The Guide to Achieving a Dream
Photo: Elaine Rumman
By Suha Araj/Arab America Contributing Writer
“I have the freedom to do anything I want– my conscience is my guide.” — Elaine Rumman
A hearty life can be recounted by one’s character defining moments; Elaine Rumman’s are uncountable.
Driving 50 minutes each way for 7 years – before GPS and cell phones – to volunteer one’s social work expertise would be a heart warming mission in itself.
To do this in a country you were not born in, speaking the language with a heavy accent, and as a novice driver, requires both courage and tenacity.
To do this after raising 6 children in two countries may also begin to reveal what makes her special.
I’ll continue: To do this after earning a master’s degree in Social Work from one of the top programs in the country, without a high school diploma, would begin to show you a woman who is determined.
To do this while continuing the motherly chores of a clean home, delicious home cooked meals, endless unconditional love, as well as made-from-scratch bread and baklava would also indicate a generous heart.
I don’t imagine there was much space for self-care or restful nights, but her philosophy of deep breath, prayer, understanding, and positive thinking played a large role in the stamina.
When you are living your life in your true purpose, time and worldly constraints don’t seem to have an impact on the flow of living an unheard-of dream.
Photo: Elaine Rumman
It all started in Palestine, born into a loving home and to parents who instilled faith and morals in her. She married at the ripe age of 16 years and 10 months to a well-respected feminist who saw individual potential over gender.
He first spotted her carrying two buckets of water up to the roof and sensed a strong woman who didn’t make excuses. After the proper courting, he made her his wife.
As a young mother, she was an executive board member at the ‘Women’s Association of Child Care in Palestine. She was helping families without the validation of a degree, but the instincts and curiosity of a loving parent. Her dream of widespread parenting education with the goal of prevention was born.
Nearly twenty years after she married, her diplomat husband was on a mission to Latin America, while his wife and children remained in Palestine. After a now famous six-day war, he thought his family was dead. They were very alive and served as the neighborhood hub of shelter and food in very uncertain times.
Communication was slow for civilians then, and my grandmother managed to get a letter from Beit Jala, Palestine to Amman Jordan and then to Honduras. The letter arrived two months after the 1967 war to my grandfather’s welcoming hands and indescribable relief. He traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his brother lived, and where plans were soon made to reunite the family. Their oldest daughter would stay behind in Palestine to get married and live in the family home. My grandmother would say a heavy goodbye to her own mother, as well as her oldest daughter, when she and her other five children joined her husband in Ann Arbor in 1969 to begin again. She was 38.
At the age of 43 and a half she was accepted into Washtenaw Community College. After only having completed the seventh grade, her most precious aspiration was to get her education. She could fly.
After receiving honors, she was able to transfer to the University of Michigan. Her motivation to keep going kept going; she graduated on schedule, and everyone was well fed.
During her time at the U of M, their home also became the hub for recent Palestinian immigrants. Maintaining host duties and any sense of individual goals is not an easy balance in any culture. The days were long, beginning with a 6am alarm to return home by 6pm. She would then go to the store, cook, and write her papers, going to bed after midnight. She always finished her schoolwork and still made the baklava—from scratch.
She continued at the University of Michigan and earned her Master’s Degree. Their school of Social Work was the top program in the country at the time. Perhaps this had always been the dream of that young faithful girl in Palestine, an M.S.W.
I remember the pictures and the smile, not yet able to appreciate the miles and milestone reached. The date was May 2nd, 1981.
After graduation at the age of 50 and a half, she embarked on a job search for the first time in her young life, still hanging tightly to her heavy accent.
After 7 months of nothing, she got her first interview. With careful directions, she drove from Ann Arbor to Dearborn for the interview. She was nearly sideswiped by a semi on the way home, but she got the job.
While working at The Chaldean Communities Social Services she was invited to present her own story and was awarded as a parent model. She had been heard, and several audience members approached her to tell her how much they had learned from her perseverance.
A career was born.
At Family Services of Detroit she worked as a caseworker collecting information for parents that would be part of their newsletter. At the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, she also worked as a caseworker, visiting 16 schools in the area and working along side Arab American students. She also found the time to create her own education programs for parents, her aim is to prevent problems as early as possible before reaching a point of crisis.
Soon she would be working as a family therapist at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Service (ACCESS), where she continued to be awarded for her work: for “Strengthening Families” from the Child Care Coordinating Council, as well as a plaque for academic excellence and development of human relations from the Arab American Organization.
She was on a roll.
From there she went mainstream, working in the Ann Arbor public schools as a social worker, evaluating children for special education. None of this was done without adversity, structural roadblocks, and officials who may have preferred a younger, un-accented employee.
Why stop at one dream? A large part of her gift is the human connection and anyone who meets her is transformed. Going public was the natural evolution of her prevention goal. Her sacred belief that world peace can be achieved through strong families underlined each step.
She took her show on the air and started the Proud Parent Network, a TV show on Community Television Network (CTN). Her mission was to highlight community members uplifting children and contributing to the greater vision of a community that takes care of its children. She was the host, interviewing leaders from the educators to the clergy to the police and everyone in between who had made a positive contribution to the community.
Family, Community, Justice, Prevention, Children, Passion, and Dreams are words she frequently used.
She had 50 episodes of a television program under her belt when the school budget was cut in 1995. That didn’t seem to stop her, and she continued to make over 150 programs with CTN.
She was a hit, and once again the awards followed. Two were from the network itself: one for excellence in community programs and the second was a community spirit award. That’s living a life on purpose. Her family has always been by her side fueling her spirit.
She spent 12 years in the Public School system, eventually retiring at the age of 67 to take care of her ailing husband. The entire family attended her retirement party. Her husband died when she was 70, never having seen his Palestine again.
She cites her greatest achievement and source of spirit as her own family. Her six children turned into sixteen grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren keep on coming: 6 and counting. As one of the grandchildren, I will say that my favorite part of Christmas, aside from her countless handpicked and hand rolled grape leaves, is her handwritten Christmas card. Always perfectly defining and appreciating the best of your character, always believing in your dreams, and sealed with more love and encouragement than one small card could handle. The text always spills over the edges.
Her compliments make you blush or even make you ask her to stop. But perhaps she sees beyond what we see. She sees the potential, the dream realized, and the highest articulation of a vision. Trying to stop her is not advised.
Strong families are created over time and world peace is achieved in small moments. My cousins and I have this collection of personal cards in common.
The amount of people she mothered, influenced, mentored, inspired, and nurtured is endless. Her weekly letters to the editor were also endless and often published. Her voice has always mattered and always has an impact.
She has built a legacy of determination, early morning walks, late night writing sessions, a personal archive of dreams accomplished, and a very tangible slate of goals she continues to chip away at each day.
Her advice: Follow the spark that ignites your passion.
Yet she doesn’t tell anyone what to do. She does it in her own way and lets you see a shining example of what love can do. She created home.