Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Blog

The Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF) is delighted to announce that the 2013 Helen Abbott Community Service Awards have been awarded to Rita Ainane, Ahmed Eissa, and Nadia Aljabi.

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.

Rita AinaneRita Ainane is graduating from the American School of Dubai and heading to MIT this fall to study mechanical engineering, making her the first woman from her family to follow an educational path in a field of science. Last summer she interned at NASA, working in the  Goddard Propulsion Branch as one of just 25 students across the country who was selected to be part of the National Space Club Scholar’s Program.

Struck by the lack of female students in her high school physics classes in both Dubai and Maryland, Rita created the nonprofit organization Alliance of Muslim Women in Science. The organization’s mission is to encourage women who are Arab or Muslim to pursue a career in engineering and science. Rita has given speeches at local high schools here in Maryland as well as across the UAE on the importance of exposing women to science earlier and making it easier for them to pursue careers in science. With the money she earned during her internship at NASA as well as what she has been able to fundraise, Rita is able to offer scholarships through her organization to young women studying science.

In addition to her focus on the sciences, Rita has also spent 3 years tutoring students in the subjects of Chemistry (over 100 community service hours), Math, French and Arabic languages. An award-winning member of the Varsity Equestrian Team, Rita utilized her notable equestrian and community-building skills to organize a volunteer program with her high school’s equestrian club and the Therapeutic Riding and Recreational Center to help teach disabled children how to ride and cope with their disabilities while connecting with horses. Through this program the riders trained for and competed in the 2011 Special Olympics in Equestrian sports.

When asked how Helen Abbott has inspired her, Rita says “Through helping to better the Florida community by developing over 20 homes for disadvantaged families out of sheer selflessness, Helen Abbott truly epitomizes the sense of community responsibility and dedication to philanthropy that holds society together. It is this exact selfless love for the well-being of other that I strive to foster in my own community. Helen Abbott has inspired me by revealing that the power of one is not a power to be contested with. Even as one person, we can each make a difference in our communities as long as we have a will and a reason.”

Rita will be using the award money to attend her dream school this fall—MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)—and join MIT’s Engineering Without Borders, a community service organization that seeks to bring technologies to underdeveloped countries. Before heading to Massachusetts, she’ll spend this summer in Morocco, visiting her extended family as well as dedicating much of her time to expanding the Alliance of Muslim Women in Science. 


Ahmen EissaAhmed Eissa is a rising sophomore studying Political Science and International Affairs at the University of Maryland, and part of the 2016 Cohort for the Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars Program, a four-year undergraduate scholarship program that helps prepare students for careers in public service. Ahmed devotes much of his time to tutoring refugees in an afterschool English language program with the Refugee Youth Project (RYP) as well as volunteering as an assistant basketball coach with Howard County Youth Programs. He also writes weekly posts for USDemocrazy, a current events blog edited by Kevin Kallaugher, editorial cartoonist for The Economist. Ahmed is part of the Student Government Association at UMBC and is the Philanthropy/Service Coordinating Officer for the Arab Student Union there.

In discussing how he has been influenced by Helen Abbott, Ahmed says “Ms. Abbott confronted an uncomfortable truth that many are quick to ignore.  In our society, discrimination often translates into structural disadvantages for minorities - something I witnessed as a volunteer with Refugee Youth Project.  Her advocacy and courage epitomize the type of leadership and character that are instrumental in implementing meaningful change.  As I seek to lead a life and career of service, I will always look to Ms. Abbott's actions for guidance.”

Ahmed is a dedicated individual with a sense of purpose in his volunteering, noting that “’Community service’ too often implies service of a local nature. I openly challenge this long-accepted classification. There are thousands of communities in our world, each with people as deserving as the next. I strive to serve as many of them as I can.” Raised by a Catholic American mother and a Muslim Egyptian father, Ahmed has a unique understanding of two different cultures and worlds. This cross-cultural background and desire to help those communities affected by the conflicts in the Middle East drive Ahmed in his pursuit of a career in public service.

Ahmed will be spending the summer as a teacher's assistant (TA) at Howard Community College's STARTALK Program, a federally funded program designed to provide high school students with accredited college courses in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Farsi, and other critical languages.


Nadia AljabiNadia Aljabi has been helping communities at both a local and international level, and she is headed to Purdue University this fall to study civil engineering. She hopes to work with the nonprofit group Engineers Without Borders to directly help communities around the world with basic infrastructure and needs.

The daughter of a Syrian father and Costa Rican mother, Nadia has been lucky enough to travel the world. When she was in middle school they took a family trip to Costa Rica, traveling to the Chirripo Mountains, home to the Cabecar Indians. Nadia was dismayed to see the poor conditions of their schools and learning that the children had to walk up to two hours to get to school, crossing a river on the way. Upon finding out that several people drowned each year on their way to work or school because of the river’s strong current, she decided to help make a difference. Nadia took the initiative to start a weekly coffee sale to raise money to help the Cabecar Indians who live there. She also videotaped one of the schools and showed it to her peers in order to raise awareness of the situation. So far she has raised over $5,000 which has been used to building the floor of one high school and construct two walking bridges nearby.

Nadia’s community service is not just international; she has done extensive local work as well. After volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in 2011 at a “Peace Build” to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Nadia said that experiencing people of different faiths and backgrounds joining together to build a home for a local family was such a powerful experience. She “found deep satisfaction in having a hand in giving someone in my community a warm, safe, beautiful home.” And ever since then she’s been a regular Habitat for Humanity volunteer, even founding a campus chapter and taking on the role of receptionist at the local affiliate. Nadia also volunteers as a math and Spanish tutor, as well as a “Skills for Life” Program Facilitator. 

Nadia noted that she was inspired by Helen Abbott’s dedication community service and her desire not just to help others but to involve those around her in community service as well. Nadia will use the award to attend Purdue University in the fall, where she will major in Engineering with a minor in Management. She hopes to continue raising money for the Cabecar community throughout her time in college.


AAIF congratulates these remarkable young Arab Americans, and wishes them success as they continue to serve their communities and create meaningful change.

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