Posted by Tess Waggoner on June 06, 2019 in Blog

The Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF) is happy to announce the 2019 Helen Abbott Community Service Awards have been awarded to four remarkable Arab American students:  Shahab Abdullah, Ahmad Abu-Elhaija, Kathleen 'Kate' Joseph, and Sara al-Zubi

For tow decades, AAIF has been awarding exceptional Arab American students for their leadership and dedication to community service. Helen Abbott is remembered for her lifelong commitment to improving the lives of those around her, including building 22 homes for disadvantaged families in her Fort Pierce, Florida area. 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.

2019 High School Student Awardees:

Shahab Abdullah is a senior at Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn, Michigan. He is the founder and President of the Student Lunch tutoring program, having organized hundreds of tutoring sessions for students in need, and eventually selected as an AXA Achievement Scholar for his dedication to the cause. Shahab’s role as the President of the Social Justice Club extends towards students in need of a voice in the school. As a prominent member of his community, Shahab was recently featured in The New York Times Upfront Magazine, representing Arab American students from around the country. He is also a proud member of the National Honor Society, the Big House Program at the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor, the Yemeni Student Association, a founding member of his school’s Key Club, and the Vice President of Student Council. He was ranked in the top 1% of his graduating class and completed over 400 documented community service hours over the course of his high school career. Shahab tells AAI he is a strong supporter of free speech, pacifism, and leading by example, and aspires to establish an education fund for underprivileged immigrants and first-generation students, particularly those from war torn countries such as Yemen, Palestine and Syria. He plans to attend the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor in the fall to major in Molecular Biology and is intent on becoming a future physician and state representative.

Kathleen “Kate” Joseph will graduate from the Liberal Arts Academy at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Kentucky this June. Her father, a Lebanese immigrant, sparked her interest in the Arabic language. Her Arabic studies will commence next semester as she concludes her seventh year of Spanish language instruction. She has gained a working proficiency of Spanish in this time, advancing annually in the National Spanish Exam and earning the Seal of Biliteracy in 2018. Although her professional interests are admittedly broad, she intends to apply her affinity for languages in order to assist Arabic and Spanish-speaking populations in her ultimate line of work/service. She is headed to the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky in the fall with a tentative major in Foreign Language and International Economics (FLIE) and an Arabic concentration.

2019 College Student Awardees:

Ahmad Abu-Elhaija is a second-year pre-medical student at UCLA majoring in psychobiology. While at UCLA, Ahmad has founded a 501 (c)3 non-profit social enterprise, International Collegiate Health Initiative (ICHI) with the mission to improve the overall health of the communities it serves by providing high quality medical, nutritional, and social services. He is an alumni of the Pre-Medical Enrichment Program at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and works a preceptorship in the Emergency Department of Ronald Reagan Hospital. He currently serves as CEO of ICHI and was named a 2019 Strauss Scholar. Ahmad is a proud Arab American who has volunteered with Access California Services since the age of 12, mentoring immigrant and refugee children. Ahmad has worked as a United Nations World Refugee Day committee volunteer through the Refugee Forum of Orange County. His current project is to complete the set-up of ICHI’s medical clinic in the cities of Maywood and Bell in the Los Angeles area this fall, and launch its first for-profit business venture under the social enterprise. Ahmad is a strong advocate in helping underserved populations and his passion to serve humanity is evident throughout his daily goals.


Sara Al-Zubi graduates this spring from Ohio University majoring in human capital management and leadership and premedical studies with a French minor. As a immigrant to the United States from Jordan, Sara has worked extensively with Arab refugees in Cincinnati and across Ohio to increase their self-sufficiency in their adopted homes and improve their knowledge about, and access to, healthcare and mental health resources. This work has led her to start her own nonprofit, the 3Sisters Foundation, which provides mental health resources to resettled refugees in the United States. She is also the former U.S. Ambassador for Humanitarian Affairs. Al-Zubi worked along Dr. Vredeveld to found ProjectEquip to work along community leaders in Southwest Ohio on trauma and cultural awareness for refugee and immigrant communities. Sara has interned with the American Red Cross, RefugeeConnect, Cleveland Clinic, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Young for Congress, and UOSSM-USA. Sara won the Truman Scholarship in 2018 and was a 2019 Rhodes Scholarship Finalist. This fall, Sara is attending Harvard Medical School where she hopes to earn her Medical Degree and Master of Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School of Government.