Big BIG Developments in Social Services at ICSC
By: Soha Yassine
As many of you know, I am a relatively new hire at the ICSC. I began working as Youth and Volunteer Coordinator at the Center in June 2011 and, what an adventure it has been! Praise is due to Allah for putting me in this wonderful position where I have been able use my employment experience and academic background to serve the youth community of the Center, speak on behalf of Muslims at universities and places of worship etc, and oversee the volunteer corps which has served our Center’s vision.
One of our most successful volunteer programs at the Center is the MECA SoCal Food Pantry. For almost seven years now, MECA has distributed grocery bags comprised of everything from fresh eggs to bagged rice to hundreds of people every week. In fact, in 2011 alone, the MECA Pantry served 11,296 households and 29,782 persons. Through our partnership with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, we have been able to provide wholesome food at no cost to our Center. Last December, through a partnership with QueensCare, we administered hundreds of free flu shots to Pantry constituents. The beauty of our pantry is that it is open to anyone and everyone who is in need of assistance regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation.
Another example of a successful volunteer program at our Center is our Zakat Committee. The Committee draws from community donations to provide immediate assistance for the needy. Anyone who is need of help can meet with the Committee on Fridays by arriving the Center at noon to fill out an assistance application and add their name to the interview list. Interviews take place after Jumma where the needy talk with the Zakat Committee and receive direct help. In 2012, through the diligence of ICSC intern, Zach Smith, the Zakat Committee now has a comprehensive resource guide to help offer referrals that deal with issues outside their capacity.
One thing that I immediately noticed when I began working last June is that our community is in need of other types of services beyond our Food Pantry and Zakat Committee. The reality is that, while both of these wonderful endeavors have helped thousands of people, they do not address the root causes of the issues at hand. The Center’s Board of Directors, too, has realized that our community, Muslim and non-Muslim, is need of the type services that create lasting change in people’s lives. For this reason, they entrusted MECA SoCal to develop more social service programs at the Center.
In 2011 and 2012, MECA has launched a dynamic Social Service & Outreach Committee. Below you can find the projects we have started:
Family outreach: In response to the growing immigrant/refugee communities surrounding the Center we, along with the Tiyya Foundation, assist with the distribution of basic necessities such as furniture and other household items to needy families. Tiyya will be providing ESL tutoring, translation, transportation, community support, tutoring, and at-risk youth programs.
Homelessness project: MECA volunteers have signed on to be “Faith Partner Volunteers” to help end the cycle of homelessness in our city. Imagine LA, our partner organization, facilitates a mentorship program that matches families exiting homelessness with volunteer teams from faith communities. Together, they progress through a two-year program that teaches life skills, aids the families in accessing resources, instills confidence and allows every member of the family to thrive.
Health Initiative: While providing free healthy food at our Pantry is a wonderful start, many families lack basic information about health and nutrition. As result MECA has started a Health Initiative that will be holding educational forums and health fairs in 2012. Click here for information about the upcoming event “LET’S GET HEALTHY!” Additionally, through this initiative, CalFresh (the state food stamp program) will conduct outreach at our Center after Jumma and during the Food Pantry.
Incarcerated Muslim Support Project: Like homelessness, incarceration is cyclical. The Center is inundated with requests for Qurans and Islamic literature from inmates seeking to reform their lives through spiritual guidance. Through a partnership with the Claremont Forum Bookstore’s Prison Library Project, we will now be able to respond to the hundreds of requests seamlessly. We also provide MP3s of our Friday sermons, Dr. Maher Hathout’s podcast, and more to the Muslim Chaplains Association so they can share the material with inmates interested in learning about Islam.
We are proud to report that all of MECAs committees saw growth in 2011. Besides the developments in the Social Service & Outreach Committee, the other MECA committees have been bustling with activity. In fact, in 2011 alone, MECA started new projects such as the Young Professionals Group, MYG Tutoring Program, and more! With the commitment of our wonderful volunteers, we will only see more growth in 2012 and beyond.
Soha Yassine is the Youth and Volunteer Coordinator at the ICSC. If you are interested in learning more about the Muslim Youth Group, MECA SoCal, or volunteering at ICSC, email email@example.com.