The following article is shared from the Tulsa Kids magazine.
Over eight years ago, a group of Muslim woman recognized the need to help others less fortunate in the Tulsa community. What began as a casual conversation amongst these women turned their passion into purpose with the development of the Surayya Anne Foundation. Priscilla Galstaun is one of the founding members of this organization. Over the years, she has played an integral role in building the foundation and is currently serving as the Foundation President. The Surayya Anne Foundation provides a safe haven and support for many Tulsa area citizens.
TK: What is your background and how long have you been in the United States?
Priscilla: I am an immigrant from India where I completed my formal education and worked as a flight attendant before I moved to the United States in January, 2000.
TK: Tell us about your family:
Priscilla: My husband is originally from India. My three kids, ages fourteen and twins (boy and girl) are thirteen and were born in Tulsa. My fourteen-year-old has a rare genetic disorder. He is a very happy and loving child, and I’m so proud of him. My thirteen-year-olds are Black Belts in Tae Kwon Do and are very passionate about being in the debate club in school.
TK: You are obviously very busy. What continues to keep you so involved in this organization?
Priscilla: I believe that if I live without assisting the disadvantaged — be it the homeless, the abused, the incarcerated, the hungry or the mentally ill — then I haven’t lived at all.
TK: How did this foundation begin?
Priscilla: In 2007 a group of Tulsa Muslim women met to discuss a growing concern: women and children facing eviction, women living in abusive and unsafe environments, and the unmet needs of female inmates reintegrating into society, post-incarceration. This kitchen table discussion was the beginning of the Surayya Anne Foundation, Tulsa’s first Muslim women-operated transitional housing facility, serving disadvantaged people of all faith traditions or no faith tradition, in the state of Oklahoma. The Foundation took form in October 2007 and a list of priorities were developed. That same month the group applied for the 501(c3) status and by January 2008 we opened our first shelter apartment.
TK: Where did the name of the foundation originate?
Priscilla: The Foundation was modeled after a Turkish woman, Surayya Anne; ‘Anne’ is a Turkish word that means “mother.” Surayya Anne’s model for care inspired and provided the vision for us. Her concept of feeding the poor, providing shelter to the homeless and educating and caring for children, led to the Foundation being named after her.
TK: What does the Surayya Anne Foundation provide that is different from other shelters or assistance programs available in Tulsa?
Priscilla: Our foundation is unique in its global representation of Muslim women who oversee the daily operations and board functions. We have, if not the most diverse, then one of the most diverse boards in the state of Oklahoma. Apart from Native, African American and Caucasian representation; our board of directors and volunteers are originally from Syria, Iran, Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, Europe, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Kurdish region. [They] are fluent in as many languages, including French. Our diversity goes a long way in understanding, navigating and working sensitively with the varied cultural nuances that a client from a different cultural background may often bring with them.
TK: What levels of assistance does the foundation offer to people in need?
Priscilla: Today, the foundation provides: emergency shelter services, short-term and long-term housing, bill-paying assistance, medical prescription assistance, rental eviction prevention, driving lessons, translation services, donated cars, food delivery services and college and Hajj scholarships. (Note: Hajj is the holy pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that every Muslim is required to make at least once in his or her lifetime.) In 2015, our foundation provided 706 client assists in the form of humanitarian relief in the state of Oklahoma.
TK: What types of people have you been able to help?
Priscilla: Over the last eight years the Surayya Anne Foundation has continued to advance by spearheading new programs and serving an increasing number of disadvantaged Oklahomans, including the economically disadvantaged, those suffering from catastrophic illness, various physical and mental disabilities, the evicted and homeless, families in crisis or transition, women and/or children suffering abuse, refugees, or those reintegrating after incarceration. While our major focus is women and children, we have provided assistance to some of our clients’ husbands as well as support services to single fathers and their children.
TK: How are people able to find out about your organization?
Priscilla: Either via referral or word of mouth. We have an online application process that each individual is required to fill out and submit to our Case Management team.
TK: How can someone who is interested in helping your organization become involved?
Priscilla: We have a volunteer committee that welcomes volunteers to sign up with them for serving on one or more of our committees of their choice. Apart for our case manager position, which is a full-time paid position, every board position including our executive director position is a volunteer position. If an individual is interested in serving the disadvantaged in Oklahoma, they are welcome to contact me.
TK: Can you share a success story about someone who has received help from the foundation?
Priscilla: We had a client reach out to us because she and her family were facing eviction because she lost her job last year, and she wasn’t able to pay her rent. She contacted our foundation to get information on rental assistance but instead of a temporary fix to her problems, we came up with a long-term solution. Our case management team helped them move into our transitional housing facility and they were able to stay for free in order to save whatever amount of money they could. Within two months, our client was able to find affordable, permanent housing for her family. This client met with our case manager regularly to discuss her goals, how to plan for permanent housing, and if there were any other needs outside of housing, that could be addressed. Through meeting regularly with others at the foundation, this made our client feel that she had become part of a bigger family. She finally achieved sustainable independence and moved out and into her own apartment. While she is no longer in need of our shelter services, she still stays in touch.
The Surayya Anne Foundation in Tulsa is making our community, city and state a better place for everyone, and especially better for those who need our help the most. This is the only non-profit organization in Oklahoma run by Muslim women who advocate for the homeless and disadvantaged in our communities. As Muslim Americans, we truly care for the most vulnerable in our society and through our humanitarian work, we are making a positive impact in the lives of disadvantaged Oklahomans and their families. Financial contributions, in any amount, are welcome and a donator can specify what form of outreach they would like to support. If you would like to learn more about the organization or join in supporting our efforts, check out our website: www.surayyaannefoundation.org