Amad Elzayat’s parents left Lebanon to come to Dearborn, Michigan with their family when he was seven months old. His mother stayed at home to raise six children while his father supported the family working two jobs, until he was injured and couldn’t work any longer. Although Elzayat’s family was poor growing up, he says they didn’t even know it. “I was blessed with an amazing childhood, filled with love, unforgettable life lessons, and amazing memories that I share with my daughters,” says Elzayat.
Besides taking care of the public through his professional role as a police officer, Elzayat created the Amity Foundation. The foundation promotes the idea that everyone, regardless of race, color or creed, deserves a chance to have the basic necessities of life.
In the past year, with the help of over 200 volunteers, the Amity Foundation organized numerous relief and goodwill efforts that provided turkeys to over 550 households on Thanksgiving, delivered over 750 coats to children at area schools, cooked roughly 740 dinners for families during Ramadan, had a backpack drive that distributed school supplies to 900 students, and helped refugees get situated with essentials, such as food, clothes and furniture. Here, we share the inside scoop on Elzayat and his philanthropic efforts.
CAAP: What sparked your interest in philanthropy?
Amad Elzayat: I think this started when I was very young. I watched my parents who were struggling to support their own family open our home for other families in need of a place to stay. My father would help them save money, help them find work and once they were financially stable, he would help them find a place to live. All this served as my foundation for wanting to help others.
CAAP: The mission of the Amity Foundation is to develop the leadership of youth and young adults by engaging them in community service and empowering them to create change in their communities. What motivated you to focus on the youth?
AE: I believe that this needs to be instilled in people at a young age. Being a football coach has shown me that kids are always willing to help as long as they feel they are a part of the solution. Most of all, I wanted to encourage my daughters to help those in need in their community. I decided I would do that from a foundation that would involve the youth, such as my daughters, to lend a helping hand when needed.
CAAP: How do you determine your giving decisions, and what do you hope to accomplish with your giving over the next three years?
AE: I work a lot with social work in local schools. They are the ones with students who are most in need. I also work with local social services agencies that know of families that have immediate needs. If someone contacts me directly, I make time and do a home visit so that I can determine the needs. With every passing year, we try to help more people and more importantly encourage more people to help. My vision is to create a community of givers and selfless people. I want to keep helping until no one is in need anymore.
CAAP: Define “philanthropist” in your own words. Do you consider yourself a philanthropist?
AE: A philanthropist is a person who donates money for the greater good of others. I would say I am somewhat of a philanthropist but I mainly seek the assistance of the amazing philanthropists we have in this community. Without their support, we would never be able to accomplish all the great things we are doing. I always encourage our donors to come and bring their families to our events so they can get involved and their children can get a sense of helping and giving back. I always tell them that donating is the easy part. I want them to come and deliver meals and assemble backpacks with their kids. I feel that’s the hard part, donating time, sweat and muscle, especially from people who have never seen what we do. And I know it’s successful because they always come back wanting to help more; that’s how I know we are making headway.
CAAP: May you please share a story of one of your most rewarding experiences in your giving history?
AE: My favorite story is of a family who was in desperate need of assistance. They were immigrants from Syria, refugees, if you will. We were able to assist them. A year later, they contacted me; I thought they were calling because they needed something. It turns out that they were calling to see if they could help with the foundation. They wanted to donate money and time as a way of giving back because they had landed on their feet.
CAAP: Do you identify as Arab American? Does this influence your giving?
AE: Yes. In some ways it does, especially in a world where Arabs are being painted as the problem of this country. I want non-Arabs to see the good we do and see that we are misjudged. I want my fellow Arabs to jump in and assist so that the good will spread in our community.
CAAP: Do you have any advice for other Arab Americans new to philanthropy and how they can help strengthen the collective power of Arab American giving?
AE: Find something you are passionate about and stick to it. Do not spread yourself too thin. Try to stay focused on the mission. You do not have to do everything on your own, work with other organizations if it helps you accomplish the end goal.
For more information about the Amity Foundation, please visit http://www.theamityway.org/