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Willmar couple plans to open downtown teen center

WILLMAR -- Fardowsa Ibrahim of Willmar is on the verge of realizing a dream. Ibrahim and her husband, Abdullahi Afrah, along with friends Arfon Osman and Ayan Muktar, are planning to open a teen center in downtown Willmar, called the Iftiin Youth...

Fardowsa Ibrahim and her husband, Afrah Abdullahi
Fardowsa Ibrahim and her husband, Abdullahi Afrah, are opening a teen center in Willmar. It is aimed primarily at Somali youth but is open to all. r. It is aimed primarily at Somali youth but is open to all.

WILLMAR - Fardowsa Ibrahim of Willmar is on the verge of realizing a dream.

Ibrahim and her husband, Abdullahi Afrah, along with friends Arfon Osman and Ayan Muktar, are planning to open a teen center in downtown Willmar, called the Iftiin Youth Program.

They have done the legal work of forming a nonprofit corporation to accept deductible donations and have rented a space at 330 Fourth Street Southwest, she said.

The next step will be to raise funding and apply for grants so the center can begin operating the program within a couple months. Iftiin means light or brightness in Somali, she said, and it's part of a common saying, "the light to life is education."

Ibrahim, 22, said she visited schools and has spoken with members of the Somali community. The center will offer homework help for Somali youth who sometimes struggle with academic English.

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"They are desperately needing this type of program," she said.

The program would be aimed at Somali youth primarily, but all young people will be welcome, Ibrahim said last week. Iftiin will offer recreational opportunities, too.

For now, she said, the startup costs have been out of their own pockets. She hopes to be able to find assistance in the local community and to receive grants to keep the center going.

"This will really help kids in school," she said. Young east African youth may run into problems with understanding their homework, and their parents are not able to help them.

Some parents' educations may have been disrupted because of civil war in Somalia and families' changing living situations, she said. And many parents don't speak English well enough to help.

Ibrahim said she and her siblings were lucky, because their mother was able to send them to school, partly with scholarships, when they lived in Kenya. But in other locations, refugee families struggle for everything - food, shelter and clothing.

Ibrahim said her family moved to Willmar two years ago after living in Minneapolis. After her first visit to Willmar, she decided she wanted to live here. She didn't like the city, and she didn't feel safe there, she said.

"I've been through that life," she said. "I want somewhere safe for my kids." She and her husband both work and go to school. He is studying for his GED; she is studying social work at Ridgewater College. They have two children, a 6-year-old daughter and a 3-month-old son.

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To get started with the center, some of their first needs will be furniture and computers, she said. They hope to be able to receive support from the broader community, too.

For more information or to offer assistance, contact Ibrahim at 329-295-0269 or email at afrahtahliil@gmail.com .

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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