DEARBORN — Few could have anticipated that a cultural and heritage club that formed to accommodate a young local Lebanese American community would become a vital social service organization serving Metro Detroit.
Its initial relationship with the community’s youth was through a sports program, but 30 years later, the Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities (formerly the Lebanese American Heritage Club) has expanded its mission to uplift any local family in need.
At its annual anniversary awards gala at the at the Edward Hotel and Convention Center on April 19, the LAHC honored leaders in education and community service and awarded $100,000 in scholarships to 30 high school, undergraduate and graduate college students.
About 1,200 corporate, government and community members attended the event, which was jointly presented by the Ford Motor Company Fund and the CIA.
The LAHC’s Excellence and Great Achievements Award was presented to State Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) for, “his community service to families, seniors and veterans throughout the state.”
Adel Makki, a local pharmacist, also received the award for his, “efforts in promoting education and youth empowerment through the establishment of a $1.2 million scholarship endowment fund at Ferris State University.
Sarah Palk, who works at Community Living Services, was also given the achievement award for her “advocacy work for people with disabilities.”
LAHC Executive Director Wassim Mahfouz shared the organization’s vision, stressing the importance of community service and highlighting the expansion of its accomplishments and partnerships.He said that this year, the LAHC worked to enhance existing programs and create new opportunities to promote youth leadership, community engagement and health education and to provide disadvantaged families with basic necessities.
The non-profit served more than 25,000 individuals this year, implemented substance abuse and obesity prevention education programs and impacted the lives of about 5,000 youth, Mahfouz said. Most recently, the LAHC partnered with the Dearborn School District, ACCESS, Hype Athletics and C-Assist to combat the drug epidemic.
Its social services department works to provide food, clothing and basic necessities to homeless and underprivileged families in Metro Detroit. In partnership with Meijer, the LAHC distributed more than 1,000 turkeys and food baskets during Thanksgiving and passed out more than 2,500 books and backpacks filled with school supplies in preparation for the school year in September.
Mahfouz also announced that by the end of the year, the LAHC hopes to open the doors of a new 15,000 square foot building in Dearborn that will serve as its new headquarters. He added that the LAHC received the FBI’s Director’s Community Leadership Award and that the organization’s leadership would be attending a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on April 20 to accept the award.
Christina Petrosian, manager of the Middle Eastern American Program at the CIA, told the audience that she has been consistently impressed with the community’s youth and their dedication to academic excellence and to their communities, during the CIA’s 15-year partnership with the LAHC. “At the CIA not only do we embrace those same qualities, we are inspired by what this next generation of leaders will contribute to society, our communities and our nation,” she said.
Petrosian said the CIA was proud and shared words of encouragement with the students who sat behind her on the stage while awaiting their awards.
“Pursue your passion and forge your own path by learning what you love and what interests you,” she said. “Don’t make money or fame your goal.” She urged them to find ways to pay it forward through volunteer opportunities and by showing kindness and compassion toward others, “especially in this day and age.”
Samantha Bourque, program manager at the Ford Motor Company Fund, said Ford’s mission is aligned with the LAHC’s in providing access to opportunities to help individuals and communities reach their full potential. “The dedication and caliber of the students here tonight are a prime example of why we continue to support LAHC,” she said.
Knezek said awarding an individual with a community service award was “sort of an oxymoron” because any successes he’s had were the result of bringing people together to achieve goals.
“It really is as simple as getting people in a room,” he said. “You also have to be able to accept the fact that if you really want to change the world it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take that passionate pursuit of progress.”
Makki, who received a scholarship award from LAHC to fund his graduate education, said the return on the group’s investment has gone a long way.
“I hope that after you leave here today, you Dr. Adel Makki recieves the Excellence and Great Achievements Award from LAHC Executive Director Wassim Mahfouz are inspired to one day give back pay it forward,” he told the students. “Knowing well that you can do well and do good helping your community as it has helped you, because that’s what leaders do.”
Palk, who created an exhibit on the history of disability that debuted in March 2017 at the Wayne Historical Museum, said she believes she was endowed with a disability to educate others about it.
She also expressed her appreciation for everyone who came into her life, even those who didn’t believe in her success, as they drove to it.
Helal Farhat, LAHC’s recently appointed president and a magistrate judge in the 19th District Court, told The AANews he was proud of the scholarship recipients and was hopeful they would accomplish great feats.
Since day one, the organization has continued to reward students who show academic and leadership strength and a commitment to community service, Farhat said.
The LAHC also announced a Community Arts Intuitive in partnership with the National Arab Orchestra, aimed at offering cultural experiences. The Fordson High School choir, led by the NAO, performed a classic Lebanese song at the gala.