through the rest of the $787 billion economic stimulus package to see if funding in other categories might be used to help homeless students.

For instance, the stimulus package includes $79 billion for a “State Fiscal Stabilization Fund” — about 80 percent of which is earmarked for K-12 education and is intended to offset state cuts in education funding. The stimulus also adds $13 billion for Title I, the biggest federally funded education program, for schools that have large concentrations of needy students. Under some interpretations, these funds cannot be used to pay for transportation or liaisons for homeless students. “(But) if the district identifies transportation, liaisons, social workers, gas cards, backpacks or shoes, they ought to be able to use their funds for that, because those are literally some of the needs,” Duffield said. “We’re looking for flexibility.”

Responses to the survey of school districts illustrate the variety of challenges that come with providing for homeless kids. The Wisconsin Rapids Public School District, which serves 5,700 students in the state’s rural heart, counted 160 homeless students, a 50 percent increase over two years ago.

“One of the biggest challenges is transportation,” Heather Lisitza, the school district’s homeless liaison, was quoted as saying in the report. “Our city has only one taxi cab service and no public bus system. Another challenge (is)… we … have long, cold winters, all students need proper outerwear to go outside — snow boots, hat, mittens, snow pants and a winter jacket that has a working zipper or buttons on it. This expense adds up quickly and it is hard to provide to the increasing number of homeless students.”

More families pushed over the edge – School districts also say they are seeing more students from middle-class, working-class and working-poor families being pushed into homelessness. Among them are Martin and Luz de la Rosa, who arrived one recent afternoon at the Ventura County (Calif.) Community Action Center, a facility that primarily serves chronically homeless men, for an appointment with a social worker. The de la Rosas explained that they were seeking government assistance for the first time because they and their eight children — ages 3 to 16 — were just days from being evicted from their apartment. Clutching a Bible, Luz de la Rosa said she lost her job at a small jewelry store as the recession kicked in. Then in November, her husband was laid off from the small Oxnard machine shop where he had been earning $19 an hour.
Martin said that left him with two untenable choices — continuing to collect unemployment benefits of $1,600 a month or taking a job at minimum wage, neither of which would cover rent for a home big enough for his family. The de la Rosas said they wouldn’t mind moving into a two-bedroom apartment, which is all they can afford here, but landlords won’t allow that many occupants. Social worker Delores Suarez said she would like to place them somewhere together, but at the moment, there is simply not enough emergency housing available. “They are probably going to end up split up among relatives” and attending different schools, she said. Other homeless parents said that some schools are either unaware of their obligations to help or aren’t eager to provide the required services because of budget constraints.

Next in Suarez’s appointment book was a 35-year-old woman named Sylvia, who declined to provide her last name. She said that after a divorce three years ago, she lost her home to foreclosure and then couldn’t keep up with rent when she was laid off from her job at a car parts factory. She and her three kids then moved in with a friend. “When the school found out we had moved (away from the neighborhood) … they wanted to remove the kids from school,” she said. Only after she met with district officials were they allowed to continue to attend, she said. Identifying the homeless – Compounding the problem of getting school districts to live up to their responsibilities is the fact that many homeless families are unwilling to acknowledge their living situation and therefore don’t receive services that could help them, said Susan Eberhart, principal of the Sheridan Way Elementary School in Ventura.

“People have to identify themselves as homeless (in order to get help), but that frequently doesn’t happen,” she said. “When the school found out we had moved (away from the neighborhood) … they wanted to remove the kids from school,” she said. Only after she met with district officials were they allowed to continue to attend, she said. Eberhart said she and her staff are accustomed to kids who are struggling at home — nearly all of the school’s 514 K-5 students are poor enough to qualify for free breakfast and20lunch. Although 86 of them were identified as homeless in the last survey, she guesses that, based on telltale signs, at least 100 meet the criteria.

“They have no place to keep stuff, so their backpacks are very full. Their clothes are not clean. They haven’t had a haircut, haven’t seen a dentist,” she said. “… Maybe a kid has asthma and is out of meds.” Eberhart said she is swamped by the scope of the problem. She no longer has the assistance of a county social worker who used to handle much of the load — a budget cut caused the county to eliminate that resource. Now she is urging people to ask for help — and prodding community organizations to help fill the gaps as she identifies them. “Some families are sort of floating, she said. “If we can get them to land, we can provide … continuity.” While the stigma of homelessness prevents some from acknowledging their plight, others have more immediate concerns, said Beth McCullough, homeless liaison for the Adrian Public Schools in economically battered southeast Michigan.

Families with children living in emergency shelters, pop-up campers, cars and tents can be charged with neglect by Child Protective Services workers, and there have been instances where parents have lost custody, she said. Fearing the loss of their kids, she said, “parents call in and say their kid won’t be in school because they are going to Disneyland for a week, when the fact is that (they) don’t have a way to get them to school. Or20parents will tell kids to lie about where they live.” Homework in pandemonium – For Mary Aguilar, the Oxnard woman living with her kids in the garage — which she rents for $150 a month from a cousin — the assistance her kids might receive at school is not worth the risk that other children will ridicule them if their living arrangement becomes known..

So she tries to help them stay on track, though it’s a daily struggle. Daniel recently missed several days of school because of yet another cold — a common ailment, his mother said, because the garage has been especially cold this winter. Normally she walks three of her sons to their elementary school, but some days heavy rains have kept them home. For now, the family has few prospects for better housing. The family became homeless after Aguilar’s boyfriend, father to the two youngest boys, left about a year and a half ago, and Aguilar could not pay rent. When an opportunity came to sign up for emergency housing five months ago, she lined up at the courthouse before dawn. For that, she got her name on a waiting list of about two years.

She has applied for jobs in stores and fast-food restaurants and come up empty-handed. She is exploring a work rehab program offered by the state. Meantime, the family gets by on about $1,300 a month in food stamps and cash aid — but no child support from the boys’ fathers. For now, the routine remains the same. After school, Aguilar and the six boys go to her20mother’s apartment, where her brother and sister also live. Aguilar’s family can’t stay overnight — that would put the others at risk of eviction — but it is a place to eat and for the boys to study.

But Daniel’s 11-year-old brother, Isaac, said he’s sometimes too distracted by the pandemonium of 10 people and the television to do his homework. “Then he tries to do it when we get back to the garage, but the light keeps everyone awake,” said Aguilar. Isaac has fallen behind a grade, and Aguilar’s eldest son, 17-year-old Joshua, is attending a remedial program for drop-outs. Aguilar is pleased that Daniel has so far been able to keep up with his grade level. Unaware of the tough odds he faces, Daniel says he plans to finish high school. Like other boys his age, he still has big dreams — of becoming a basketball star and working at something important someday. But first and foremost, he dreams of “a very beautiful house … with a room of my own.” The walls would be decorated, he said, “with posters, and pictures that I have drawn, and tests that I did in school.”

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