Anaheim's Access Celebrates its Work in the Arab/Muslim Community With Congressman Keith Ellison

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The Anaheim-based Access California Services, which has its office nestled on Brookhurst Street in Little Arabia--a neighborhood profiled in the Weekly's current cover story--has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1998. The agency that provides assistance to the county's Arab and Muslim communities started when founder and Executive Director Nahla Kayali became a divorcee with three children in search of help. She sought out culturally responsive resources from local mosques but found them lacking in terms of the immediate needs of her situation. Out of that experience her vision for a new non-profit took form with the help of two friends, Nemati Abdullah and Hassan Al-Khatib.

Originally bearing the name Care 'R' Us, Access started out with a small office, one phone line, a shoddy desk and a $2,000 advance from Judy Mader of OC's Healthy Families Task Force Committee. They have since grown over the years, most recently receiving a Refugee Social Services contract from the OC Social Services Agency last September. "At Access we have 14 paid staff who are part of our administrative team and our direct services team," Kayali says. "We also have four marriage and family therapist interns." Together they provide assistance in multiple languages to everything ranging from health access, counseling, education and immigration issues for the under-served Arab and Muslim community.

With their new contract, they'll be focusing on getting newly arrived refugees adjusted to life in a new land as the demographics of such a group are clearly changing. "In the past few years, the population of refugees entering California, and more specifically Orange County, have been changing," Kayali adds. "Now, the majority of refugees are arriving from the Middle East." Providing the latest statistical breakdown for OC, most now are coming from the war-torn country of Iraq. Utilizing the direct experience that Access has had over the course of many years working with immigrant populations, they are poised to serve refugees with the resources they have developed.

"Our case managers link refugee clients to English as a Second Language classes, computer classes, employment workshops and one-on-one assistance with an Employment Counselor - this is in an effort to help unemployed and/or underemployed refugee clients obtain suitable employment that will help them lead self-sufficient lives," Kayali says. "In addition to employment services, we also provide other supportive services such as Immigration & Citizenship assistance, health access, counseling and supportive services."

Helping to finance all of their work is the organization's annual "Every Person Counts" gala. This year's event takes place on Saturday at the Anaheim Hilton with percussionist Salar Nader and funny guy FouseyTube providing the entertainment. The featured guest of the night is history-making Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

"We are delighted to have Congressman Keith Ellison as our keynote speaker," says Kayali. "He is a strong supporter of the work Access does, and he will speak about the importance of social responsibility in how organizations like Access can play a role in bringing about community advancement and civic engagement."

Access California Services' Every Person Counts 2012 Gala takes place this Saturday at the Hilton Anaheim Hotel, 777 Convention Way, Anaheim. For more information, call (714) 917-0440 or email ameera@accesscal.org. $100 per person

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