In partnership with Huntington Bank and with support from the Dearborn Cardiology Medical Center, the Future Leaders in Progress (F.L.I.P.) Scholarship program held its second annual dinner, in the presence of students, faculty, community leaders and officials, on Thursday evening at Byblos Banquet Center in Dearborn.
In addition to the families of the scholarship winners, the dinner was attended by a large number of government and educational officials, including Michigan Deputy Attorney General Fadwa Hammoud, Wayne County Deputy Executive Asaad Turfe, Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, Dearborn Heights Mayor Bill Bazzi, State Rep. Alabas Farhat, Melanie Brown from Governor Whitmer’s Office, Yosif Hachem from Senator Gary Peters Office, Henry Ford College President Russell Kavalhuna, Crestwood School District Superintendent Dr. Youssef Mosallam, many educators and several local and county judges, businessmen and local community leaders.
The ceremony included the distribution of $97,000 to 27 students selected from among 178 applicants nominated by faculty at Dearborn, Fordson, Edsel Ford and Magnet High Schools and the Henry Ford Early College Education Program in Dearborn, in addition to Crestwood High School in Dearborn Heights. A committee consisting of Huntington Bank Chairman Gary Torgow, The Arab American News Publisher Osama Siblani, Dearborn Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Glenn Maleyko, Mosallam, Katarina Flathau from Huntington Bank and Dr. Ashok Kondur from Dearborn Cardiology selected 33 students for the final review, which included the 27 winners.
Five teachers from the aforementioned five high schools were also honored. According to the committee, around half of the applicants had met the requirements of the program, which was designed in cooperation between The Arab American News and Huntington Bank to support students involved in their communities, based on specific criteria, including achieving an academic GPA of not less than 2.5, family income, letter of recommendation from teacher or a counselor, scholarship or financial aid from other entities or universities. Student applicants were also required to write essays about their social experiences, community involvements and future aspirations.
The scholarships, which ranged between $1,000 and $10,000 per student, will be paid by F.L.I.P. directly to the university or college in lieu of tuition fees for the winners.
Torgow and Siblani picked 10 students out of the 27 winners for interviews to decide which would be the three $10,000 winners. They became acquainted with the students’ academic, social and family circumstances, “some of which were very challenging and inspiring of overcoming obstacles stories,” according to Siblani.
After Aris Williams, one of the scholarship winners, sang the national anthem, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Susan Dabaja emceed the evening, praising the founders of the F.L.I.P. Scholarship program, which attaches utmost importance to students’ involvement in the issues of their societies and contributing to their development, cohesion and promotion of their academic, social and cultural values.
Dabaja drew attention to the vitality of the Arab American community in the Dearborn area and its families’ focus on academic achievement to ensure a brighter future for their kids, pointing out to the abundance of scholarship programs and community initiatives that seek to support students and help them complete their higher education.
“When I was your age, there were not many such programs, but I knew that giving me a few hundred dollars as a student could have greatly helped my family, whose financial conditions were not in the best condition at that time,” she told the scholarship recipients.
Dabaja praised the F.L.I.P. Scholarship program, which focuses on community involvement in addition to students’ academic excellence, describing the Future Leaders in Progress program as a “huge deal.”
“Every penny can make a difference in a student’s life,” she said.
For his part, Siblani praised Torgow’s efforts, saying he turned the idea of the program into a “tangible reality.”
“I would like to thank my brother and friend, Gary Torgow, for this initiative, without which we would not be here today celebrating, helping and honoring these students and teachers in our community,” Siblani said.
He also said that Torgow made a solid commitment to the scholarship program last year by providing a net of $75,000. This year he raised the amount to $82,000, expressing his hope that the F.L.I.P. Scholarship program will turn into a permanent program that attracts more donors and funders in the future in order to support more students.
Siblani also thanked the partners of the Dearborn Cardiology Center, Dr. Ashok Kondur and Dr. Elie Kassab, for their contribution of $20,000 to F.L.I.P., bringing the total amount of the scholarships this year to more than $102,000. He pointed out that next year the list of sponsors will include businessman Jacob Baccal, with contributions of $25,000 and Sigma Home Care owner Mike Gabriel with $2,500.
Siblani urged local businesses and individuals to patronize Huntington Bank by establishing personal and business accounts at the local branches, which employ professional, courteous and helpful bankers, adding that he opened two accounts with the bank in the last two months.
Siblani said that students’ interviews revealed some difficult and sad stories, which enabled the students to excel academically despite social difficulties and economic challenges. He pointed out the effective role of the teaching staff in the local public schools and the family support for the youth in the Dearborn region. He also expressed his commitment to continue the F.L.I.P. Scholarship program.
“We look forward to continuing and expanding our partnership with Huntington Bank as well as with other supporters in the coming years,” he said.
Torgow said he considered the F.L.I.P. Scholarship program a sustainable investment in the cities of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, stressing that investing in youth is the best and most feasible and expressing his gratitude and pride in being invited to many activities in the Arab American community.
“Thank you for accepting me into your community, as I always feel at home,” he said.
“We have a great relationship with each other, Huntington Bank and The Arab American News, and tonight’s dinner is a strong proof of that,” he added.
Torgow praised Siblani’s efforts in launching and continuing the F.L.I.P. Scholarship program, stressing that the latter has become one of his dearest friends.
“It is an honor for me to be a partner with The Arab American News in this ambitious program,” he said.
Torgow also commended the efforts of the students and their families, as well as the teachers and administrators at the Dearborn high schools and Crestwood High School, in addition to the Dearborn Cardiology Center and all potential sponsors of Future Leaders in Progress.
Torgow pointed out that the funding of the scholarship program by Huntington Bank is “a modest contribution to these students who deserve full material and moral support during the continuation of their academic education.” He expressed his confidence that “the development of society will remain one of their main goals.”
Kavalhuna praised the strong educational commitment in the community and described Henry Ford College as one of the most important landmarks of Dearborn, as it “has about 20,000 students, most of whom are from the city of Dearborn, and these are automatically accepted to complete undergraduate studies at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.”
He said that Henry Ford College annually receives around 2,000 students, about 70 percent of whom are eligible for the federal Pell Grant scholarship.
“Studying at our college is the best investment in this region,” Kavalhuna said.
Rehab Jadallah, a 2022 top F.L.I.P. Scholarship recipient, thanked the sponsors for their generous contributions. She said that The Arab American News and Huntington Bank had made a wonderful decision to invest in the future of students who are expected to be proactive in community service, considering that honoring the outstanding and socially engaged includes “honoring the place where you came from and the place where you want to go.”
Jadallah, who is of Palestinian and Syrian origin, received a $10,000 scholarship last year. She spoke briefly about her university experience and academic aspirations, which are inspired by her grandfather, who was “rejected” because of his openness to culture, science and ideas.
Jadallah expressed her gratitude for the opportunities that enabled her to continue her university education, including questions about her identity as a Palestinian American. She said your identity is an integral part of your academic and professional journey.
In brief comments, Fadwa Hammoud emphasized the importance of public education and its support by various commercial and community institutions.
“When good people meet, a miracle will undoubtedly happen,” she said, referring to the partnership between The Arab American News and Huntington Bank.
Hammoud thanked Siblani, Torgow, Kondur and Kassab for their generosity and contribution in supporting the largest possible number of socially engaged students, pointing out that “investing in education is an investment in all of us.”
“I am a proud product of public education and all the initiatives and institutions that support it, and I was a proud contributor to the Dearborn Public Schools,” she said.
Ariel Corley, a senior at Edsel Ford High School, expressed her thanks to The Arab American News and Huntington Bank for what she called a “valuable opportunity.”
Corley received a $10,000 scholarship to continue her academic studies at the University of Michigan, specializing in neuroscience, where she is looking forward to working as a pediatric psychiatrist.
“I want to thank everyone involved in this scholarship program and those who have helped me over the years to reach where I’m today, including my family and the teachers at my school,” Corley said.
Khadegah Tawil, a senior at Fordson High School, received a $10,000 scholarship, which she described as a “gold medal” that will provide her with “financial security” while completing her undergraduate studies at Henry Ford College. Tawil is aiming eventually to obtain a master’s degree in special needs education from Wayne State University.
Tawil, who is of Yemeni origin, explained that the F.L.I.P. Scholarship program gave her the opportunity to share her personal story of supporting and aiding one of her sisters, who has special needs, and which inspired her to choose special need education as a “distinguished” profession, in order to help disabled children in the future.
“I extend my sincere thanks to the sponsors of the F.L.I.P program, which will enable me to specialize in educating children with special needs, work to compensate them for the deprivation they suffer from and identify their areas of strength, to help them continue living with the least difficulties,” she said.
Nancy Balhas, a senior at Crestwood High School, expressed her “extreme” enthusiasm for obtaining a $10,000 scholarship, pointing out that this amount will constitute a good base to support her in order to continue her university studies, as she seeks to specialize in the field of physical therapy at Henry Ford College.
Balhas was keen on voluntary participation during her preparatory and secondary studies, according to what she told The Arab American News, stressing that she will employ the experiences she will gain in the future to serve the entire community.