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Think Beyond Winter Coats & Soup Bowls

There are hundreds of thousands of homeless and needy people all across America that could use a warm coat, a blanket, or a bowl of soup this winter. At this time of the year, organizations all over the country are organizing winter coat drive to meet their winter needs.

Most of these organizations might be able to bring them a coat or a one-time meal, but they might not help them beyond that. But, at My Project USA, we are working day and night to bring a long-term sustainable change within the low-income communities.

MY Project USA is a national initiative to protect and empower Muslim American youth. We aim to protect them from drug dealers, pimps, bullies, gangs, homelessness, family violence, poverty, and many other social vices. These are realities we must recognize and address within the Muslim American community.

To achieve this goal, we have adopted a multi-dimensional approach. On one hand, we are providing help to at-risk youth and victims of violence to make sure that they are safe. On the other hand, we are empowering the youth and their parents with the skills and training that help them in improving their situations.

Our headquarters is in Columbus, OH. Our pilot project is on the west side of Columbus. This falls in Franklin County.

According to the United States Census Bureau, more than two hundred thousand people (18.1% = 221,650) were below the poverty line in Franklin County in 2013.

Columbus has the second largest population of Somali refugees in the United States. We are also home to another large number of Kurd and Iraqi refugees. Hence, it is not a coincidence that among those two hundred thousand people, a large number of poor people also happen to be Muslims.

Poverty is one of the root causes of almost all issues that MY Project USA aims to address. It is one of the main causes of trafficking as well. The US Catholic Sisters against Human Trafficking have put together a very useful, easy-to-understand document addressing this topic. I highly recommend everyone to read it. It says:

"Poverty is one of several factors that make individuals vulnerable to trafficking. While trafficking victims come from a range of backgrounds, including from economically privileged families, trafficking is linked inextricably with people with a lack of resources, notably job opportunities. Living in poverty is a harsh reality to escape from and people become desperate enough to enter into fraudulent employment schemes or be deceived into prostitution. Traffickers target people who have few economic opportunities and those struggling to meet basic needs."

Many of our Muslim refugee communities in Columbus are experiencing just that. The situation is serious.

We have an estimated number of 25,000 at-risk Muslim youth in Columbus.

In August 2010, a gang was arrested for trafficking minor Muslim girls from Ohio to Minnesota and Tennessee. They were running a building for ten years. In 2013, I received an email from a Columbus schools middle school teacher requesting help to save her Muslim students from the gangs in the neighborhood.

MY Project USA is the answer to that call.

We have gone in that neighborhood and have engaged more than 100 youth and their parents already.

We have trained a dozen of them to become better community organizers.

We are creating job training and employment opportunities for them and their parents through our goodwill stores and landscaping services.

We are opening our first center in that neighborhood this month.

At this center, we will be helping them excel in their education through our free tutoring services. We are also starting various boys and girls clubs to fortify our youth against gangs, drugs, and bullies. In addition, we are in the process of opening a couple of shelters for homeless and abused sisters and youth.

An important aspect of our work is boosting the self-esteem of our youth and our community. Each and everything we do at the project is designed to cover that aspect.

It is one of the reasons why we chose to put donated items on sale for very low prices, and not pass along donations as charity. We want to make sure that the children see their parents buying nice things for them.

Parents bargain and buy a ton of things for even a dollar or a few cents and that makes a big difference in building the personality of little ones who watch it very closely. We also find ways to pass along as many gifts as possible.

Of course, none of this is possible without the support of our community. I am very grateful for the support and generosity of people who have come forward and answered every single call for help.

It’s inconceivable to think that we are only six months old and we have already distributed about 4000 cooked/uncooked meals and more than 2000 Eid gifts/clothes. Through the MY Leaders Scholarship Fund, we have also trained a dozen of youth from the same neighborhood.

To all of you, who believed in me and have invested in MY Project USA, I have a couple of things to say.

Please know that at MY Project USA you have not just fed or clothed a needy at a time. Instead, you have helped in empowering an entire community.

Please know that every single coat and the bowl of soup that you would pass to us will help protect and empower our youth and their families. As we open our goodwill store this month, we would be able to accept anything in a donation and that would help as well.

Please know that only Allah SWT can reward you enough for all your donations and moral support. But you should start noticing the impact of your donations in our reports and photos that we share on our Facebook page and on our website.

Let’s keep working together and build a model compassionate community right here in Columbus, God willing.

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