“I grew up here,” said AAAN Executive Director Hatem Abudayyeh about the early days of the Arab Community Center (ACC), the building that houses the AAAN. “I studied Arab history and geography at this center. It was the main safe political space for Arabs in the city.”
Abudayyeh described the AAAN’s origins to the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP), which honored the organization with its first-ever site visit on June 11. The ACC received its first grant from the City of Chicago in 1992, Abudayyeh said, gradually transitioning from a community center to a non-profit. And when the AAAN was incorporated in 1995, its first programs were domestic violence prevention (which won a Marshalls Domestic Peace Prize from the Family Violence Prevention Fund), ESL / citizenship, and youth after-school tutoring and homework assistance. Gradually the AAAN added more programs, increasing the budget from around 150 to 500 thousand dollars, and developing an organizational matrix:
Organizing/advocacy + Social Cervices = Social Change
This matrix continues to guide the work of the AAAN today, as presentations from the various program coordinators made clear.
Some highlights from the programs’ presentations:
- Youth in the after-school program have increased their literacy scores by 50% this year
- Many youth in the spoken-word and hip-hop program “have never held a microphone in their lives,” said Youth Organizing Program Coordinator Gihad Ali—”there’s a transformation that takes place” through participation
- CAAP’s grant for the previous year kick-started AAAN’s new communications strategy, including e-newsletters, social media, a website re-design, and outreach to news organizations
- AAAN has been awarded a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to evaluate its domestic violence prevention work. “For RWJF to support a community based organization in Chicago,” said CAAP consultant and Mott Foundation program officer, Jeanette Mansour, “means they’ve seen something very special that could become a national model.”
Some highlights from the Q&A:
If you look back 5 years, what are the different numbers of people you’re working with?
- Five years ago, the AAAN worked with three to four hundred family units, now we work with over 1,000 families.
Are the youth in the AAAN’s programs mostly first-generation?
- Yes, and split status (immigrant parents, American-born children) homes are the norm.
Are there community members that won’t get involved because they perceive the AAAN as too liberal?
- There is social and political space here for everyone. People that are very spiritual and faithful feel comfortable; people that aren’t also do. AAAN’s staff, program participants, volunteers, and organizing base run the gamut in terms of ideology, politics, and religion.
After the Q & A, CAAP visitors used the few remaining moments for comments. “The passion in this room is obvious,” said Hussien Shousher, CAAP Advisory Board Member. “The number of diverse activities is remarkable for such an [relatively young] organization. You should all be commended.”