For years, a group of friends have been talking about the great needs of the Flint area. They have a lot in common as doctors and engineers. They feel a calling to share their talents and skills with the community.
They also happen to be first-generation immigrants to the United States.
Adil Mohammed, an engineer in the group, is from India. He came to the United States in 1983, and later became a US citizen. He explained how the friends joined forces to start a non-profit to provide more social services to Flint and Genesee County.
"When you are an immigrant," he said, "You gravitate towards comfort zones. One comfort zone we share is faith-based. We came together at the Flint Islamic Center during the fasting month of Ramadan." Social connections are strengthened in this spiritual time during community dinners, he said.
Back in 2008, a key topic in the news was the claim that President Obama was a Muslim. The friends realized many people did not know much about them, or understand their faith. "We are not visible, so people make assumptions about us," Mohammed said.
Rather than talking about religion, they decided to demonstrate their values by doing something good for the community. They came up with a name that defines them, American Muslim Community Services (AMCS). "We are American. We are Muslim. We help the community. We provide services," he said. "We are not doing this to spread our faith. We want to foster better understanding."
To define their goals, they focused on their values. "If we value good education, we should help the Flint community," he said. "If we value good health, and we have the skills, doesn't it make sense to offer it to the community?"
"It's important to see what is working and build on it," he said. The group surveyed social services and learned more about community needs. They started sponsoring a food pantry for the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
In 2015, Flint's issues escalated with the water crisis. It was then, during a Ramadan dinner community open house, that Mohammed met Phyllis Sykes. Through her, he met Emily Feuerherm, an assistant professor of linguistics in the English Department at UM-Flint. They created focus groups in Indian and West African immigrant communities. The goal was to create community support groups for UM-Flint students in the English Language Program (ELP).
In the process Mohammed learned about University Outreach at UM-Flint. One of its programs, the Innovation Incubator, helps people start businesses and non-profits. He began using the co-work space to run his software development business. He hired Charles Herzog, a UM-Flint senior majoring in computer science, to develop new healthcare software products. Mohammed was invited to base his start-up business, Med+IT Systems LLC, out of the Incubator.
Meanwhile, AMCS was approved as a non-profit public charity by the IRS. With Adil Mohammed as a board member, the non-profit also is housed in the Incubator.
One of AMCS's first services was to provide SAT coaching to help local high school students prepare for college. The classes were held in the Innovation Incubator. The second year of SAT preparation classes will start in December.
"We appreciate the opportunity to take this out of the mosque and bring it to the community," Mohammed said. "It is SAT preparation, not a religion class, and holding the class in the Incubator reinforces that."
Mohammed Aslam, an AMCS board member, is the lead coach for the SAT class. Aslam, who is a Senior Research Staff Engineer at Delphi, served for years in youth education. In 2015 he worked with YouthQuest, a program of the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce. That project provided after-school science and math activities to students at Potter Middle School.
AMCS also helped raise funds, and awareness, through a film event. Early in 2016, AMCS partnered with MALA National, a social justice organization in Chicago. They presented a free documentary about Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize Laureate. The event raised $3,500 to support the Flint Children's Fund, founded by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha.
And AMCS is now the sponsor of the Flint Muslim Food Pantry, as an approved agency of the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. The public can participate in food distributions on Saturday mornings held once or twice a month. The pantry is located at 4400 S. Saginaw Street in Flint.
Whether working at his business or non-profit, Adil Mohammed is always thinking of ways to improve quality of life in the community.
"The UM-Flint Innovation Incubator helps us connect and strengthen mutually beneficial relationships," Adil Mohammed said. "They help us provide services to anyone in the community."
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