More About ACCESS of WNY from Executive Director Gamileh Jamil
Our 2016 Cornell Fellow, Andrew Grais, wanted to tell us more about ACCESS of WNY, so he interviewed Gamileh Jamil, the Executive Director of ACCESS. Here's what he found out...
What does ACCESS of WNY stand for?
ACCESS of WNY stands for Arab American Community Center for Economic Social Services of Western New York.
What are your responsibilities as the Executive Director of ACCESS?
As Executive Director, I try to keep everything going as smooth as possible to ensure that we’re meeting the outcomes of creating healthier, stronger families.
What are the challenges of being in the community of Lackawanna?
I don’t like to consider them as challenges. I see them more as part of the process. However, there are some things that you have to move forward and look past. I wish there was more energy and insight. There are a lot of disparities in Lackawanna, and we need to be proactive in executing solutions instead of pointing fingers. It’s easy to find the solutions, but it’s actually executing the solutions that is the hardest part.
How is ACCESS trying to execute solutions in Lackawanna?
Engagement. Engagement with clients, nonprofits, and the community in general. Whether it’s with nature, individuals, businesses. You have to be around all of those aspects to really appreciate them in your decision making. ACCESS really tries to see itself as an intricate part of this system. You can’t afford to be part of one little silo. Everything is like a body system—it’s all interrelated. You have to be engaged with the police department, engaged with the education department, and engaged with the environment. If you’re only concentrating on one aspect, you’re not really doing justice to executing solutions.
Were you always interested in nonprofit work? Was there a shift that led you to where you are right now?
I’ve always been, at a very young age, in tune with helping others. I didn’t call it nonprofit work- I just called it helping people who needed help. Even with my nursing background, helping others is as essential as breathing for me. If I don’t feel engaged in helping people, I just don’t feel complete in my life. I think it’s part of who I am, my anatomy.
Who is your biggest role model?
My biggest role model is the prophet Muhammad. He’s where I really learned how to appreciate humans. He taught me that you can have so much social change by helping people understand their rights as a human being. Just appreciate that you are a human being. You have a right to education, you have a right to owning your own business, and playing in a clean environment that’s not toxic. Those are human rights that, even if a human doesn’t believe, that the prophet Muhammad exuded that in his relations with people who surrounded him.
What is the greatest resource/gem of Lackawanna and how do you use that?
The biggest gem of Lackawanna is its diversity; diversity in faith, diversity in different cultures. I think Lackawanna demonstrates immigration to its fullest. People might not dress culturally, but there is still great pride in their culture. It needs to be embraced. We should embrace it even more. We would have an even healthier community if we could pray together, work together and have that understanding instead of finding reasons not to coexist.
Where do you see ACCESS in ten years?
I hope to see ACCESS as a nonprofit community center that is a place where people feel comfortable and confident that if they can’t get the help they need at home, especially with youth, that ACCESS is a safe place to come. The same thing with people of both genders, and aged seniors. ACCESS embodies that service leadership with staff as well as clients. I’m hoping to have that feeling of innovative brightness that we’re working towards.
What’s your educational background?
I feel that my first student experience is actually with my parents. I feel that we, as humans, sort of forget our upbringing and instead, focus on what PhD and degree we have. I feel that was my first student experience because I feel that my parents were very involved in teaching us cultural norms but also teaching us how to build, do plumbing, things you don’t learn in college, you don’t learn in high school either. I think that would be very first background. If I could put that on my resume, that would be the first thing.
Academically, I went to nursing school. Then, I took a pause for ten years to raise my family. Afterwards, I went back to school to get my bachelor’s in nursing. I thought I wanted to be a nurse practitioner, and then I saw there were a lot of changes in healthcare. These changes didn’t allow health providers to really give the nursing care that patients needed. I wanted to give more. As a result, I shifted to health leadership and administration. I wanted to be changing policies and guiding the policy changes that were happening at the state level and the federal level, so that clients and patients, and the voices of patients could be heard. Then, I came to ACCESS and worked here while getting my masters in health administration. While obtaining my masters, ACCESS provided me with essential experience in administration, and I fell in love with the organization. And here I am today.
How does your nursing background translate to your work with ACCESS?
As a person, I feel that my nursing background helps me as a leader at ACCESS and as a community leader because we’re nursing a community. We can see social disparities as diseases that can’t be healed. However, I feel that every disease has its cure. Nothing is a cookie cutter, so just as dynamic as the human body is, there’s no cookie cutter on how to fix the community needs. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself, if you have the right amount of sleep, etc. Same thing with the community. If you have the right amount of healthy venues and the focus is to heal within the self, it will come out, and it will the exude the environment and the world around it.
This past June and July, Samir Jain, a Cornell High Road Fellow, served with Access of WNY. He is worked alongside Andrew Grais, the Cornell High Road Fellow affiliated with The John R. Oishei Foundation. Together, Andrew and Samir worked on capacity building and strategic planning for ACCESS.
--Andrew Grais, Cornell High Road Fellow
ACCESS of WNY's Story
Imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning and realize that everything you’ve known is not there anymore. Your friends disappeared. Your comfortable society has vanished. And, you are just dangling in a new world where your family is just as helpless as you are.
This is a familiar reality for many Yemeni families who decide to immigrate to the United States. Some of these families leave their home countries due to political turmoil or religious persecution, while others leave in search of better opportunities overseas. Similarly to many Yemeni immigrants, my family and I emigrated from Egypt to the United States. My parents, who both held accounting professions, sacrificed their comfortable lifestyle in exchange for better futures for their children. Regardless of the reason, all families dream about their future in “The Land of Free.”
When Yemeni families land in the United States, many of their dreams are hit with the cold wind of reality. Families are confronted with language barriers, racism, employment difficulties, broken familial relationships, and poverty. “When a family loses stability, they become increasingly vulnerable to the many ills of society.”
After numerous years of witnessing families struggle and fail to find their footing in the United States, a group of concerned Arab Americans sparked community interest and founded ACCESS of WNY, Inc. in 2005. The mission of ACCESS of WNY, Inc. is to promote understanding and strengthen the bonds of faith and friendship between members of the Arab American community and people of other nationalities and cultures living within the United States; to help newly arrived immigrants adapt to life in the U.S.; to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of Arab culture within the American public; and to promote the common good and general welfare of the Arab American community. Since its creation, ACCESS has assisted hundreds of low income families, at-risk youth, immigrants, and unemployed workers in the Greater Buffalo community with education needs, youth development, immigration services, and support services.
Throughout my short time at ACCESS, I witnessed its great impact on individual families and the larger Arab American community in Lackawanna. Under Executive Director Gamileh Jamil, ACCESS’s voice and impact is growing in the Greater Buffalo area.
--Andrew Grais, Cornell High Road Fellow