Chaldean foundation opens new community center

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By Eric Czarnik
Chaldean Community Foundation President Martin Manna and Program Manager Sharon Hannawa stand outside their group’s new building in Sterling Heights Nov. 12. (Photo by Deb Jacques)

As the epicenter of Middle Eastern culture in America, metro Detroit has a new building that serves as a community center and larger facility for the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights.

The Community Foundation is the charitable arm of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce in Bingham Farms.

The foundation’s president, Martin Manna, said the new building opened to the public Nov. 10, and a grand opening was scheduled to take place Nov. 13. He said construction had been ongoing since April, and he called the opening “long overdue.”

According to the CCF, the new building, which amounts to around 11,500 square feet, is expected to have 35 staffers, who are expected to allow the CCF to help more than 20,000 people per year.

“We’ve had a significant amount of new Americans come to this area, so the center will be key to providing them with services that will get them on a path to independence,” Manna said.

According to a statement from the Community Foundation, the group only planned to serve around 400 people annually when it was first established in 2011.

But demand for services has increased as Chaldeans — a Christian minority in the Middle East — have fled from war and religious persecution and have become refugees.

Today, the Community Foundation estimates the current size of metro Detroit’s Chaldean population at 150,000.

Manna said the new building makes the foundation’s space several times larger compared to the previous facility, which was an approximately 2,500-square-foot building, also on 15 Mile Road in Sterling Heights.

“We had a facility in the past that had a lobby that served about six people,” he said. “This new lobby has chairs for 22 people.”

Manna said the additional space will let the foundation move forward with opening up a learning center, hosting more job retraining and expanding English lessons. In addition, the new building will host educational sessions on topics ranging from behavioral health to citizenship, he said.

As always, the foundation’s services are available to non-Chaldeans too, Manna explained.

“It’s a true community center, not open just for Chaldeans,” he said.

Manna said the community center cost about $3 million, and the CCF has undergone a $5 million capital campaign toward funding it. CCF Program Manager Sharon Hannawa said the clients who enter the new building are excited and think it is beautiful.

“The previous facility that we were in was very tiny,” she explained. “Now we’re able to have all of our programs and services under one roof, so that does make it easier. Also, just the additional space and the additional privacy when (staffers) are interacting with

CCF Program Manager Sharon Hannawa and receptionist Bushra Karana look at materials behind a lobby desk inside the new building.
Translator Wally Abro works with Joseph Birwari, of Sterling Heights, in the new interior office space.