Posted by Joan Hanna on July 21, 2014 in Blog

The Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF) is delighted to announce that the 2014 Helen Abbott Community Service Awards have been awarded to Maisune Elhaija and Judy Mualem.

Each year, AAIF awards outstanding students for their leadership and dedication to serving their communities. Before she passed away in 1999, Helen Abbott was known for her lifelong commitment to improving the lives of those around her, including developing 22 homes for disadvantaged families in her Fort Pierce, Florida community. She was an unwavering supporter of the Arab American Institute Foundation, and made a donation that was later converted into a youth scholarship in her name.

This year’s recipients are:

Maisune Elhaija graduated high school with a year and a half of college completed by attending John F. Kennedy Middle College High School, a program that accepts mature, motivated, focused students to attend college and high school simultaneously. While most high school graduates start college at the freshman level, she will be transferring in the spring to a four-year university as a junior. She will be studying Communication and Business Administration. Maisune also plans to obtain a Master’s degree and Ph.D., making her the first woman in her family to seek higher education.

Experiencing the discrimination toward Muslims and Arabs in America firsthand, Maisune began to raise awareness in her eighth-grade year by participating in Student Government and presenting a keynote graduation speech to a crowd of 1,300 ceremony attendees on the experiences in order to combat stereotypes. The reactions of those surrounding her motivated Maisune to believe that others could be equally open minded, so she continued her mission at high school when she founded the Muslim Student Union, or MSU. Unlike other MSUs, this club predominantly included members who were “non-Muslim” as it was founded with the purpose of demonstrating peace and unity for all. Its mission is “A club not just for Muslims but for humanity.” MSU ended its first year by hosting a youth regional leadership conference, “The Future Muslim Hall of Fame,” which drew 300. The conference was repeated the following year and has since developed into an annual event at her high school.

Networking with the broader community, Maisune dedicated many hours for volunteering at Access California Services (AccessCal). AccessCal serves many low-income families in southern California with health care access such as the Affordable Care Act. Most of the clients at AccessCal are refugees and immigrants of different origins who receive advocacy, education and acculturation on life in the United States. Maisune assisted with the annual Arab American Service Day projects, the UN World Refugee Day events, school supplies and toy drives. Maisune has pledged a lifetime involvement with AccessCal regardless of her busy schedule now and in the future.

Utilizing her public speaking and writing skills, Maisune has spoken publicly at various venues in California about issues faced by Arab Americans and Muslim Americans. Her main passion is advocating for humanity and unity rather than division. She intends to dedicate her life to activism for all. Maisune is currently working as a writer for Globalish Institute, an online media channel based in the Arts District of Los Angeles, that promotes the idea of global citizenship by being informed of all topics—arts, travel, politics, etc.—through the “globalish view.” Globalish has representatives from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and Maisune serves as the California and Middle Eastern Representative.

The Helen Abbott Community Service Award money will go towards Maisune’s university tuition upon transfer. In December, she will graduate from Norco College with multiple Associate Degrees in Communication Studies; Media and Languages; Social and Behavioral Studies; Humanities, Philosophy and Arts; and Math and Science. This summer, Maisune will continue taking college courses in Norco, mentor the youth who will continue the projects she founded, and spread awareness about pressing civil and human rights issues locally and internationally.

Judy Mualem is an upcoming junior at John Carroll University, double majoring in Economics and Biochemistry. She previously attended Cuyahoga Community College as a post-secondary student. Judy loves to keep herself busy after classes by getting involved both on and off campus. She is the president of the Economics Association Club on her campus, which she hopes will bring awareness and provide off campus resources for members. She is also a representative for the Bolar School of Business, where all business club presidents come together to make decisions and plan student activities and events. Involving herself with Bolar for the past year has given Judy a chance to plan events like the Bolar Community Day, BolarSpring Social, and Bolar Award Night.

Judy is involved in the Middle Eastern Student Association. The club gives her a chance to enrich and increase cultural awareness on campus. She is also in Alpha Kappa Psi, a co-ed business fraternity. The fraternity was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about business and leadership, as well as being able to bond with her brothers by volunteering, attending guest speaker presentations and social events. This past spring, Judy received the Bombelles International Economics Award from her university.

During her free time, Judy loves to volunteer and serve the community. She previously was an Americorp member for the 2011-2012 year. Being part of the Arab American Resource Corp under Americorp gave her a chance to give back to the community. She helped with immigration, social service, and recruiting volunteers, which cumulated in completing over 1,700 hours of volunteering. Judy has tutored a trigonometry course at her community college as well as a general chemistry course last semester at her university.  She hopes to continue pursuing her passion for community service in combination with her education in economics to help advance her community.

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