Wafa Haddad was inspired by her 15-year-old niece to start a nonprofit agency that’s operated mostly under the radar in West Michigan for eight years.
Haddad founded Noor’s Heaven of West Michigan Services in 2012. The organization, which operates out of Haddad’s Wyoming home on a shoestring budget of about $15,000 with a staff of 15 volunteers, is dedicated to empowering the Arab and Muslim community in West Michigan through the development of life skills and by providing humanitarian, social, economic and educational services.
“We are an independent, nonprofit charity not associated with any other group, political party or religious entity. We are passionate people who love to serve the community, and everyone is welcome,” Haddad said.
She chose the name “Noor” — which means “light of heaven” in Arabic — in honor of her niece, Noor, who died at the age of 15 before she could fulfill her dream “to save women and kids globally from domestic violence and poverty,” Haddad said.
Over time, Haddad and her agency’s three-person board of directors came to see that “Noor” was significant in more ways than one.
“It hit us — it was like a spiritual light coming out of heaven. As we grew our organization, the name began to take on a different meaning, and possibly, a more inspirational one,” Haddad said.
“We started to realize that it meant ‘energy and empowerment.’ The name encouraged us toward our goals and mission in significant ways to improve our ability to innovate. It’s also an interpretation of our mission and goals, which (are) supporting, empowerment, development and education.”
Haddad hopes to get a better grasp of how many Arab and Muslim residents are in West Michigan after the 2020 U.S. Census numbers are tallied, but for now, she estimates she is reaching about 10% of the total Arab and Muslim population in this region on a regular basis.
After COVID-19 arrived in West Michigan, Haddad said Noor’s Heaven saw a temporary increase in demand for services from about 1,000 individuals in a typical three-month period to 7,926 within the past three months.
“They came to us, all of them in need, regardless of whether they were laid-off, had no job or were isolated in the home,” Haddad said, noting the primary needs were for food through the agency’s Arzaq Allah (God’s Sustenance) program.
She expects demand to fall over time as things get back to normal following the reopening of the economy, but she believes the organization’s services will always be needed.
In addition to hunger relief, Noor’s Heaven’s services include welcoming newcomers, college and English as a Second Language (ESL) referrals, employment referrals, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) benefit adjustments, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits resources, case management, affordable housing, domestic violence prevention, child protection services and anti-human trafficking programs.
Its service area includes Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola and Ottawa counties.
According to Noor’s Heaven’s GuideStar profile, in 2019, 250 low-income families that Noor’s Heaven served reported they were able to obtain “affordable, well-maintained” housing as a result of the nonprofit’s efforts. About 310 families last year reported receiving the support they needed from family, friends, neighbors, churches, colleges and recreational organizations, with the help of Noor’s Heaven.
Noor’s Heaven receives its funding through donations, co-pays, crowdfunding, self-funding and friends and family. Haddad said people can donate through the agency’s website, noorheaven.org.
Haddad said her organization’s logo was designed to represent the family, which is at the heart of its mission.
“Our logo was designed to include mother, father and their child under one roof. The parents are sharing the ceiling of life with confidence and integrity. The child between them is full of energy (and) surrounded with safe love,” she said.
“It symbolizes the core values of our organization, the combination of dynamic parents with the soul of their child as the commitment of their lives.”