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This Fort Worth ISD employee collected donations to pay people's bills amid COVID-19

Fort Worth Star-Telegram logoFort Worth Star-Telegram 9/20/2020 By Brian Lopez, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

A mother of a Fort Worth student had her water and electricity cut off in early September. It was one of the hottest days of the year, and she was scared of how long her children would be left without air conditioning. All while in the middle of a pandemic.

But Faiha Al-Atrash wouldn’t let that happen on her watch. Al-Atrash, the community and parent coordinator at International Newcomer Academy, paid for the mother’s bills through donations from the community to get her power back on the same day.

“I am lucky enough to have the community stand behind me and give me all the support,” she said.

Al-Atrash has made it her personal mission to help her school’s families during the pandemic. As unemployment claims rise and COVID-19 brings about a recession, more and more families are struggling to put food on the table. Working with churches and residents, Al-Atrash has given away food, prepaid debit cards and provided support to the families within her institution.

The Fort Worth school district’s International Newcomer Academy serves immigrant students from sixth to ninth grade. The school’s curriculum is designed to orient students to U.S. culture and teach them the language.

For many of the students, English isn’t their first language, and their parents may be refugees or immigrants, Al-Atrash said. Many of them live in small apartments with only one bed, she said, and some have only the clothes on their backs. Because of the language barrier, it can be hard for families to get resources, which is why she makes an effort to reach them.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. This is because many in minority communities lack health care access and work in jobs with large groups.

“It’s truly a challenge every day for these families,” she said.

Over the summer, Al-Atrash set up two portable stations outside her school to help equip parents with food, clothing and even furniture. Parents can come up, no questions asked and collect what they need for free, she said. The food station is open on Monday and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the station for household items is open every day at the same time.

“It’s almost like a supermarket,” she said.

In June, Al-Atrash, teachers and residents bagged food and delivered it to 60 families as well.

Because of the work Al-Atrash has done for her community, district employees Donna Munoz and Leticia Sanchez nominated Al-Atrash for recognition in the Star-Telegram’s Hometown Heroes series, which highlights people and their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hometown Heroes is sponsored by Lockheed Martin, which is providing $1,000 each to the 28 people selected by the Star-Telegram to be featured in the weekly series.

Munoz said Al-Atrash is one of the most loving people she’s ever met. Over the last six months, Al-Atrash has gone above and beyond to serve struggling families.

“She cares for the community and the children,” Munoz said.

If for some reason Al-Atrash can’t do something, she finds someone who can.

While Al-Atrash has worked hard during the pandemic, it’s a year-round job for Al-Atrash, Sanchez said in an email She’s always looking for help and get parents situated in a new country. The families at International Newcomer Academy usually find it hard to find work, some are undocumented and have almost nothing in t.heir possession.

“She is an excellent woman and would bend over backward to help out these students and their families,” Sanchez said.

In her 11 years at International Newcomer Academy, Al-Atrash said it’s been a privilege to help these families. It’s important for them to have someone in their corner who can guide them.

“They changed my life,” she said. “I am a better person.”

To nominate a hometown hero

To nominate someone to be featured in the Hometown Heroes series, go to star-telegram.com/nominate.

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©2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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