Gutting Out Hope in Michigan
By Ariz Saleem
Felesha Reynolds is a woman of courage. She is a mother of two boys, one 4-year-old and the other 12 years of age. Felesha was generous enough to share her story with us. She lives in Redford, Michigan about a mile away from Detroit. She is 34-years-old now and owns a home that has been severely damaged from a recent flood which impacted the area in August of 2014.
Her story begins when she bought her house in Michigan. She was settling in and getting prepared for a new life ahead for herself and her children. It must have been a relief and a moment of pride to know that she had come to own her own property. By Grace, she had advanced to the next level in life.
Little did she know that she would be taking a step backwards on this journey of life, but perhaps, in spiritual terms, yet another step forward.
Before the house was set up to Felesha's contentment, the flood struck devastating the roof and flooding the entire house. At first, she thought the damage was not very extensive, only to find out later that it was indeed a tragedy that would be difficult to bounce back from. Mold had begun to form and soon spread throughout the house. It infected the furniture, floor, and structural elements of the house. On describing the hardwood floor, Felesha commented, “It's like a wave.” No longer habitable,
Felesha took her two sons and left for her mother's place. The flood hit seven months ago. Today, Feleshais still bouncing between her friend's house and her mother's house. “Being injured and on a one person income is difficult,” Felesha commented. She currently supports herself and her two sons with the Social Security income she receives from the government.
Felesha related a story where she paid someone to fix some of the damages. After doing some work on the house, he simply disappeared. This only added to Felesha's worries. When asked how she came across ICNA Relief, she mentioned that a friend of hers decided to share her information with us. ICNA Relief Disaster Response team was visiting the neighborhood at the time in January.
Soon after we showed up to assess the property, Felesha was delighted. “I never knew something like this even existed. I was also excited about it,” Felesha shared. Arif Ali, ICNA Relief Disaster Response Staff, and his team were the subject of Felesha's appreciation. “They were really good. Everyone." she said. "You can see their heart was really there. They were sweet people. You meet someone you don't know and you feel uncomfortable but I felt like I known them for a long time.”
Felesha was on and off the site during the mold-removal process. Naturally invested in her future, she also contributed to the remediation of her home. “They was really surprised I was helping,” she continued. Felesha described what it felt like to be receiving help at such a crucial time. “It was something new and it was also when I felt overwhelmed...no funds and not getting help. It was a light in a tunnel. It was a start. A little view. What they think was little, it was big for me. It wasn't something I was able to do by myself and now I had help.”
During my conversation with her, I couldn't help but notice Felesha's strong spirit. She wasn't down on her luck about her situation but was rather hopeful. Her words painted the picture of a beautiful character illuminating the darkness of hardship. “Everything will work out with time. But it's never gonna work out the way you want it to,” she said speaking from a place of wisdom and courage.
Further testament to her character came when I asked her whether her interaction with ICNA Relief impacted her perception of Islam and Muslims. “I never felt any way about anybody. I learn never to judge. People judge other people. I never judge and don't want other people to do the same. I never had a bad feeling,” Felesha stated making her position clear. She welcomed the Muslim organization with an open and tolerant mind from the get-go.
Currently, Felesha is at a stand-still due to insufficient funds to complete the restoration of her house. The mold removal was a great burden lifted from her on the journey to a fully recovered house. “I'm trying to figure out the next step. I do want to live there. Be comfortable. When you don't have a home it's uncomfortable. When you have small ones with you it's even more difficult. When it's them, I don't like it.”
Despite the challenges, Felesha pushes forward with hope and gratitude. She left me with a word of appreciation for the team that helped her in her time of need. “Tell them that thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. They didn't have to do it. For them to take time out of their life to be able to be an asset to help my children...I appreciate it and can never thank them enough. Tell them God bless them and thank you.”
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On March 15th, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) was exhibiting some of its finest expressions of culture inside the Common Word Cafe.
Face-to-Face with ICNA Relief's Sister Amtul Atya Kazmi,
Coordinator Muslim Family Services, ICNA Relief Chicago
“Following the 9/11 incident, I strongly felt the need to join an organization committed to bringing about positive change, not just at the individual level, but within the community at large. My search led me to ICNA Sister's Wing and I am truly grateful to Allah (swt) for guiding me to it. It fused my quest for Islamic knowledge with opportunities to actively participate in building the community through volunteerism. Then came the opportunity for relief work when ICNA Relief Chicago’s Muslim Family Services (MFS) was established in 2013. Its vision is to build strong communities by sustaining and strengthening families. This is indeed a huge task and with the help of Allah (swt), a dedicated team, and with collaboration from other organizations,we can build a society that can truly see us as Muslims For Humanity.
When our MFS helpline was launched back in March 2014, we began getting calls from needy families and single mothers from all over Illinois. Needy families and struggling sisters approached us. After proper screening, we see to it that everyone gets the required help. Whether it is transitional housing, rental assistance, paying utility bills, providing cars or counseling and mentoring, we try our best to ease their plight and guide them. We coordinate with local masjids and other social service organizations to empower the underserved and neglected to become self-sufficient, integrated members of our community.
We were a family of ten children and, despite our modest means, it never kept my mother from opening her door to help others. She was my first role model. My father was also such a noble example of someone who valued honesty and a halal income. He was a Judge in India. I remember once, when we were little, someone who had a case pending had sent a basket of fruits as a gift for him. At that time I didn’t realize that it was an attempt to try and influence him, but my father saw it clearly. He had the fruits returned immediately.
"[Given those experiences] what better opportunity could I have than working for ICNA Relief Chicago’s Muslim Family Services (MFS) where I can be in direct contact with those who are struggling and need assistance. It reminds me of the immense blessings Allah ta’ala has granted us and, as importantly, the huge accountability that comes with it. It gives me immense joy and comfort to be able to relieve someone’s difficulty. I am excited about all the programs run by ICNA and hope these enable our Muslim community to participate fully in building a society that is based on core human values of justice, compassion and love.
I feel obligated as a Muslim to help anyone in need. So much emphasis is placed on this in Islam, and in the prophet’s (peace be upon him) exemplary behavior, that one just cannot ignore the profound importance of charity and helping others.”
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Mommy League Launch Has Mothers Thankful for the Help
March 8th saw the launch of The Mommy League, a Muslim Family Services offering that includes free babysitting, help with a grocery-run, errands, light-housekeeping, home-cooked meals and lactation consulting services, for moms of babies. "
“Moms have been helping moms since the beginning of time,” said Sr. Sammar Zahra, Director of The Mommy League, who moved to the Chicago area from Mississippi, after marriage. “But I wanted to make sure that moms who are new to the area, or move to a city after marriage, they too should have the support system they need once they have a child. They, too, need someone they can go to,” she said.
“This project is much needed,” said LaTonia Anthony, a Villa Park resident and mom of four daughters under the age of five.
Other mothers at the launch agreed. “If your child or you are sick, you can’t even go and get Tylenol yourself, unless your husband is at hand. Since first-time moms are often going through these experiences alone, they really need a support system to overcome these new challenges,” said Khadeeja Iqbal, of Hoffman Estates.
As Khadeeja sees it the Mommy League also has the potential to bridge the gap between new mothers and grandmothers. “My son had ulcerative colitis which is severe diarrhea, and it results in terrible diaper rash. I’d use the doctor’s remedies with no results. Finally, using a tip from my mother- in-law, I applied butter instead. It cured the diaper rash by as much as 80%. The nurses in the hospital were astounded to see that much improvement. New mothers can be dismissive of the older generation and traditional knowledge but the Mommy League can invite grandmothers and have them share their insights. Personally speaking, I find it really helps to have an older person in the house guiding you.”
“I would love to volunteer because I would have given an arm to have this help when my twins were born,” said Huda Quraishi-Ahmed. “I would like to see these services extended to the elderly population also. (It’s a) great community service opportunity for youth also. Where do I sign up?”
For further details, please contact ICNA Relief Chicago at (866) 552-ICNA, (630)-506-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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