Nonprofit Powerhouse

Dearborn’s Center for Arab American Philanthropy harnesses its giving power to help programs near and far


Mark Kabban wanted to launch a new education program for his nonprofit Youth and Leaders Living Actively. His San Diego-based organization, which provides refugee and immigrant youth with educational programs and competitive soccer clubs, was growing, and he hoped to develop an initiative that would help teens apply to four-year universities.

Kabban knew he’d need financial help to get the initiative started, so he turned to the Center for Arab American Philanthropy in Dearborn. He says he specifically reached out to CAAP because of their reputation in the Arab-American community, but their flexibility and guidance also encouraged him. “I feel like innovation sometimes gets stifled because people say ‘We want this,’ and then that’s what you have to do, but CAAP wasn’t like that,” Kabban says.

Kabban received the grant he needed, and the program was underway.

CAAP emerged nine years ago as an outgrowth of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services — a larger Dearborn-based nonprofit that originated as a resource for Arab immigrants adapting to life in the United States.

Over its 45-year existence, ACCESS has grown into the largest Arab-American human services nonprofit in the country, providing a variety of social, economic, health, and educational services to communities both locally and internationally. It wasn’t until the creation of CAAP, however, that lending grant-based support to nonprofits became a primary goal.

“We are capturing their philanthropic power and introducing and inspiring them to do much more than they thought they could do if they were left alone,” says CAAP President Maha Freij.

Inspiration and education can indeed be valuable for a nonprofit in its early stages, but the financial aspect cannot be ignored. This past year, CAAP amassed more than $1 million in grants to assist numerous organizations nationwide.

CAAP’s Donor Services and Program Officer Katherine Hanway says that even a small amount of grant money can go a long way and provide young organizations with an opportunity to focus on their respective causes.

“Sometimes a grant allows someone to hire their first staff member, period, and takes them from a place where they’re all volunteer to where they have an infrastructure where people can be fully committed,” Hanway says.

Helping others enables CAAP to help the community in other ways, too. Freij says that an important aspect of CAAP’s work is to change negative perceptions of Arab-Americans and to support problem solvers and leaders in the Arab-American community at both the local and national level.

CAAP celebrates community leadership by sponsoring several events of their own, such as the “100 Arab-American Women Who Care” annual event, which invites philanthropic women from the community to join together to “make a larger impact to a cause that matters most to them.”

At the event, each participant submitted the name of a charity and three randomly selected attendees pitched their choice to the audience, with the proceeds going towards the winner.

Last year’s winner was Safe Harbor for Women, a local nonprofit that raises funds to help women and children in abusive situations. Safe Harbor’s founder and director Kathy Stecker split her $9,000 prize between two local organizations with similar missions: Safe Haven in Pontiac and Turning Point in Mount Clemens.

“I had never heard of [CAAP] before I’d been notified that I’d won this grant,” Stecker says. “So I was very thankful and humbled that people had chosen Safe Harbor. They’re a wonderful group of people and I look forward to supporting them in the future.”

Freij says that in the next few years, CAAP hopes to assist more community organizations nationwide by bringing events like “100 Arab-American Women Who Care” to other cities. CAAP also plans to organize similar events around a variety of demographics like men and teens.

“Ultimately, we want to bring as many people as possible to the table,” Freij says. “If we do our research down the road, I think we can say we’ve impacted the institutional presence of Arab-American organizations all across the country.”


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