A Brief History of The Family and Youth Institute
The Family and Youth Institute (FYI) began as an organization that sought to fill a void in the American Muslim scene. During the early 90’s into the early 2000’s youth development work was only just beginning to be a focus of the young and burgeoning American Muslim communities all around the united states. Organizations like the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the Muslim American Society (MAS) took active steps towards providing programming and services but there was a severe lacking of research to back up the concerning trends and issues that many were beginning to observe.
As American Muslims started raising their families community activists across the nation began noticing patterns of risk taking behaviors among youth, marriage challenges, and increasing divorce rates and often felt helpless. They wanted information and resources on how to deal with the challenges at hand and started turning to professionals for advice and insight.
Like many second generation American Muslims, Dr. Sameera Ahmed was heavily involved in community activism and was repeatedly asked to speak and give workshops to the community using her lens as a clinician to inform her audiences. Additionally, there were repeated requests for consultation in addition to her work with clients in her formal clinical work and this prompted her to realize how important psychoeducation was to prevention. In addition, her community activism with national Muslim organizations made her aware that these issues were not localized, but was happening nationally and things were getting worse. She knew that alcohol and drug use were a problem with the young people she was serving. She sensed that the rates of premarital sex were higher than many wanted to believe but had no research to back her intuition and the trends she was seeing in both her clinical as well as community work.
An Organization is Born
The Family and Youth Institute was established as an organization in 2006 and incorporated in 2009. The beginning years were heavily focused on establishing the organization as a research institute and Dr. Sameera lead a team of interns through this process. The early focus on research was done strategically in order to develop workshops, lectures, and other community programming that was research-based and scientifically proven rather than based only on assumptions and seeming trends. The Family and Youth Institute began to fill the void of research ranging from areas such as youth risk behaviors (alcohol use, tobacco and hookah use, premarital sex, etc.) to positive youth development, to convert Muslim youth and Black Muslim youth.
Between 2010 and 2012 The Family and Youth Institute continued the focus of research while Dr. Sameera simultaneously began her work alongside Dr. Mona Amer which culminated in the publication of the book Counseling Muslims: Handbook of Mental Health Issues and Innovations. Additionally, the research being done by the organization was being presented at conferences and published in peer reviewed journals. Using the research findings, The Family and Youth Institute also began building up a series of talks, lectures, and workshop curriculum and began presenting on over 40 different topics through the years.
In 2012, The Family and Youth Institute board set a plan to enter a new phase of the organization’s development and transitioned from a primary focus on research to expanding to include being community education driven. By 2014 The FYI had fundraised enough to hire their first part-time program manager and the organization took off! Backed by the research, The FYI was and is still able to stake its claim as offering the American Muslim community something new and innovative. Instead of just sensing the issues and assuming the trends, The FYI is able to translate research into relevant, research based knowledge to educate and inform individuals and communities.
Growth and Focus
With over 18 publications and 16 conference presentations (and many more scheduled each year) The Family and Youth Institute continues to lead in the field of applied research on American Muslim families and mental health and hopes to expand its efforts. In fact, the research has already begun and The FYI already has publications and workshops that cover a broad range of topic areas including Marriage, Youth, Parenting, and Mental Health and Well-being.
Since the beginning of the organization, The Family and Youth Institute has had over 21 interns who have either come to the organization from or gone on to such institutions as Harvard, Columbia, New York University, The University of Chicago, Michigan State University, Texas A & M and many others. By 2015, the Family and Youth Institute had hired its second part-time staff member and published their first annual report. The community education focus of the organization is becoming more established through workshops, infographics, videos, and webinars. While The Family and Youth Institute continues to be dedicated to and invested in continuing the research, as we grow, we are equally dedicated to empower the community through educational materials and research based programming. It continues to be the hope and mission of The Family and Youth Institute to serve the community by collecting information and using it in the best way to help young people and their families navigate their lives.