By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Kimberly Ismail turned a life lesson from her father on giving back into a life-long mission and Michigan Volunteer of the Year award winner.
The Dearborn resident and three other volunteer award category recipients formally will be recognized at the 2019 Governor’s Service Awards Sept. 5 at the Detroit Opera House.
This year’s 43 total winners are individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations that were selected for their commitment to volunteerism, service or philanthropy, according to a press release.
Ismail said she found out about being in the running for the award after she received a background check form sent to her which also had a friend’s email address. Ismail called the friend who said the nomination was sent in by another friend.
In 2018, Ismail’s friends submitted an application and community member letters for the award but pulled it out after her father and uncle died because they didn’t think Ismail would enjoy the honor at the time.
The application was resubmitted this year, and in July Ismail got the call she’d won the award.
“I didn’t know about the governor’s awards, but thought it was really cool especially since my friends completed an application and compiled letters from community members for me,” Ismail said.
Ismail is Dearborn City Beautiful Commission chairwoman, vice president of the League of Women Voters Dearborn-Dearborn Heights and serves on the Dearborn Symphony Board of Directors. She graduated from Fordson High School and worked for Dearborn Public Schools before taking a leave of absence for the upcoming school year.
Ismail’s father directly impacted her volunteering by teaching her and her sister about being empathetic, sharing and helping others by always giving back.
For the past six years Ismail has spearheaded most of her own work and advocacy because she feels it’s her calling and part of who she is.
“I work from my heart,” she said. “I complete a project and move to the next project with the goal of benefiting those who are in need.”
Some of her projects are ongoing or sometimes just as simple as finding someone who will sponsor $800 dental work for a woman, like she did recently.
Ismail conducts monthly clothing dropoffs to a community center in Westland and shelters that house women and children. What makes one certain shelter her favorite is that women and children are taught skills so that jobs are obtainable when they leave.
Last month, Ismail asked her friends for gently used designer purses to fill with unused makeup, perfume and other beauty products to deliver to the shelter as something “cool and different” because the women don’t usually receive donations like that.
During the holy month of Ramadan this year, Ismail wanted to give refugee families more than just a meal so she stocked the refrigerators and pantries of 22 of those families with essentials to get them through the 30 days.
Also in 2019, Ismail provided local needy families with 21 grocery cards for holidays, money or gifts through donations and sponsors. She also provided gas cards for families, including one family who has to drive commute to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment.
Ismail hopes to get a billed passed aimed specifically at texting and driving after introducing the Arrive Alive distracted driving campaign to Michigan with support from state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Dearborn) and state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-15th District).
In 2018, Ismail organized a Thanksgiving food drive in collaboration with Summers Homemade Meals to deliver a box full of items for a Thanksgiving meal to 22 families.
That same year a Need to Read book drive provided 1,500 books which were given to the Detroit Public Library. Two years ago Ismail bought school essentials and snacks to fill 200 backpacks during a backpack drive with the help of her sponsors.
Also in 2017, she worked with Dearborn resident Tina Saad on a fundraiser hosting events at local business where tickets were sold to collect money for women in Zimbabwe.
Ismail said that women in a village in the country would walk two hours to attend school and that Saad gave the village money to have bikes made for the women.
Ismail also worked to Provide and deliver bottled water to Flint residents suffering from the water crisis.
“She simply does whatever her community needs,” Ismail’s award profile read. “Family, friends and staff are inspired daily by her integrity, patience and never-ending kindness.”
One of the biggest issues Ismail constantly works to tackle in the Dearborn and metropolitan Detroit is hunger. In 2016 and 2018 she organized a walk for hunger to benefit the non-profit Forgotten Harvest, which delivers 138,000 pounds of surplus food per day to local charities and provides families in need with fresh food for free.
“Her passion for volunteerism and her vision for world harmony is truly inspiring,” Dearborn Public Schools Supt. Glenn Maleyko said. “Her involvement in local, state and national charities is extensive, and her devotion to so many different causes is remarkable. She is selfless and tireless when it comes to helping others.”
Another area Ismail named as her favorite is helping children. She currently is advocating for adding disability swings in two Dearborn parks with the help of Councilman David Bazzy.
“I don’t look for recognition,” she said. “It feels so good, maybe validating that my work has type of impact even if it’s small.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])