The founders of Muslim Volunteers for New York outside Ruppert Park in 2017. Left to right are Sahar Husain, Mubeen Siddiqui, Sanober Khan, Homera Zaman, Dr. Hina Irshad and Dr. Saima Saad. Photo courtesy of MV4NY
When Sahar Husain gets to talking about her work with Muslim Volunteers for New York, it’s hard for her to stop. She can certainly go on about the projects MV4NY takes on every year, but what she really wants to convey about the work is the effect it has on the volunteers and the community.
“I think it brings inner peace when you help others,” Husain said. “You see the benefits all around you and then you want to get more and more entrenched in that work.”
It’s this passion and enthusiasm for the service work that gives you a clue as to how the organization has accrued 600 active members in four years. That’s a long way from the seven Muslim women who started the organization in 2015.
“The idea came from our faith,” said Husain, one of the founding members. “Charity and community service is a big part of our religion.”
Each of the women brought different personal and professional experiences to the table that helped them shape the organization and determine what kinds of projects they would tackle. Some women worked as doctors, other as educators and some in finance. Husain, 42, grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and has spent the last 17 years in the United States working in marketing and raising two children with her husband.
The women created a four-part platform, including education, health, hunger and poverty alleviation, and the environment. Soon, they began partnering with more established organizations, asking how MV4NY could fill in the gaps. Husain and her team have attracted a large group of volunteers that extends beyond the Muslim community.
“We have a very diverse base of volunteers and donors,” said Husain. “We really feel very proud of that, and we work really hard towards that. We think that’s how you can help others ... when everyone comes together.”
Over the years, MV4NY has worked with Meals on Wheels to deliver food to homebound elderly, collected produce for New York Common Pantry and helped public schools sort and transport books during Project Cicero, among other initiatives.
One of the group’s first projects was cleaning up the Upper East Side’s Ruppert Park, which had been plagued by rat colonies. MV4NY now serves as the park’s official steward and comes back several times a year. With a jazz band, refreshments and activities for kids, it’s become one of their most popular projects.
“Last time we had 165 volunteers that came to our spring event,” said Husain. It’s important to continue to come back to the park and participate in other projects each year, she said, because the need for MV4NY’s services is continuous.
“We cannot just come in once and then withdraw. We need to be there and keep supporting.”
This continuity, Husain said, helps show the next generation not only the value of service work, but also how to organize their own drives and projects.
“You know the concept of having the kids read for 15 to 20 minutes every night and it becomes a part of their personality, their fabric?,” Husain said. “That’s the idea we wanted to bring to community work.”
One of the best moments of running MV4NY, Husain said, has been seeing the young people take it upon themselves to further the mission. For example, at the beginning of summer, MV4NY runs a food drive during Ramadan — a month in which Muslims fast — as it overlaps with a time of need for food pantries.
“We thought why not reach out to the schools to partner with us,” said Husain. “There was a young girl who wanted to speak about Ramadan and poverty in her class. She reached out to us about our drive. Her entire school participated. We were like in awe with her.”
Now, student leaders at other schools are organizing their own Ramadan drives with MV4NY. It’s a sign to Husain that the group’s work is paying off.
“Our work is not just about getting that tin of oatmeal to someone. We want to teach students and kids to engage in this work, lead such projects and understand how to respectfully help another individual.”