Posted by Maha Elsamahi on February 10, 2017 in Blog

Every year, the Arab American Institute Foundation awards two $1,000 scholarships and one $500 grant to accomplished Arab American students. Known as the Helen Abbott Community Service Awards, these scholarships were made possible through a generous donation by Helen Abbot—a longtime friend of the Institute. Past awardees have been committed to serving their communities, excelled academically, and demonstrated a strong sense of pride in their Arab American identity.

A dedicated humanitarian and philanthropist, Ms. Abbott spent her life committed to improving her community and helping others. After moving to Fort Pierce, Florida in 1989, she noticed that many of the residents in need of affordable housing were African American. Driven by a keen sense of justice and service, she developed a plan to build twenty-two homes for twenty-two families. Donating $500,000 from her own funds and garnering another $100,000 with help from the City’s Housing Authority, the homes were completed in 1998. Sadly, Ms. Abbott passed away the following year. With the help of AAIF, a bronze statue of her was unveiled in the Fort Pierce community in September 1999.

Following a bequest made by Ms. Abbott to AAIF, the Institute established the AAIF Youth Leadership Scholarship in 2000. Since then, AAI has sought to recognize young Arab Americans who are dedicated to improving their community through both their studies and by taking concrete actions to serve those around them. Past recipients have established clubs to raise money for cancer; advocated for the Arab American community; and served in AmeriCorp. 

As many Arab Americans face a rising tide of bigotry and hatred, initiatives such as the Helen Abbott Community Service Awards are critical to recognizing the contributions of Arab Americans to their communities. For younger members of our community especially, the awards are a timely reminder that their contributions and skills are not only valuable but necessary as well. Arab Americans are thoroughly entwined in the fabric of their communities and these awards recognize the next generation readying to take the helm.

If you know of young Arab Americans who are community-oriented and service-driven, please encourage them to apply. The scholarships are awarded every year and completed applications must by received by March 1.