Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Blog

The Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF) is pleased to announce that the 2012 Helen Abbott Community Service Awards have been awarded to Tess Waggoner, Abeer Hassan, and India Williams.

Each year, AAIF awards three American students with the Helen Abbott Community Service Award for their leadership and dedication to serving their communities. Before she passed away in 1999, Ms. 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 AAI, and made a donation to AAIF that was later converted into a youth scholarship in her name.

Tess Waggoner is a rising senior at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where she is a Religious Studies and Asian Studies joint major, with a concentration in Islamic Civilization and Cultures and a minor in Philosophy. At Kenyon, she serves as president of the Middle East Student Association and the Kenyon College Chasers a cappella group. She also serves as a contributor and editor for The Kenyon Observer, the College’s oldest political and cultural magazine. Ms. Waggoner works as a campus tour guide and mentors incoming students as an Upper Class Counselor. She is also currently serving as a campus intern for the Yalla Change campaign. The proud granddaughter of the late Maryse and Ramzy Mikhail, she also serves on the speaker selection committee for their Memorial Lecture Series at the University of Toledo, which sponsors an annual lecture pertaining to Middle East culture and politics. This summer, Ms. Waggoner will be interning through AAI at the Unite Lebanon Youth Project in Beirut, Lebanon.

When asked how she has been inspired by Helen Abbot’s work, Ms. Waggoner replied, “Ms. Abbott acted to create affordable housing options in her Florida community, not out of self-interest, but because she recognized and was compelled to fight against the discrimination she witnessed. Her activism serves as an important reminder to a community which is too often fragmented by opposing nationalist and sectarian views that discrimination affecting any segment of a neighborhood or community should be fought by all parties.” Ms. Waggoner will use the award to support the Maryse and Ramzy Mikhail Endowment Fund and the Middle East Student Association at Kenyon College, as well as to help fund her summer internship with the Unite Lebanon Youth Project.

Abeer Hassan was born in the small agricultural town of Hagab, Yemen.  She later moved to the United States with her family, and attended high school in Delano, California. Ms. Hassan organized several activities for students of the California English Language Development Test to encourage them to overcome language barriers and learn about the diverse student body of Cesar E. Chavez High School. She volunteered her time at the skilled nursing facility in Delano, and later earned an Associate’s Degree in Nursing and Medical Sciences from Bakersfield College. While at Bakersfield College, she started the Delano Multicultural Club, and was awarded the Outstanding Student Leadership and Service Award for her efforts at the 2010 Bakersfield College Delano Awards Ceremony. Ms. Hassan is now a rising senior at California State University, Bakersfield majoring in Biology, and plans to pursue medicine to become a physician’s assistant.

“There are too many people that believe one person can’t possibly make a difference, so they do nothing. The Helen Abbott Award is a positive reaffirmation that individuals can, and do, make a difference in the lives of others. I want to be a difference-maker because I have seen the efforts of others and how their leadership and community service have made a difference.” One of ten children, Ms. Hassan plans to use the Helen Abbott Community Service Award to help finance her education and goal of working for Doctors Without Borders.

India Williams recently graduated from Denver East High School and plans on attending the University of Northern Colorado in the fall. Throughout her high school career she was involved in various clubs and activities including the high school volleyball team, the varsity football team (she was a team manager), Key Club, Angels Against Abuse, Link Leader Crew, and Black Student Alliance. Outside of school, Ms. Williams volunteered with organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House, Judy’s House, Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital, and Rose Community Foundation. Her most significant volunteer experience was at the Medical Career Collaborative through Children’s Hospital Colorado, where she participated in a 6-week internship with the hospitalist department. She also attended a National Student Leadership Conference for medicine at University of California Berkeley in San Francisco, California.

Ms. Williams was inspired by Helen Abbott because “she branched out into a community of minorities and broke the discrimination barrier by helping these black Americans in Lincoln Park.  I could really relate to this because I have always found pride in helping people who are less fortunate than me because with that I feel a sense of happiness and accomplishment.” Ms. Williams will use the scholarship to help fund her studies as a pre-nursing major at the University of Northern Colorado.

AAI congratulates these remarkable young women, and wishes them luck as they continue to serve their communities.

comments powered by Disqus