DEARBORN – As a community grows and becomes increasingly more diverse, so do the needs of its youth.
Public schools aren’t for everybody, and many locals know that. Their support for unique ways of educating and supporting students was telling, as hundreds attended the Hamadeh Educational Services’ (HES) first scholarship gala.
Current students, as well as former ones who now work for the charter school district, gathered with parents, government officials and entrepreneurs at the Edward Hotel & Convention Center on April 20 with one goal – to make it more affordable for the students graduating from HES’ four academies— Star International, Universal, Universal Learning and Noor International— to pursue higher education.
HES is comprised of more than 3,000 students and 400 staff members and features Pre K-12 programs at its academies that cater to the needs of the community and students who come from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
Since 2004, HES academies have graduated more than 1,500 students and awarded more than $700,000 in scholarships, but is expanding its scholarship program.
“In the interest of making it sustainable, we took the opportunity on this occasion of the 20th anniversary to kick it off and also kick off the alumni chapter to hopefully bring back many of the students who graduated to be part of a great system for continuity, so they can have control over their learning and lead the way,” said Nawal Hamadeh, founder and superintendent of HES.
Students who have already received letters of admission from universities or colleges were awarded a combined $96,000 in scholarships that evening.
The two scholarship categories were a $1,000 gold and a $500 silver award. Criteria include GPA scores, a clean record and an essay about how the students would incorporate HES’ pillars to solve the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
HES also recognized cornerstone members who contributed to its progress. Those include Dr. Talal Turfe, Lawrence Patrick, HES’ now-deceased legal counsel, and Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.
Proceeds raised went to HES’ nonprofit arm, the American Educational Foundation (AEF), which provides scholarships for deserving high school seniors who embody HES’ four foundational pillars — Scholarship, Character, Culture and Community.
Hamadeh stressed the importance of investing in children’s education and well being to ensure their success.
The program also aims to fund the schools’ athletic program, along with a four-year scholarship.
Hamadeh also highlighted the growth of HES, saying that expanding to encompass four schools was never the plan, but that the demand within the community was so great that they had no choice but to continue.
Today, each of the academies has at least one board member who graduated from the schools, she added.
Sabah Yassine, who graduated from Star International Academy and is now its board president, was honored at the gala. Some her family members also work at HES schools.
“We’re raising our youth to be our leaders,” Hamadeh said.
She spoke about the important roles charter schools play in accommodating a wide gamut of students’ needs and “to bring a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities for achieving suitable programs and empower the young men and women to lead successful lives.”
In her speech, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Mariam Bazzi urged students and parents to better communicate and understand one another in order to achieve their goals.
Bazzi gave a nod to the many underappreciated Arab American women who lead businesses and government organizations who “continue to break glass ceilings”, pointing out that Nawal Hamadeh is a woman and acknowledging this year’s heightened women’s rights activism.
Bazzi said she couldn’t think of many scholarship programs like HES’ that have awarded such a substantial amount of money, with 100 percent of funds going to students.
Andy Khawaja, the evening’s keynote speaker and CEO and founder of Allied Wallet, an online payment processor, fired up students and parents about the certainty of reaching great heights when enough effort is applied.
The Lebanese immigrant recounted his story of working his way up to become a shoe store manager in Los Angeles, at a time when the Internet was still in its infancy. He partnered with his coding-skilled friends to develop a program that made it easier to connect consumers to merchants through online transactions.
That’s when he moved out of the retail business and launched Allied Wallet, which focuses on securely sending an online transaction to a bank. After a saga of up and downs and 381 banks rejecting doing business with him, Khawaja finally landed a deal with a bank in Manila, in the Philippines.
Today, Allied Wallet is a $20 billion private company which employs 1,500 staff globally.
Khawaja used that example as a testament to success when persistence and dedication is applied. He urged youth to consider careers in technology, but to heed distractions by social media.
He added that his company is looking to add about 1,000 new jobs in the U.S. and said he would open recruitment opportunities for HES students.
“The Arabic community is very smart and very clever,” Khawaja added. “We invented so many thing. read our history; we’ve done so much. But at a certain point we’ve stopped innovating and creating things and we’ve become very distracted.”
Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko and Westland Mayor Bill Wild, along with HES administrative staff, awarded the gala’s speakers. The Wayne County Commission also honored Khawaja and Bazzi with an official proclamation.
The evening closed out with performances by HES choir, dabke and marching band.