A mission of unity


By Noell Wolfgram Evans
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Noell Wolfgram Evans
Ohio State student Yusef Saeed listens to the plans of other volunteers as they prepare to open the food pantry.

It started with an email request for help. It has become a Westside movement.

Two years ago, Zerqa Abid received an email from a middle school teacher in the Hilltop. Her class was in trouble. The boys were joining gangs and bringing trouble to school. The girls were facing drugs and told alarming stories of physical freedom and expression. The teacher was looking for guidance. She needed help.

Abid, an experienced community activist, recognized an opportunity. These were not new concerns, but they were becoming all to frequent. It was time to act.

Out of that discussion she founded MyProjectUSA, a non-profit organization with a mission to work together to protect, nurture and empower youth, communities and the country.

“Here, we teach and we learn. We stop violence and we spread peace,” said Abid.

While MyProjectUSA provides help and services to all Westside residents, there is a focus on the emerging refugee and immigrant population. A group that Abid sees as having a “gap” in their introduction to America. She wants to make sure that new residents not only understand the more technical workings of day-to-day life in America, but the cultural implications and changes that come with being a resident. Those things that are not easily taught but that can cause frustration for even the most adept new citizen.

There is a focus at MyProjectUSA on human trafficking, particularly in the Muslim community.
Abid believes that this may be the only organization in the country directing attention that way. It’s a particularly important issue here, as Ohio ranks fourth in the nation in the number of reported human trafficking cases.

MyProjectUSA seeks to tackle issues like this through protection and empowerment. In terms of protection, they are looking to provide education, intervention, and access to legal protections for issues like human trafficking, drugs, gangs, and radicalization attempts. Since the start of the year, this selection of services has taken on a specific level of importance for residents of the Westside.

There are several facets of empowerment that are shared through classes and practical experience. Those include: getting youth to become more active in the community, job training and business training.

This concept of empowerment really embodies itself in the storytelling program called The Narrative of Resilience.

Abid sees this as a vital aspect of combating the “hate and islamophobia” that seem to be growing in the broader community along with “combating radicalization” within, specifically, the Muslim community. The Narrative of Resilience involves helping young people find safe outlets to change the perceived narratives about their backgrounds and share their own stories through non-fiction and poetry now, and eventually through multi-media outlets.

The overall response from the community has been extremely positive. Abid never doubted it.

“I feel like our community is blessed,” said Abid. “People just need to know where to go and how to share.”

From their space at 3036 Sullivant Ave., MyProjectUSA provides a weekly food pantry, thrift style store, and educational classes. The food pantry alone helped an average of 150 families a week last year and is on pace already to exceed that in 2017. Those 150 families add up to over 1,000 individuals.

This summer, they’ll be expanding out to locations across the Westside and beyond. They have recently entered into partnerships with the Hilltop YMCA to host community leadership classes and Columbus State Community College with whom they will co-host a daylong seminar.

MyProjectUSA brings their holistic approach to the idea of community service. In addition to the large projects that they undertake, there are the smaller ones, such as their participation in the Adopt-an-Area citywide program, where they selected a stretch of Sullivant Road to maintain and keep litter free.

MyProjectUSA does not just focus on the problems of the community, they also look to the causes.

Abid said, “Normally social services organizations will just get involved with helping, but we believe that if you do not get more involved, if you do not talk to your congressman or your senator, these concerns will never change. We want to see change at the root.”

While Abid and others within the organization have lobbied Columbus City Council and spoken to policy makers at a state and national level as well, they are cognizant of the fact that change takes time. Particularly in a political climate as charged as the United States in 2017.

This is just one of the reasons why they see the focus on youth being a key to their success.

If you are interested in volunteering, or otherwise supporting MyProjectUSA, or if you would like to take advantage of the services they provide, you can find additional information online at www.myprojectusa.org.


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