Share about your life’s journey and how it led to your work in the City Heights community. 

When I came to San Diego in 1989 before the civil war happened in Somalia, I was able to navigate a new world as an immigrant. I took those skills and started to help new refugees in City Heights with translation while they went to various social service agencies to get government assistance. It was through this community work that I was hired by the Alliance for African Assistance Welfare-to-Work program as a case manager. Growing up, I used to sew clothing as a hobby and I use that skill in San Diego to sew traditional clothing for Somali women. A few nonprofits in City Heights were working with the La Jolla Triangle Rotary Club to create the City Heights Sewing Center. Through word of mouth, I became an instructor for the Sewing Center, teaching immigrants and refugees how to sew and generate income through selling items at farmers’ markets in San Diego. As I continued my work in the community, the Center for Community Solutions reached out to me to lead Domestic Violence Education and Prevention in City Heights. Then in 2005, Horn of Africa hired me full-time to continue working in the community as a parent educator. I have since then taken on many roles at Horn of Africa, leading to my current position as a cultural navigator with the Steps to Family Childcare Success (STEPS) program, supported by Price and other funders.

You have served the City Heights community for many years. Describe your current and past roles and what you have enjoyed the most. 

One of my most meaningful roles was as a parent educator with First Five and SAY San Diego during my time at Horn of Africa. I enjoyed this role because I was able to teach immigrant and refugee moms how to take care of themselves during pregnancy and the first five years of their child’s life. I taught them how to detect developmental delays in their children, prepare their children for school, navigate systems, and bridge the gap of cultural differences. I witnessed many mothers become successful advocates for their children.

What accomplishments and impacts are you most proud of with your work in the City Heights community? 

I am most proud to see firsthand the impact I have on the families I work with. Many of these clients are mothers with small children who are new to the country and are struggling to fit in. Having me work with them means the world to them as they can call me anytime.

What changes have you experienced in City Heights over the years? What partners have been instrumental in this change?

City Heights has experienced tremendous changes in the past several years, some positive and some not-so-positive. The positive includes a revamped City Heights where old buildings are replaced by new ones. New apartment units have also been built for City Heights residents. The partners have changed over the years, but Price Philanthropies has certainly been the center of it all as we could not have done our work without their funding. Other partners include San Diego State University, Chicano Federation, and the YMCA.

Is there anything that has surprised you the most over the years as an advocate for City Heights and the Horn of Africa community? 

Social service agencies are well-intentioned in helping our community but still do not fully understand what is needed. I think they come with a mindset of replicating what is happening in other communities and think it will work. Our community is built on trust, and if those serving us do not look like us or speak our language, then we are less likely to be open to accepting help. For example, Crawford and Hoover are both in City Heights a few blocks apart, but the Somali community is more likely to enroll their youth at Crawford because of their community liaison, Ms. Mohamed, who not only speaks the language but can explain how to successfully navigate the school system to the parents. This is especially important because, for many Somalis, this is their last significant push in advocating for their children to be successful post-high school.

In your opinion, what are the most important challenges facing the community of City Heights and especially immigrant women today? 

When immigrant women struggle with the English language, it makes it hard for them to find employment. For example, City Heights is a small neighborhood with many convenience stores and fast-food drive-thrus, but they require a person to know English to work there. In other communities with a large Somali presence, people can find jobs in warehouses doing manufacturing where they do not need to speak English. Another scenario is when parents take their young children to appointments such as the doctor where there is not a diverse population of employees. City Heights is one of the most diverse communities I have seen in America. Lastly, as technology has taken over every aspect of daily life, the community is struggling with the digital divide. I have seen many mothers come to my office in panic when their food assistance has been canceled because they missed one email and do not understand how to move forward.

What advice would you give youth and families in City Heights? 

Do not forget your roots and values. Stay connected with each other as a family, especially now when it seems like families are becoming more and more disconnected. To the youth, we are proud of you for graduating college and becoming successful, but we want to see you put your knowledge back into the community.

Mr. Price recognizes you as a City Heights Hero for all you do for our community, and it is clear you’ve become a hero to those you serve in City Heights. What are your thoughts about this recognition? 

After 30-plus years of helping the community, it feels good to be recognized for my efforts, but most importantly, I hope sharing my story and journey with others will empower them to give back to their communities.