The “parent” organization to the Somali Youth and Family Development Center (SOMFAM) was founded in 2009 by Fatoun Ali and Mohamed Hassan (Daryeel) to help build strong Somali families who were refugees living in Minnesota. Originally known as the Somali Minority Rights and Aid Forum (SOMRAF), the organization was granted non-profit, 501 c(3) status the same year.
Due to start-up funding challenges, Fatoun’s other obligations and Daryeel’s return to Africa soon after the organization was founded, SOMRAF did not have the human and financial capacity to develop sustainable programs for serving Minnesota’s Somali community. Regardless of these challenges, SOMRAF continued to submit the yearly paperwork necessary to remain in good standing as a nonprofit organization with the State of Minnesota and the IRS.
In 2012, with renewed commitment to reinvigorate the non-profit, Fatoun wanted to begin again. She started small by developing a Somali cultural program for all ages that enjoyed a brief run at the Sumner Library in 2012. In this program, adults and children learned about the history of Somalia, the language, culture, food and traditions. Fatoun wanted to particularly help Somali children learn about the culture of the land their families left behind
At the same time Fatoun wanted to develop a program for empowering Somali girls. She trained to become a mentor for Dr. Verna Price’s Girls In Action Program and subsequently served as a mentor for a girls empowerment program at Roosevelt High School. Dr. Price then partnered with Fatoun in her efforts to launch her own girls empowerment program at Best East (the Somali school that is part of Harvest Academy) in the 2012-13 academic year; the program continued during the 2013-14 academic year.
Fatoun expanded the girls mentoring program in the Fall of 2014 by incorporating cooking into the mix and opened the program to all Somali girls aged 12 and up. “Somali Girls Cooking,” weaves mentoring and empowerment into the development of culinary skills and takes place in the Lutheran Social Services offices in South Minneapolis.
To serve the women of the Somali community, Fatoun launched a women’s support group in October 2013. A group of 10-20 women meet monthly at Lutheran Social Services to learn about different topics that affect the women’s lives – health (physical and mental), nutrition, cooking, education, empowerment, family, children, personal growth, becoming self sufficient, and the value of exercise. For a summer break, entire families meet for picnics, swimming and some fun in the sun. Women keep coming back because they feel safe while enjoy socializing, learning and receiving the support of other women.
Concurrent with these program launches, Fatoun also decided to refine the organizational mission to focus solely on empowering youth and families and to change the organization’s name to one that more accurately reflected her vision. Early in 2013 SOMRAF’s name was changed to The Somali Youth and Family Development Center (SOMFAM).
Up to this point most of these efforts were the result of one woman’s energy, time and resources. Fatoun knew she couldn’t achieve her vision alone so she gradually worked to bring in other people, outside funding and other resources into the mix. First to happen (along with the name change) was the recruitment in 2013 of the Founding Board of Directors, its members recruited from both inside and outside of the Somali community. It met formally for the first time in October 2013.
In 2014 Fatoun developed partnerships that provide ongoing funding, space and other support that has further increased the capacity of SOMFAM to serve the Somali Community:
- Lutheran Social Services provides SOMFAM’s office space, meeting and event space, and has the commercial kitchen that plays host to the Somali Girls in the Kitchen Program;
- Mikeworth Consulting provides ongoing consulting services and event support – including the November 2014 SOMFAM Grand Opening and silent auction fundraiser – and the Women’s Support Group family picnics;
- Mount Olivet Lutheran Church provides ongoing support for the Women’s Support Group.
In the long run, SOMFAM is increasing its capacity to more fully empower the youth, women and men of Minnesota’s Somali community. While its heartfelt vision continues to burn bright in the heart of one woman, it’s a vision that speaks to Somali people who want to be self-sufficient, educated, vibrant, and empowered participants in the larger Minnesota community.