When was AAFSC founded?
AAFSC was founded in 1993. In 1994, we opened our doors in a borrowed room with one program and two staff members.
What is AAFSC’s mission?
The Arab-American Family Support Center empowers new immigrants with the tools they need to successfully acclimate to the world around them and become active participants in their communities.
How does AAFSC make a difference?
AAFSC’s unique approach combines the settlement house service model with cultural and linguistic competence and trauma-informed care. In our programming and advocacy, we are committed to empowering NYC’s AMEMSA communities. Did you know that AAFSC is the only settlement house in the United States that specializes in serving the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities?
What is a settlement house?
AAFSC has always been a neighborhood-based organization committed to strengthening the communities we serve—ever since we opened our first office in Brooklyn more than 20 years ago. In 2009, we officially became a settlement house when we joined the United Neighborhood Houses of New York, a collective of 37 organizations that promote the neighborhood-based, multi-service approach to improving the lives of New Yorkers in need.
Settlement houses have a long history dating back to late-nineteenth century London. The movement spread to the U.S. in 1886 with New York City’s University Settlement Society. Chicago’s famous Hull House opened three years later. Today, AAFSC and other UNH members carry on this rich legacy.
How does the settlement house model work?
Settlement houses are always located in the neighborhoods of the people they serve, and provide programs and services for people of all ages, creating a true sense of community. The settlement house model recognizes the strengths and contributions of all participants, and promotes social justice and civic engagement. Settlement houses offer all participants a sense of belonging and value to their community.
Read more about the Settlement House Advantage .
What does the settlement house model look like at the Arab-American Family Support Center?
In the settlement house tradition, our offices are located in the heart of the communities we serve, and the majority of our staff actually come from the AMEMSA communities. Women’s leadership is a rich tradition of the settlement house movement, and is reflected in our staff and executive team.
AAFSC serves over 6,000 people per year through our six main programs: Preventive Services Program, Youth Program, Health Program, Legal Program, Anti-Violence Program, and Adult Education and Literacy Program. We’re also proud to be the lead community partner of Khalil Gibran International Academy, an International Baccalaureate public high-school in Brooklyn that focuses on Arabic language and culture. AAFSC was instrumental in its establishment.
Our programs and services provide support for individuals at all stages of life, and we often work with multiple members of the same family at a time, making our center a true “home away from home.” For example, a student who comes to our youth program in the afternoon might have a mother who visits us for morning ESL courses, while his father sees our Legal Program for assistance in putting together a petition for reunification with a family member overseas. Our youth grow up with us, and we have watched adults in our ESL classes go from speaking no English when they first arrive to passing the US Citizenship Test with flying colors.
What does it mean to be trauma-informed?
Trauma-informed care is a social services framework that involves recognizing, understanding, and responding to the various levels of trauma people have been exposed to or continue to experience. The majority of our clients must cope with the emotional trauma associated with flight, migration and resettlement in a new country, along with the everyday challenges that many low-income individuals across New York City face. Moreover, Islamophobia and xenophobia continue to wear at our communities’ mental health.
In recognition of this, AAFSC has invested heavily in ongoing trauma-informed care training for all staff members. We have worked with partners at the , and level. AAFSC took these steps to help individuals and families heal and rebuild from trauma. This means that when a client enters our center, all staff members they speak with, from the front desk secretary to our Executive Director, understand how to create a sensitive, and supportive environment.
This year, AAFSC will be certified as a Behavioral Center of Excellence by the National Council for Behavioral Health.
Can you tell me more about AAFSC’s staff? Who are the people behind the organization?
AAFSC currently has 35 full-time, and 11 part-time staff members. Our staff are professionals in a variety of fields. We have a lawyer on staff, as well as social workers with MSW degrees. We also have staff pursuing higher education while working at the Center in areas such as clinical psychology, school counseling, and Middle Eastern studies.
How are AAFSC’s staff so attuned to the AMEMSA communities?
Many of our staff are from the communities that we work with, giving them significant depth of insight on the cultures of our clients. The staff at AAFSC speak 12 languages: Arabic, Bengali, English, Farsi, French, Hindi, Urdu, Pashto, Punjabi, Tibetan, Nepali, and Spanish. We have multiple polyglots on staff.
Regardless, AAFSC holds cultural humility as an organizational value—understanding that everyone who visits our Center has their own unique and complex culture, and that our staff are constantly learning, reflecting, and engaging with clients to deepen their understanding.
Does the Arab-American Family Support Center only serve Arab-Americans?
AAFSC specializes in serving the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) immigrant communities of New York City. However, we serve anyone that enters our doors. Our ESOL classes on weekday mornings, for example, speak to our diversity with participants ranging from Yemeni women in abayas, to a Tibetan monk, to francophone West African students. In these classes, we have a rich community of English Language Learners from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Egypt, Sudan, Columbia, Haiti, Yemen, and Bangladesh.
What does AMEMSA mean?
AAFSC uses the term AMEMSA to describe our communities. AMEMSA stands for Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian. We know how diverse these communities are in their cultures, languages and religions, but the term arose and gained traction from shared experiences of prejudice and oppression among these peoples. This was intensified as a result of September 11th, and continues to persist with the growth of Islamophobia and xenophobia. In particular, we like this term because it strives to build collective unity and strength between these communities.
The Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) put together a very helpful fact sheet on AMEMSA communities in America, which you can access .
Is AAFSC a religious organization?
No—AAFSC is a non-sectarian organization. Our communities are diverse in so many ways—one of which being their religions. We have Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Hindu clients, just to name a few. We celebrate the diversity of our staff and client base. Our Center is a place of acceptance and appreciation for people of all religious, ethnic and national backgrounds.
Where is AAFSC located?
AAFSC has five different sites across the city: our headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn and office in Long Island City/Astoria, Queens, as well as the Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island Family Justice Centers. Come visit us!