NNAAC Fellow Muna Sharif: My favorite part is working with the youth

NNAAC’s Transformative Fellowship Program (formerly the Youth Fellowship Program) develops crucial leadership skills in select university students across the country through an ongoing partnership with our various member organizations. These aspiring young adults learn more about the issues facing Arab American communities, see how nonprofits are managed and work toward creating a personal professional growth plan. 

Get to know Muna Sharif, one of the stellar 2014-15 fellows, in our interview with her below.

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"Working with Access has been a truly rewarding experience and it has allowed to me to see how public policy has a direct impact on non-profit funding and organization, specifically the restraints and allowances it provides."

Muna Sharif

22 years old
Anaheim, Calif.
California State University, Long Beach

Q: Why did you join NNAAC’s Transformative Fellowship Program?

A: My mother and I have been supporters of Access California Services for many years, and when I saw that the fellowship would be hosted at Access I thought it would be a great opportunity to get involved. I have always admired the work that Access does, and I wanted to get involved in serving and assisting the refugee and immigrant community here in southern California.

Q: With which organization are you placed and what are you learning about the organization?

A: I am currently working with Access California Services in Anaheim.  This organization seeks to serve and empower the Arab and Muslim, immigrant and refugee, community by providing them with resettlement and acculturation services. Such services include, but are not limited to, employment services, healthcare services, mental health and counseling services, ESL and citizenship classes. Access is the only organization within our community that is assisting this specific demographic. Our clients have a wide range of very specific needs and Access must be able to accommodate them all.

Q: What kinds of projects are you working on?

A: Currently, I am working on making a comprehensive legal information packet that will be available for clients to refer to on a regular basis. Many of our clients find legal processes and procedures very overwhelming and confusing, due to a lack of knowledge of how they operate, cultural and language barriers. This packet should serve as a guide in order to assist clients in navigating through the legal system. Previously I worked with the gala committee in planning our annual fundraiser, which hosted over 700 guests.

Q: What are you learning about the Arab American community?

A: I’m learning that within Arab community there is a huge dichotomy between the Arabs who have already assimilated and acculturated and those who have recently arrived. Those who have assimilated are completely apathetic towards the needs of the recent refugee and immigrant community despite the fact that they were once in a similar situation.

Q: How is the program making you a leader?

A: Throughout the course of my time at Access I have been placed in several roles, which has taught me flexibility. I believe this trait is a huge part of being a leader, especially within the public sector that is often not as structured as private endeavors.  In order to be a successful leader, one must be willing to adapt and accept change in order to stay ahead and relevant. It is essential for a leader to channel positive change and project this onto their team.

Q: What are at least three skills you are gaining from the program so far?

A: Working with the team at Access has taught me diligence, cooperation, and resilience. I learned diligence when we were working on the gala and needed to stay in the office until midnight to complete certain tasks. I learned cooperation when the entire time was working together, taking on different roles to accomplish our common goal. And finally, I learned resilience when certain things didn’t go as planned and we had to change our course of action to obtain our objective.

Q: How is the program affecting your future plans (i.e. school or career path)?

A: Currently I am enrolled in the MPA program at CSULB and a lot of the things I am learning about public administration are being executed at Access. It’s great to see these models, ideas, and strategies implemented in daily operations. My future plan is to go to law school and work with policy, and working at Access has shown me the direct impact of policy on day to day operations.

Q: What is your favorite part of the program so far?

A: My favorite part of the program has been working with the youth. The Arab Youth Collective meets every Friday night, from 5-7pm. We work with refugee youth (mostly Iraqi) from the ages of 13-17. We talk to them about important issues such as race and gender discrimination, identity, bullying, financial literacy, and education advancement.

Q: Would you recommend the program to others?

A: I would highly recommend this program to anyone who is interested in working in the non-profit sector and making a direct impact on their community. Working with Access has been a truly rewarding experience and it has allowed to me to see how public policy has a direct impact on non-profit funding and organization, specifically the restraints and allowances it provides. 

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