Inspirational Stories

 

Access California Services not only ensures our community gets the best resources possible, but every client is served including those with disabilities. A visually impaired refugee from Iraq, Azim, came to AccessCal after escaping his home country because his life was in danger. Azim met our Youth Program Coordinator, Lilly, and explained his struggle to rebuild his life in America. He opened up to Lilly about his struggles of his home country and being blind. He was eager to accomplish his dream as he had finally made it to America. Azim wanted to take practical classes such as cooking and sewing that he had never got to learn before. As an asylee, he was rejected by every community college he applied to. Azim came to AccessCal with a deep sense of hopelessness. Lilly was able to find a range of courses that he would qualify for and helped him with his application. A few weeks later, Azim got the news that he was accepted into vocational training! Azim was also helped by our case manager, Lataisha, from our Employment team. Lataisha spoke with Azim’s college counselor and helped him enroll in the orientation program for students with disabilities. Additionally, Lataisha helped Azim get a mobile phone and even located a low-cost, safe transportation service so he could easily go to and from his classes. Lilly explained how when she first met Azim, he looked defeated. After vocational training, getting a mobile, and finding safe transportation, he began feeling a sense of hope and freedom in his new home country. Thanks to our team at AccessCal, Azim began to walk out the door after each appointment with a huge smile and a face of resilience. 

 

Here at AccessCal, we make sure to support and help our client achieve their dream goals. Kavita, an immigrant from India, came to AccessCal after having failed her citizenship exam. She was extremely upset and had no idea how to proceed. A friend told her to check out AccessCal’s free citizenship classes. Kavita came to AccessCal crying when she met with Nedda, our former Director of Operations and Diana, our Department of Justice Accredited Representative and Citizenship class teacher. She was reassured that with AccessCal’s help, she will surely pass the exam. Kavita signed-up for our Citizenship course and attended every session. When she worried about failing, Diana stepped in to boost her confidence. Kavita went in for her citizenship exam the second time. After the test, she came running to our office. She had passed! She even excelled in all three sections – reading, writing and speaking! With excitement and tears of joy, she shared, 

“Without AccessCal, I would never have got my citizenship. You are amazing! Thank you so much for helping me achieve this dream. I cannot imagine what I would do it without you”. 

We witnessed firsthand tears, hardship resilience, and dreams being coming true. AccessCal is thrilled for Kavita and her new chapter and dreams finally coming true. 

 

 

To help families cope with COVID-19, we established an on-site Student Learning Center. The purpose of this center is to help children connect to their virtual classrooms and support them in excelling in their education during this pandemic. One of our students had a difficult time focusing on her homework and was failing in her classes. Our AmeriCorps Member and Education Case Manager, Shaimaa, worked with the child to help her focus by using the Pomodoro technique. The student was given 10 minutes to write down all her thoughts and ideas on a paper, post which she was provided 20 minutes to work on her school assignments. This helped the child focus and excel at her school.

 

Abdulla was trafficked to the United States from Bangladesh. He came to AccessCal after being referred by the County. With tears in his eyes, he shared with our Refugee Services case manager, Lamia, how he hoped to restart his life with a new job. Lamia immediately enrolled him into our employment program to help him prepare for the workforce. This involved resume writing, interview prep, and finding job opportunities. Lamia also advocated to help Abdulla get his Employment Authorization (EAD) Card. On receiving his EAD document, Abdulla came excitedly to our office. He would finally be able to start his career afresh in America. It was a day of joy for all of us!

 

Many elderly refugee clients come to us for help to secure benefits as well as for immigration and citizenship services. Fatima reached out to us after she heard of our Elderly Refugee Program. Meeting our Refugee Services case manager, Lamia, Fatima disclosed that she desperately needed help to prepare for her Citizenship test. She feared she would fail this important exam and was in need of immediate assistance. Lamia told her not to worry and shared details about our Immigration Services and our free Citizenship classes. Fatima immediately signed-up for this class and started learning from our Department of Justice Accredited Representative, Diana. She attended every class and prepared diligently for the test. Nonetheless, she started panicking and getting anxious as she was afraid of failing. When Fatima shared this, Lamia immediately directed her to seek counseling support from our Mental Health Department. Our therapist, Nsreen, spoke to Fatima and helped her overcome her anxiety and stress. Fatima came to see Lamia, Diana and Nusreen after her test, bearing flowers and sweet treats. She was excited that she had passed and thanked the AccessCal team profusely for helping her reach this life-changing milestone.

*The picture, country of origin, and name in this story have been changed in order to protect the confidentiality of our clients.*

When war broke out in Syria, Alham escaped to the United States with her husband and two sons. Traumatized by their experiences, they looked forward to starting a new life in America. After moving to Southern California, Alham’s husband tried to find a job. As a technical expert without a license to work in California, he found it difficult to get employment. Apart from his wife and children, he also had to provide for other family members back in Syria. It wasn’t long before Alham’s husband began to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) coupled with extreme anxiety. When the pandemic engulfed California, Alham’s husband couldn’t take it anymore. It was the last straw that pushed him to walk out the door, bringing his 15-year marriage to an abrupt end leaving Alham and her two sons, to fend for themselves.

Alham never envisioned her life in America would be filled with so much pain and sorrow. She had left the war and trauma behind with the hope of leading a peaceful life in her new home country. This was completely the opposite of her American dream. Not long after she and her children were abandoned, the building manager paid Alham a visit to inform her that her husband had failed to pay the rent for five months. If she didn’t pay, she would have to move out. Alham was dumbfounded at the prospect of losing her home. She did not have money to put food on the table, how could she pay rent?

Alham reached out to AccessCal. While there was a lockdown in place, she prayed that our office would be open. She was surprised and grateful to discover that we were fully operational and were seeing clients while maintaining social distancing. A distraught Alham visited our office and met with our Director of Operations. Crying uncontrollably, she asked,

“Please can you help me? I don’t know what to do. My husband left me after 15 years of marriage and that too in debt. I have no idea how to cope and make ends meet.”

AccessCal’s senior management team personally got involved in Alham’s case. They reassured her that they would help her find a solution. The team undertook a 360-degree assessment of Alham’s case to evaluate her needs. An action plan was drawn up for Alham to reclaim her life.

As a first step, AccessCal’s case manager applied for rental assistance for Alham get the money she needed to pay the outstanding rent. The case manager also applied for CalWORKs, a public assistance program that provides cash aid and services to underserved families with children under the age of 18 years. Additionally, the case manager applied for food stamps, so Alham and her family wouldn’t have to stay hungry even for a day.

To cope with the fallout of the stress and trauma, AccessCal’s mental health counsellors were on hand to help Alham emotionally move forward. Her children were also referred to our therapists in case they needed support. Alham also joined our Parenting Workshop and got access to a network of supporters, who helped her navigate the challenges of being a single parent. On the professional front, the AccessCal team enrolled Alham into ESL classes. They updated her resume and helped her get a job as a caregiver. Alham learned about AccessCal’s daycare licensing workshop and hopes to start a daycare center after the pandemic ends. 

One day, Alhman visited AccessCal with her sons to thank the team members for their support. The Director of Operations noticed that one of her boys was struggling with his eye-glasses. On inquiring further, she discovered that his glasses were broken. She immediately called the local store and ordered a new pair of glasses for Alhman’s son, free of cost. Ahlam turned to her and said,

“I don’t know what I would have done without AccessCal. You have helped me get a sense of normalcy back in my life. In this storm, you were my life boat. I will never forget how you came to my rescue. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for standing by me. You are my family.”  

Like Alham, AccessCal supports many families and single parents in need of housing, employment, counseling services and financial assistance. Since the start of the pandemic, our case managers have received many such requests that highlight the devastating impact of COVID-19. However, we would not have been able to serve on the frontlines if it hadn’t been for your support.

This Ramadan, we ask our supporters to join us to reduce the quantum of suffering this pandemic has brought on. Vulnerable members of our community have been disempowered from leading a happy and healthy life. We hope you will help us change lives and bring back happiness and joy. 

*The picture, country of origin, and name in this story have been changed in order to protect the confidentiality of our clients.*

When the Governor of California announced the closure of schools due to the pandemic, Manal, a mother of four, got extremely worried. With classes going virtual, Manal was anxious about how her children would cope. Three of them were getting by in school but her youngest, Farheen, needed additional support. Prior to the pandemic, Farheen had been assessed by her school with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She had been barely making it through her classes and was on the verge of failing the school year. Manal feared that her daughter would be unable to cope with online classes.

When Farheen found out she could not go back to school and would have to attend classes online, she hugged her mother and cried.

“How will I be able to learn without my teachers by my side?”

Manal felt helpless. She was not tech-savvy and did not speak English. She did not know how to help Farheen with her school assignments. Manal’s husband was busy working two jobs and trying to make ends meet after having lost his job as a restaurant manager. Desperately looking for help, Manal started inquiring with her friends and family members if they knew of any organization that could help her daughter. She found out about Access California Services (AccessCal) and our After School Program for children between the ages of 6 to 16 years. Manal called AccessCal to inquire about our support services for children.

“My child needs help! She is failing in school and I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know how to start a computer. I heard you have a program for children. Can you help my child?”

Manal was excited to learn that we had converted our After School Program into an Onsite Student Learning Center and were helping children in-person. Prior to the pandemic, children used to come by our office after school and were supported by our tutors with their homework. Once the pandemic began, we realized that children from low-income families were having a hard time connecting to their classes from home and were falling behind in their schoolwork. We believe that education is the foundation for a child’s future and no child should have to compromise on this basic human right. We modified our classroom and launched our Onsite Student Learning Center for any child in the community who needed a place to connect to their virtual classes. 

Manal returned to AccessCal the next day with Farheen and her siblings. Our tutor first assessed all the children’s grades. On learning that Farheen suffered from ADHD, our tutor reached out to our Mental Health Department for support. Our behavioral health professionals trained our tutor on how to support a child with ADHD and provided her with the necessary resources. Our tutor first made a study plan. This included a 10-minute break after every 20 minutes of studying. This helped Farheen focus on her schoolwork instead of getting lost in her thoughts from time to time. Additionally, we also provided Farheen and her siblings with new school supplies including backpacks, books and stationery.

After Farheen had spent a few months at our Onsite Student Learning Center, Manal came to meet our tutor. With Farheen by her side, she said,

“I cannot tell you how much you are helping my child. Her teacher said she has improved in her studies. Look at this homework. She got a B. Thank you so much for all your help.”

Farheen joyfully added, “Thank you so much teacher. I would not be able to make my parent’s proud if it wasn’t for you. AccessCal is my favorite!”

Farheen is one of many children we support as part of our children’s educational program. There are so many youngsters who are falling behind in their classes as a result of this pandemic. We urge our supporters to join us this Ramadan to help the children in our community and our efforts to ensure that no child is left behind. With your support, we can expand our impact and help many more children with their education. We look forward to your contributions! 

*The picture, country of origin, and name in this story have been changed in order to protect the confidentiality of our clients.*

When the pandemic began, Dima’s life was turned upside down. She was about to enter her final year in high school and was looking forward to applying to colleges. Dima had no idea how to navigate the American college system. Her school had shut down in-person classes and it was difficult to access the counselors. Dima and her family had migrated to America as refugees when the war broke out in Syria. Her family had received many services from Access California Services (AccessCal). When Dima’s mother saw her struggling, she suggested Dima reach out to AccessCal to seek help with her college applications and school-work. Dima had volunteered at AccessCal’s outreach events before and knew of our Youth Program that was specifically geared towards helping youngsters like her. Given the state-wide lockdown, Dima was unsure if we were serving clients in person. When Dima contacted AccessCal, she was relieved to find out that our office was open. The very next day Dima came to our office with her mother and met with our Youth Program Coordinator, Lilly. With tears in her eyes, Dima said,

“I am struggling. I am having a hard time connecting to my classes online. I am always ahead in my schoolwork but I am panicking as I do not want to get behind in my schoolwork and my college application. Please help me.”

Dima had been struggling to navigate the American high school system and the new virtual set-up. She was sad that everyone in her class was preparing for college except for her. She was overwhelmed by not just the school-work but also having to support her family at home. Her sister had fallen sick as a result of the stress and trauma and had to be taken care of.  

Our Program Coordinator, Lilly, enrolled Dima in our Youth Program and immediately tried to understand the difficulties she was facing and what needed to be done. Lilly helped Dima with her homework and connected her to mentors in areas such Math, Science and other subjects that Dima needed help with. Lilly also brought Dima up to speed on her classes being held on Zoom. After getting comfortable with Lilly, Dima opened up about wanting to go to college to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor or nurse.

Lilly immediately made a college action plan for Dima. She explained to Dima how the American college system worked, the intricacies of a financial aid application, as well as, about GE and upper division classes. Furthermore, Lilly helped Dima understand the different majors in colleges and drew up a list of all the universities in Southern California she could apply to. She also prepared a list of scholarships that were available and how Dima could go about applying for them. At one of their meetings, Dima shared with Lilly,

“After a very long time I finally feel like I can see some light at the end of this dark tunnel. Thank you for helping me make my dream come true.”

Over the next two months, Lilly worked with Dima on her college applications. This included securing teachers’ recommendation letters, assisting with college essays and helping Dima submit the final application. There were many moments during this process when Dima broke down, as she wanted to share her predicament with the universities. The loving support from our Program Coordinator, Lilly, helped Dima put her pain into words that made her college application stand out. When decisions started rolling in, Dima was excited to learn that she had been accepted by three universities. When she got into her university of choice, Dima came quickly to meet Lilly. On seeing her, Dima said,

“I cannot really express what you have done for me. You have changed my life. I will be the first member of my family to go to university and that too in America!  Thank you. AccessCal will always hold a special place in my heart!”

Youngsters like Dima have been coming to AccessCal over the years. However, the pandemic put many of the youth in our community in a bind. They have struggled to navigate a virtual system and have been falling behind in their colleges. It is therefore with some urgency that we ask our supporters this Ramadan to join us in our efforts to support the youth in our community. They are our future. It is our responsibility to ensure our youngsters excel so they can pay it forward to others in the future. 

*The picture, country of origin, and name in this story have been changed in order to protect the confidentiality of our clients.*

Adel and Maryam had migrated from Iraq to the United States as refugees. The brother and sister had lost many members of their family in the Iraq war, including Maryam’s son. They had moved to America to start a new life leaving behind the trauma of their past. After migrating to Southern California, Adel and Maryam came to AccessCal to seek certain services.

“The AccessCal team has been like an extended family to us. We don’t have our family in America but AccessCal has always been there for us.”

Our case manager, Bida, had helped Maryam and Adel over the last five years. When Adel suffered a stroke and got paralyzed, Bida helped him apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that is provided to the aged, blind or disabled people, with little or no income, to help them meet their basic needs. Bida also assisted Maryam with applying for In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) when she became Adel’s full-time caretaker. When the Covid-19 public health crisis broke out last year, Bida got a frantic call from Maryam.

“Bida, help me. Adel is in the hospital with Covid-19. We have not received Adel’s SSI and my IHSS. We need you to help us urgently.”

Adel was hospitalized and put on a ventilator after contracting the virus. During this difficult time, Maryam noticed that they had stopped receiving both Adel’s SSI and her IHSS funds. Adel received only $50 in cash aid as he had missed his annual SSI review. Maryam’s IHSS income had been cut as she was no longer able to care for him. Crying helplessly, Maryam told Bida,

“How will we live on $50 a month? We will lose our home and we will go hungry as we don’t have money to buy food.”

Bida sprang into action. First, she gave Maryam food vouchers so she wouldn’t go hungry. She also helped Maryam get financial aid from our Emergency Financial Assistance Department so she could pay her rent. When Adel had finally recovered and was able to leave the hospital two months later, Maryam sought Bida’s help to get their benefits reinstated. Bida got Adel and Maryam’s authorization to speak on their behalf with the respective government agencies. Bida first called the Social Security office and explained Adel’s situation. The Social Security officer agreed to process Adel’s social security and reinstate his cash aid. Bida also called the Social Services Office and informed them that Maryam was once again working as Adel’s caretaker. This reinstated Maryam’s IHSS income. Furthermore, Bida informed the Section 8 Housing Department about Maryam and Adel’s situation so as to get them help with their rent. The Anaheim Housing authority agreed to reduce their rent. Maryam was thrilled when Bida shared the news. She said,

“Bida, you have always come to our rescue. We know if we are stuck in a bad place, you will always find a solution.”

Like Adel and Maryam, there are many families we support by representing their case to various government agencies. Many of our clients do not speak English and rely on our team to help them navigate the American system. Without the AccessCal team they would be lost and would not be aware of the benefits available to them. In the last week of Ramadan, we urge our supporters to join our efforts to ensure all families, especially those with differently-abled members, have the resources they need to lead a dignified life. It is only when we work together that we can ensure equity in our community.

 

Our Citizenship and Immigration team had their hands full the past few weeks. All their hard-work paid off when two of our oldest and longest served clients received their citizenship. One of our client’s was rejected the first time around. However, we advocated with the immigration authorities and were able to successfully get our client’s citizenship. Please join us in congratulating them!

 

After much hardship, our client was able to pass the citizenship interview and become a U.S. citizen! Our Citizenship and Immigration team worked vigorously with our client for the past five years in preparing her to contribute and give back as a new American. Our counselors supported her through this mentally trying process. The essence of our advocacy work in processing her immigration case was key in helping our client achieve her dreams despite limitations. Our team joins our client in celebrating this long but successful journey to citizenship!

 

Our Immigration and Citizenship team has been busy bringing joy to the families in our community. Our Department of Justice Accredited Representatives helped our refugee client relocate her brother from a refugee camp to California, while the other client was supported in reuniting with his son after many years.  

 

Hala is a talented New American artist and photographer in the local community.

She attended the AccessCal annual job fair  to expand her exposure among local businesses and to meet new people. She said, “Photography to me is more than just a camera, it’s my creativity canvas. Everyone has a beauty within. I love to capture and preserve those unique and beautiful personalities through my pictures.”

Access California Services has its doors open to many New Americans like Hala to be connected to local businesses and business leadership.

Founded in 1998, Access California Services (AccessCal) is a culturally and linguistically sensitive health and human services nonprofit organization, which provides social and economic services to local Arab- and Muslim-Americans, refugees, and immigrants; however, AccessCal is nonsectarian. Anyone who needs support in the community will receive it regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. In 2014, AccessCal served over 11,000 community members, providing close to 30,000 units of service. Services include: Vocational English training, case management and advocacy in 16 languages, citizenship and immigration services, employment and tax services, emergency financial assistance, educational services, healthcare access services, counseling and support, community service and civic engagement, refugee services, and refugee health assessments.

A thirteen-year-old Iraqi refugee moved to the United States with her mother and grandmother. Everything was new to her here; the language, the styles of communication, even the diversity of cultures surprised her. The young girl learned of Access California Services and joined AccessCal’s Arab Youth Collective in its early months of launching last year. Upon joining the group she was slightly reserved, quiet, and reluctant to meeting new people. During one of the Collective’s weekly meetings, she fleetingly expressed experiencing difficulty adapting to her new life in this entirely new culture.

“The Arab Youth Collective taught me to never give up and to always ask questions.”

As months progressed, she gradually began interacting more openly with her peers at the Arab Youth Collective. She realized that their issues and anxieties were similar to hers. She began expressing her own ideas and opinions. Her confidence was beginning to grow.

When we recently asked her about her experiences with the Arab Youth Collective she said, “It taught me to never give up and to always ask questions. I always look forward to our weekly gatherings.”

Early on, her visits may have seemed like casual meetings with peers, but this group of delightful young Arab Americans has become her outlet to question issues and to talk about her stresses and concerns. It has allowed her to exchange ideas and create a dialogue about complex matters in a safe, welcoming space.  Today, although she misses her home of Iraq, she believes the Arab Youth Collective is really her home away from home.

Sandra is an immigrant woman who comes from a well-off background. In her country of origin, she worked as a teacher. Her husband took great care of her. She was independent and happy. When she immigrated to the United States of America with her husband, they had high hopes of starting a new chapter of their lives together in the newfound land.

“When she met with one of AccessCal’s team members, her hopes and expectations, coupled with our unconditional support, motivated her.”

Life took a sharp turn. Her husband left her. He left her with nothing. She was overwhelmed with grief and a great deal of rejections.

She had to find support. She was told about Access California Services. When she met with one of AccessCal’s team members, her hopes and expectations, coupled with our unconditional support, motivated her. One of our team members met with her weekly to help her secure employment. She never missed a meeting. She never gave excuses. One day, she was referred to a job fair, where she was unfortunately rejected due to her surpassing qualifications. She was disappointed but did not lose hope; neither did the team at AccessCal. Sure enough, Sandra was able to secure an interview at a local department store as a sales associate. After filling out the job application with her case manager at AccessCal, she was called in for an interview where was offered the job on the spot.