This month, we’d like to spotlight the work of Ghadeer “Gigi” Ady from the Spring 2019 cohort. Gigi is the Director of Community Health and Well-Being at the Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC). She oversees the Reclaiming Our Health mental health initiative, which is focused on reducing the stigma on mental health and increasing access to services for the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities. In addition to this initiative, she manages programming that addresses the intersections between gender, race, religion, and socioeconomic class.

She has a professional demeanor, and the sharp posture of someone who knows where she is and where she’s going. But Ghadeer Ady, better known as Gigi, wasn’t always so self-assured. “I was the first person in my family to ever go straight to university,” she says, thinking back on her college years. “I went to college as an undecided major. I didn’t know what to choose; I didn’t know what to do. My father, his brothers – they’ve all owned businesses, so that’s all I saw growing up, and the women of our family were homemakers, so I didn’t really know what was available to me or what I could do.”

“So I said, okay,” Gigi continues. “Let me major in biology and see where that goes.”

She didn’t major in biology, in the end – after taking more time to think it over, Gigi realized that she was interested in the healthcare sector, not biology more generally, so she majored in health science with a minor in women’s studies. Choosing her college major, however, was only the first of a series of decisions that would ultimately lead her into her current role. For a time, she worked at a hospital as a surgical coordinator and helped educate patients on their surgeries, but this often led to providing emotional support, especially to female patients facing mastectomies and other treatments. Gigi originally thought she would get into nursing, not nonprofit work, but these early experiences as a surgical coordinator helped propel her toward a dual graduate degree in social work and public health. “[Social work] was basically what I was already doing with the clients who had breast cancer,” she explains.

Her interest in social justice and global health eventually brought her to New York, where she would begin working at the Arab-American Family Support Center as the Director of Community Health and Well-Being. It’s an organization she was excited to work with from the start. “We’re a social service agency that serves immigrants and refugees. That was a real tie for my passions and the work that I do,” Gigi says. “I’ve never worked with the Arab community ever before this organization. It’s really impactful to be able to give back to a community that you belong to.”

Gigi is Palestinian-American by birth – born and raised in Los Angeles, California – and that’s informed her career trajectory as she navigates the nonprofit sector. Her father and his family fled to Jordan as refugees when the state of Israel was created, whereas her mother’s family stayed in Palestine. “Growing up, our parents would talk to us about the issues going on back home, especially because we still have family who live in Palestine.” Hearing those stories as a young child helped educate her about injustices in the world. “Knowing where my family comes from and the struggles that they had to go through to get here […] has been a real force in what ignites my passion to keep fighting for justice.”

When asked about her time in the Fellowship, she doesn’t demur, speaking frankly and without hesitation. “I still use the tools that I learned from the Fellowship today, in my day-to-day work,” she asserts. “And what I loved about the Fellowship is that I learned tactical skills that I can bring into my organization. There’s so many things that I learned there that I was able to really integrate into the work that we do. I never missed a session during the fellowship because I felt like the things I was learning was so valuable for me personally but also in my work.”

Being out of the office every Friday for twelve to fourteen weeks can seem like an insurmountable challenge to many – but Gigi feels that it was all worth it. “Sometimes when you’re so into your day-to-day work, you kind of have tunnel vision, so when you’re able to step away, learn new processes, and bring it back, things just kind of expand from there.”

“I think I’m still figuring it out, too,” she concludes. “I know I’m passionate about social justice and health equity, but I feel like there’s so much you can do with that, so as I go and I’m exposed to more and I gain more experience, I’m still learning.”