AARP Eye Center
MY Project USA is a national initiative to protect and empower refugee and immigrant youth and their families who live in underprivileged, crime-ridden neighborhoods. We are the largest Muslim social services organization in Ohio. Since our founding seven years ago, we have provided services to more than 170,000 individuals, including 750 youth served through our youth empowerment program. We’ve distributed more than 4 million meals and snacks, donated 50,000 clothing and household items, contributed more than 65,000 hours in community service, and engaged 4,000 volunteers and youth activists.
The problem I am trying to solve
I live in a community with a large Muslim immigrant population. Most live in poverty and struggle with multiple barriers, including not being able to speak English. As a result, I see a lot of youth with not enough guidance against gangs, violence, drugs and human trafficking. MY Project USA empowers these kids to avoid all of this through a holistic program that combines a soccer club, English classes, mentorship and opportunities for community service and youth leadership. We have created a safe and healthy space for families so that youth can grow up as successful, productive citizens.
The moment that sparked my passion
Like my clients, I am also a Muslim American immigrant. I came to the United States at age 26 with two children under the age of 5. Even though I am a professional and college graduate, I still found it hard to adjust, both as a woman and as a parent. Then, in 2013, I read in the news about local Muslim girls who ran away from parental abuse and ended up being trafficked by a gang. It hit me extremely hard. My heart broke for these young women, and for their parents. I decided at once to start an organization to help protect and empower refugee and immigrant youth and families.
What I wish others knew
Kids who are at risk are not bad kids. The children and teens I work with are amazing and have so much potential. We gave them a little extra soccer programming, for example, and they emerged as soccer champions in central Ohio. They are good kids, with good parents, who are trapped in the wrong neighborhoods. If we can make the communities they live in safer spaces, and keep criminals away from them, they have amazing futures ahead of them. They make me proud every single day.
Take 16-year-old Sharmarke, who was pulled by MY Project USA to escape a life on the streets. He didn't have any good influence or purpose to his life. Our programming gave him a purpose. He has become a better student, a better leader and a better soccer player. He has grown his circle of friends and feels like the people he has met through MY Project USA have become like family. Most importantly, he now plays a key role in his own community by helping other kids stay on the right track and out of trouble.