Arab American Family Services (AAFS) was established in 2001 by Itedal Shalabi and Nareman Taha, two women who witnessed the dire need for a social service agency that will advocate and address the issues and concerns of the Arab-American community.
For Shalabi and Taha, the need to help the community in which they lived in all their lives, began over ten years ago. Both women sought higher education in the areas of social service. Shalabi had earned her Bachelors degree in social work from the Jane Adams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Taha earned her Bachelors in Psychology, also from UIC. Upon graduating, they both found themselves working in the area that they had pursued. They reconnected. Together, they formed an organization with one mission and goal: to create an organization that advocates for the Arab American community, and helps the community grow and become successful.
For Shalabi and Taha, they knew the work would be difficult, but never gave up, knowing the importance in helping grow their community should not be left in the hands of mainstream organizations who did not understand the details and complexities of our community, but rather work within the community that raised them.
The humble roots of AAFS began in 2001, when Shalabi and Taha first opened the doors to helping their people. Their first location was located on 64th and Pulaski on Chicago’s south side. They began to develop programs that would help Arab Americans succeed and be served with the same needs that others were granted. Through every client that walked in the door, both women began seeing more complex issues that community members encountered. Through the stories of clients, both Shalabi and Taha realized that the issues of the Arab American community stretched much further than just helping with elderly services and case management. They began to notice a rise in issues such as domestic violence, a lack of cultural diversity that existed and a need to raise awareness about health and helping the youth to grow with early intervention services such as tutoring and peer pressure issues. As the clientele grew, so did the need to grow the organization. So from the humble quarters of a ten by ten office, Arab American Family Services relocated to an office on 107th and Roberts Rd., in Palos Hills. The increase in clients allowed to increase the staff to help tackle the issues that our community faced.
Through it all, Shalabi and Taha continued to hone their social service skills by taking part in community outreach programs and learning from other non-profit organizations on how to handle various issues that people face. They were able to take part in meetings and learn from studies and research, on how to gain the knowledge and wisdom to help. Through it all, they chose not to reinvent the wheel, but rather take this research and tweak what they learned in order to help Arab Americans. They sought higher education, working together to earn Master Degrees. Shalabi earned her Masters in social work from UIC while Taha earned her Masters degree in public service management from DePaul University.
Their handwork and dedication, as well as their skills helped grow AAFS, leading to new, larger office space on 87th and Central in Burbank. Shalabi and Taha became experts in the area of social work, gaining a reputation for helping those who needed a voice. Their caring, giving background drew clients from over 30 communities in and around the Chicagoland area, landing them in their newest location designed to fit more staff and more clients, in Bridgeview, on 9044 S. Octavia.
Through hard work and dedication, AAFS now offers programs in areas including domestic violence, elderly services, community health and education, immigration services, mental health services, youth programs and much more.
AAFS has a staff of over 20, dedicated employees and 13 programs, uniquely designed to help the Arab American community. We service the needs of hundreds of clients every year and we would not want it any other way. At AAFS, we understand that for Arab-Americans, culture and religion are a strong component to their identity and existence. Despite all the success that AAFS has see over the years, we continue a struggle to advocate and address issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, drugs, sex, and youth behavioral issues as well as many others. But we have gone far too long in denying the fact that problems do exist in our community.
Our philosophy at AAFS his to help you find solutions. Our job is to reduce the cultural, religious, and linguistic barriers that limit Arab-Americans from accessing services and opportunities for personal growth. Our mission is to change and impact the quality of life by serving and building stronger and healthier generations of Arab Americans in our communities. We hope what we created over ten years ago will only grow and see more success with generations to come.