ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services) offers countless programs and services, but for Detroiters, they can all be summed up in a single word:  inspiration.

And that’s as important for non-Arabs as well—after all, of the 900,000 client contracts delivered annually, more than 200,000 go to non-Arab families and people in need.  ACCESS is, despite its name, is very much an international and multi-cultural resource, one of the most well-respected and well-managed Arab-American nonprofit organizations in the United States.

From humble beginnings in a Dearborn storefront, ACCESS has always been a labor of love.  In the first years, it was staffed entirely by volunteers assisting those who had trouble with English fill out applications; complete their tax forms, translation, and anything else they needed.   ACCESS eventually purchased the Saulino Court facility which today houses the administrative offices today.  In 36 years, they went from serving hundreds of people to hundreds of thousands.  And while their administrative offices remain in the south end of Dearborn, they have expanded to have five locations, including the Arab American National Museum. 

Celebration of those 36 years took place at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center on May 12, 2007.  Wildly successful, with over 2500 attendees, the evening was filled with impressive words from well-known community figures.  From the positive sentiments of Noel Saleh, President of the ACCESS Board of Directors to the heart-strings speech of Jennifer Granholm, who spoke with her customary eloquence on the significance of motherhood in Beirut as well as Bloomfield (the banquet preceded Mother’s Day by twenty-four hours), the overall theme of the celebration was hope, and solidarity between Arabs and non-Arabs.  At a time when relations are occasionally strained, there could be no message of greater importance.  Perhaps to symbolize the bonds that need to be strengthened between Detroit’s (and indeed, the world’s) communities, the evening opened with Jennifer Morris, an 11th grade student at Dearborn High, doing her rousing and note-perfect rendition of ‘America the Beautiful’.

Master of Ceremonies Gerald W. Smith, the area director of corporate affairs for Comcast, made seamless transitions between the various speakers, which also included Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, Deborah Dingle of the General Motors foundation and Senator Debbie Stabenow and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly.  It was obviously an inspiring group that hailed from any number of ethnic backgrounds, further proof of the wide reaching influence of ACCESS.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Arab American of the Year Awards, which went to both Richard Abdoo, retired chairman and CEO of Wisconsin Energy Corporation and Susan Berresford of the Ford Foundation.

Sadly missing from the evening’s celebrations was Ismael Ahmed, affectionately called ‘Ish’, who has been a great friend to ‘Our Arab American Story’ since filming began.  We wish him a speedy recovery from a recent accident, and look forward to further interfacing with him and Detroit’s vital Arab community.



Russell Ebeid

Flavors or the Arab World December 2nd at the Rock Financial Shwplace,
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