Brief Encounter At Herndon Store Inspired a Charity
Sunday, August 21, 2005
On a frigid winter day two years ago, Mukit Hossain drove past a 7-Eleven in Herndon and noticed a large group of men, some wearing only sweat shirts, shivering like leaves in the parking lot.
Something made him stop and ask what they were doing. In broken English, one man explained that they were looking for work. With their chances as bleak as the weather at 3 in the afternoon, Hossain asked why they did not just give up and go home.
"We don't have much of a home to go to," Hossain recalls the man telling him.
From that encounter, a charity was born that ultimately has led to a government-sanctioned day-laborer site that has generated national attention.
Hossain called a meeting of civic and religious leaders, many of whom had worked quietly for years helping day laborers learn English, find housing and get medical care. He proposed that they join forces and collaborate under a name with a distinct mission: Project Hope and Harmony, whose sole goal would be to create and run an orderly site for itinerant laborers.
Over the objections of hundreds of residents who fear it will bring crime and disorder to the neighborhood, Herndon's Town Council granted Project Hope and Harmony permission last week to build and oversee such a site in the parking lot behind a former police station. The coalition expects to have it running in two to four months.
"I'm convinced that six months down the road, a lot of people who were concerned about the impact on the neighborhood will find it's really improved it," Hossain said last week as he walked around the parking lot where the coalition plans to build a canopied shelter to protect waiting laborers from sun and rain.
Project Hope and Harmony is itself a work in progress. It is an umbrella group, not a nonprofit organization. Although its members plan to file federal papers to become a nonprofit, the application for a grant of about $175,000 from Fairfax County to run the site was made in the name of Reston Interfaith, one of the groups that is part of the coalition.
Many of the groups and individuals that are part of Project Hope and Harmony were drawn to the cause of helping immigrants because of their faith.
"It was an outgrowth of the ministry we'd already been doing," said the Rev. Stephen Smith-Cobbs, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church and a member of the group's executive council.
Although Trinity Presbyterian and other churches in and around Herndon had been sending volunteers to tutor immigrants in English and teach them how to become naturalized citizens, they felt many residents did not recognize their efforts, Smith-Cobbs said. So he and several members of his congregation attended the initial meeting that Hossain called in September.
For Hossain, helping immigrants, most from Central and South America, is a Muslim issue. Charity is one of the five pillars of Islam. So he raised money from Muslim businessmen in Herndon to buy 400 winter coats for the laborers, brought them food through another charity he started, called Food Source, and even rounded up day laborers to attend a Thanksgiving dinner at an Iraqi restaurant where falafel, not turkey, was served.