By Steve Spalding
Detroit Free Press Business Writer
Martin Manna is the only president the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce has had in its decade of life.
And for much of that time his job has been to promote the many small businesses Chaldeans operate in southeast Michigan.
But the job has changed dramatically for the 41-year-old former financial adviser, who also runs the Chaldean Community Foundation. The foundation is meant to aid some of the large influx of Chaldeans, who are Iraqi Christians, displaced by the war and moving to southeast Michigan.
“The war in Iraq really changed our course,” he said.
The foundation began in 2006 with enough funds to help 400 displaced Chaldeans. Now more than 10,000 will be helped this year.
The Chaldean population in southeast Michigan — the largest in the world outside of the Middle East — has grown to about 130,000 members.
The foundation takes an almost business-like approach to helping refugees with a flow chart taking them through intake, English lessons, job placement, low-interest loans for cars, low or free health care provided through donations and Chaldean physicians, and housing.
The fiercely proud and tight-knit Chaldean community would prefer doing that with minimal government help, Manna said. “We want to make sure they don’t rely on government subsidies.”
That reluctance to use government help also applies to Chaldean business practices. Manna and the Chaldean chamber have been critics of subsidies given to developers of the Detroit retailers such as Whole Foods and Meijer while Chaldean store owners go it alone.
“Having Whole Foods is great, just don’t subsidize them,” he said.
A Chaldean Detroit grocer is seeking help from the city to fix up a badly stripped building for a grocery store on Jefferson Avenue. It’s a test of sorts to see whether government agencies will assist locally based businesses in the same way they do national firms, Manna said
The stereotype of Chaldeans as only party and grocery store owners will eventually fade, he said. They have become major owners of pizza franchises and hotels and more are becoming doctors and lawyers.
Probably in 20 years most of the store owners won’t be Chaldean,” he said.
By Molly Tippen
For The Macomb Daily
Salam Yousif, a caseworker at the Chaldean Community Foundation, assists a young man at the foundation’s Sterling Heights office. (Macomb Daily photo by Molly Tippen)
In an office tucked away in a nondescript strip mall on 15 Mile Road, new residents are crowded into a waiting room planning their next steps.
At the Chaldean Community Foundation, which opened its Sterling Heights office in 2012, clients who have fled the chaos of war are working toward making a better life in Southeast Michigan; each hopes that what they find in the United States will be the ability to lead a good, prosperous life.
But getting to that point is a daunting task. Not only do most Chaldean refugees not speak or read English; they often face challenges finding employment, adequate shelter, access to services and other necessities because of the language barrier, and the fact they are taking in a completely new culture.
The CCF, which was created by the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce as its nonprofit philanthropic arm in 2006, aims to address the needs of a growing refugee population after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The foundation began serving clients at its Southfield office on Northwestern Highway, but in 2011 decided to add a Macomb County office after securing grant funding for its new Refugee Acculturation and Stabilization Training program, or RAST.
“The reason we opened up in Macomb is to be close to the people we serve,” said Sharon Hannawa, a program manager at the foundation. “We found out that a lot of the people we help live in Macomb County, and when we secured funding for new programs, we thought it would be best to have an office that is close to those we serve.”
Since opening its 15 Mile Road office, the foundation has boosted its government funding by $1 million, and hired five additional team members.
On the first full day of operation, 15 Chaldean refugees stepped through the door. Today, 30 to 40 people file in each day to seek assistance and support during what is a turbulent and difficult experience — living in a foreign country.
A new land
A refugee is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her native country due to a well-founded fear of persecution or because the person’s life or freedom would be threatened. Economic status is not considered a valid reason for refugee status.
To apply for refugee status, the applicant must be physically located outside the United States. A refugee is provided special legal protections that allow them to reside here legally.
Chaldeans are Eastern Right Catholics, mainly from Iraq, though some also live in Syria and Turkey. They differ from the Iraqi majority because they are Christian, and they speak Aramaic, not Arabic.
Southeast Michigan is home to 121,000 Chaldeans, which is the largest cluster anywhere outside of the Middle East, according to data collected by the foundation.
That number is only expected to grow — there are still refugees arriving in Michigan from Iraq, and continuing unrest in Syria will likely add to the number of Chaldeans seeking refuge.
The people who are assisted by the foundation are in a situation where they had to leave everything they knew — family, friends, professions — when things were stable, but not ideal, in Iraq.
“One of the misconceptions about the people we help is that they wanted to leave,” said Eric Younan, the director of Strategic Initiatives for the foundation. “It was not their decision. They had lives, and many were professionals.”
Once they are on U.S. soil, many refugees find it difficult to navigate a new culture, Hannawa said.
“Learning the language affects everything, from being able to communicate with others to obtaining work,” she said. “If they had a job and were a professional in Iraq, they can still do that work, but to function in the United States, they must learn the language.”
Other aspects of everyday life in the United States — such as using credit for purchases — are completely foreign for Chaldeans new to the country.
“In Iraq, if you don’t have all of the money to buy something, then you don’t buy it,” said Hannawa. “We try to teach people the importance of credit in our programs; it’s something they need to know to begin rebuilding their lives.”
The CCF is funded mostly through grants; some programs are funded entirely through donations by individuals and businesses. Other sources of funding include an annual golf outing and the Chaldean Festival.
In October 2010, the foundation was awarded a grant from the Michigan Department of Community Health fund RAST, which is a multipronged program operated out of the 15 Mile Road office to remedy many of the issues refugees face.
RAST offers refugees assistance in obtaining housing and transportation, and accessing a wide range of services.
The initiative includes comprehensive job placement services and maintaining a job bank, guidance through various government programs, translation assistance, legal assistance and language instruction, which is offered through a partnership with Macomb Community College. The goal is to help refugees limit their dependence on social services and establish new lives.
The foundation has established a loan program through RAST that makes loans of up to $5,000 to refugees who need to buy vehicles. The program is offered through a partnership with the Farmington Hills-based Bank of Michigan and the foundation; loans are backed up by a certificate of deposit by the foundation. The loan program is funded by donations from the community.
Anyone who takes out a loan must be employed, have a co-signer and be current on their resettlement loan, which is provided by the International Organization for Migration when a refugee leaves their country of origin. The loan program is closely modeled after the Hebrew Free Loan Program.
In its first year, 400 to 500 people were served through RAST, Hannawa said.
Other services offered by the foundation include Project Bismutha, which offers free, donated medical services to refugees; the Waad Murad Advocacy Fund, which offers $10,000 rewards to people who provide tips that lead to the arrest of a person or persons who commit a crime against a Chaldean businessperson; and Refugee Mental Health Services, which provides mental health services to refugees having trouble adjusting, or suffering from other personal problems.
Wasan Wartan, 33, left both Iraq, then Lebanon, in 2009, and settled in Boston before coming to the Southeast Michigan area. Because she came to the United States alone, the foundation has provided her a meaningful connection to others in her situation.
“The hardest thing was learning English, and the different culture,” she said.
“The American people were welcoming; they were very patient with a person who cannot speak English that well.”
Wartan was the first applicant approved for the car loan program. She purchased a 2003 Rendezvous, which eliminated one of her biggest issues: transportation to and from work and school.
It was the first car she owned since 2003, when it became too dangerous for a woman to drive alone in Iraq.
“Now my life with the car is completely different,” she said. “I can do anything I want to do. I’m so happy.”
January 27, 2013 8:00 PM
Chaldean foundation to offer housing, loans to meet growth
By Sherri Welch
But last year, 9,500 Chal-dean refugees who had fled religious persecution in their
native Iraq showed up at the office, seeking immigration aid or help to speak English
or find a job, car or health care.
“A lot of what we do … is to help solve some of (their) long-term issues,” said
foundation President Martin Manna, who is also president of the Chaldean
American Chamber of Commerce.
Refugees are given eight months of federal assistance when they come to the U.S.,
he said. The Chaldean Community Foundation focuses on helping them assimilate
to U.S. culture and systems so they can apply for permanent residency after a year.
The foundation, which provides services rather than grants, works with a number of
other organizations to help meet clients’ needs. For example, St. John Providence
Health System donates medical supplies for the free health care provided by
volunteer Chaldean doctors and nurses, and Macomb Community
College provides English-as-a-second-language classes. Now the foundation is
looking to build a home away from home for the refugees, in the form of new housing
in the West Bloomfield Township area.
“We’re looking at developing community,” Manna said.
A lot of the refugees are living in crowded apartments, some of them subpar, in the
Sterling Heights area, he said.
“We know we could make an impact by helping them find long-term housing … it’s
part of our strategic plan to get something announced by Sept. 30,” Manna said.
The foundation is operating on a budget of $2.6 million, up from $1.6 million last
year, thanks to a near-doubling of its contract with the Michigan Department of
Human Services. The foundation also does an annual appeal and annual golf
outing to raise funds.
The organization is negotiating the purchase of several acres of property in the West
Bloomfield-Bloomfield Hills area on which it plans to build long-term housing and
incorporate other supportive services, Manna said. The foundation is consulting with
the Michigan State Housing Development Authority as it looks at launching longterm
housing and studying the efforts of nonprofit housing developers
like Southwest Housing Solutions.
Serving as the developer of long-term housing can be a good source of income, said
John Van Camp, president and CEO of Detroit-based Southwest Solutions, the
parent of Southwest Housing Solutions. In tax-credit projects, there’s an allocation
for a developer fee: 15 percent or $1 million, whichever is lower.
But it can take years to line up financing for projects, and it takes a certain skill set
that wasn’t natural to Southwest initially, Van Camp said. It took Southwest a couple
of years to line up the 14 levels of financing it took to aggregate $23.9 million to fund
its Piquette Square veterans housing and supportive services project in Detroit, he
Van Camp said he’s encouraging the Chaldean Community Foundation to take a
long-term view on the housing development and hire a development consultant to
line up financing. Then the group could access its ability to handle financing for a
housing development on its own..
As the nonprofit arm of the Chaldean chamber, the foundation has leaders who are
used to running businesses and startups, and looking at spreadsheets and business
plans, Van Camp said. That will help, he said.
While it develops a strategy to move into long-term housing development, the
Chaldean foundation is looking for a larger location in Sterling Heights to replace its
2,500-square-foot offices, which connect with the bulk of the people it serves on a
walk-in basis. The new site will house its growing staff, which has expanded from 11
a year ago to 20, and soon will add three more as the foundation fills positions for
two case managers and a transportation coordinator.
Ideally, the new east side location will also be large enough to host the 800 to 1,000
Chaldean refugees who come for quarterly town hall meetings hosted by the
In addition, the foundation has started programs to help community members with
other basic needs.
Following its 2008 launch of Project Bismutha, which provides free or reduced
primary health care and discounted medication for the uninsured in its community,
the foundation launched the Chaldean Loan Fund in October.The fund provides
low-interest loans of about $5,000 toward the purchase of a used vehicle. Both programs
were modeled after similar programs in the Jewish community.
By the end of March, the foundation also plans to launch a microenterprise loan fund
to help Chaldean entrepreneurs. Members of the Chaldean Community put up
$50,000 for the fund, and the Chaldean American bishop, Ibrahim Ibrahim of the
Southfield-based Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, the diocese for Chaldean
Catholics living in the eastern half of the U.S., matched it, Manna said.
It will grow further based on fundraising. Since Chaldeans are highly enterpreneurial,
efforts are focused on helping people find their niche.
Two-thirds of local Chaldean households own at least one business, and 39 percent
own two or more, Manna said. Those businesses include supermarkets, cellphone
stores and franchised food establishments.
“One of the challenges we see with these refugees is … some of these women work,
but at the same time they can’t find day care,” Manna said. “So we’re working with
some of these women to start a day care.”
Chaldeans, who were Iraq’s indigenous population, are Eastern Rite Catholic.
Over the past 30 years as it has fled Iraq, the Chaldean population of the U.S. has
grown from roughly 20,000 to about 220,000, with about 150,000 of those living in
the territory of the Southfield-based diocese, according to a recent report in The
About 8,000 to 10,000 Chaldean refugees have come to metro Detroit since 2005,
Manna said, increasing the number living in the region to about 121,000 by 2008,
according to a survey by United Way for Southeastern Michigan and Walsh
There are 10 Chaldean Catholic churches in the Detroit region, making it one of the
largest dioceses for the church in the world.
The Chaldean Community Foundation expects the number of Chaldean refugees
coming to Southeast Michigan to rise even further, as they continue to flee Iraq,
Syria and other parts of the Middle East, he said.
“One of the most gratifying things to me has been the opportunity to help people
understand … these (refugees) came here because they had no choice. They were
being persecuted,” Manna said.
“Immigration … will be a net gain for our state for years to come. The places around
the country that are flourishing are welcoming to immigrants.”
Sherri Welch: (313) 446-1694, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @sherriwelch
May 16, 2012
By Jennie Miller | C & G Staff Writer
SOUTHFIELD — Southfield’s richly diverse population will be celebrated, and one culture in particular
lauded, during the seventh annual Chaldean Festival June 8-10 on the front lawn of City Hall.
The widely popular event draws from not only the 120,000 Chaldeans currently calling metro Detroit
home, but also residents of the surrounding communities who wish to celebrate and learn about the
“Southfield is a pretty diverse community, so it’s an opportunity for the Chaldean community to
showcase and share with other residents traditions and ethnic festivities,” said Sharon Hannawa,
program manager for the Chaldean Community Foundation, the charitable arm of the Chaldean-
American Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Southfield, which hosts the annual event.
“I think we take a lot of pride in our community, so this is an excellent opportunity to showcase
that and introduce it to the rest of the world.”
The festival will include a full carnival with rides, games and children’s activities, as well as food and
merchant booths. It runs 5-10 p.m. June 8, noon-10 p.m. June 9, and noon-10 p.m. June 10.
“What’s most cherished (in our culture) is family, and this is definitely an opportunity for families to
come together,” Hannawa said. “There’s also a love of music — Chaldeans love music and … traditional
dances like line dancing. People can watch and observe, and then those that are brave enough can join
the line as well.”
Chaldeans are a significant part of metro Detroit, and many are business owners in local communities.
“Chaldeans have made a lot of investments here in terms of the impact they make on the local economy,”
said Eric Younan, director of strategic initiatives for the Chaldean-American Chamber of Commerce. “We
are heavily invested in the southeast Michigan community. … We are committed to the communities in which
we live and work, and we contribute to the local economy. We think it’s important for people to understand
who the Chaldeans are (despite many misconceptions). One of the things that separates us from other Middle
East ethnicities is that we’re Iraqi Christians. Even though there’s such (large) numbers here, not a lot of
people understand that. The Chaldean and the Arab communities — we’re two distinctly different communities
with a different dialect and ancestry. We’d like to gain appreciation and awareness.”
The Southfield municipal complex is located at 26000 Evergreen Road. Evergreen will be shut down for the
event, from Civic Center Drive to 11 Mile/I-696.
For more information about the festival, or for details about how to get involved as a volunteer or as a
sponsor, call the chamber at (248) 996-8340 or email Lisa Kalou at email@example.com.
You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jennie Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (586)279-1108.
That $5 million spent luring Whole Foods drives city’s independent grocers crazy
By Jack Lessenberry
There was a fair amount of excitement in the press and, presumably, yuppieland, when ground was broken this week for Detroit’s first-ever Whole Foods Market, at Mack and John R.
Some of the coverage was positively breathless. Wow! Will wonders never cease? Whole Foods, which bills itself as “the world’s largest natural and organic grocery store” is coming to Detroit!!!
How wonderful. Yes, at last poor Detroiters will be saved from the “food desert” in which they have been languishing. It was hinted that Detroiters will now be able to see and even buy lettuce, tomatoes and oranges for the first time in their lives. That is, if they can survive scurvy until the store actually opens next year.
That’s a little exaggerated, but there’s been a lot written that would give you the impression that unless Detroiters can somehow get themselves to Royal Oak’s Holiday Market, they are now doomed to spend their lives eating nothing but overpriced and likely expired cans of tuna and spaghetti from the shelves of their local party store.
Well, guess again. The other day, I once again heard the assertion that Detroit doesn’t have a single supermarket.
That kind of thing drives the Detroit Independent Grocers Association crazy. Know how many full-service grocery stores there are in the city? (By full-service, I mean at least 10,000 square feet of aisles, and dedicated meat, dairy, produce and frozen food sections.)
Eighty-three. That’s right, 83. “Our members are the grocers who are truly committed to Detroit,” Eric Younan told me. He is director of strategic initiatives for the Chaldean-American Chamber of Commerce, the parent group of the grocers’ association.
While most of those stores are Chaldean-owned, not all are, Younan told me. They are truly small, independent operators; while a few people have more than one store, there are 53 different owners.
They include University Foods over by Warren and the Lodge Freeway; two Glory Supermarkets, and lots of others; there is a complete, easy-to-navigate list at mydetroitgrocers.com.
“You know, our grocers are the people who have remained loyal to the city. Most of them have been around for 30 years or more, serving communities that chain stores have long ago abandoned,” Younan said, after conferring with John Loussia, who heads the grocers’ association. “Many of these stores are in underserved communities, such as Farmer John’s at Gratiot and Harper and Pick & Save at Seven Mile and Van Dyke,” he told me.
“Think national stores will open in these neighborhoods?”
What bothers the independent grocers is not that Whole Foods is trying to come in to Detroit. The independents acknowledge that they have every right to do that. What the independents hate is that Whole Foods is getting millions of dollars in incentives to do so, when they get nothing.
According to an analysis by Crain’s Detroit Business last year, Whole Foods asked for more than $4.2 million in federal, state and city incentives before opening a Detroit store. They also planned to apply for brownfield incentives. All told, the Chaldeans put the final price of luring Whole Foods to Detroit at close to $5 million. Michigan and Detroit development officials had no comment.
Eric Younan says we’ve seen this movie before, “time and time again. A name brand chain store is provided with significant tax incentives to open within city limits.”
After a short time, “the store fails and is ultimately purchased and run successfully by an independent grocer (usually Chaldean) sans credits, abatements or incentives of any kind.”
The problem, Younan explained, is that many of those in the communities they serve are dependent on assistance checks. They shop when the checks come early in the month. But for the last two-thirds of each month, business falls off. That doesn’t work for the chain stores, he said. “Our members have been able to discover creative ways of coping with that and staying in business.”
However, aren’t these small grocery stores vastly overpriced, compared to the big chains? Younan acknowledged that for some items that can be bought in enormous quantities, such as Campbell’s canned soups, you’ll see cheaper prices in chain stores.
But he challenged me to walk the aisles of a few independents and compare a wide range of prices, and check out the produce.
Much of the fresh meat and produce in many of them comes from Eastern Market and the efficient Spartan Foods chain. Besides, he asked me, does anyone think Whole Foods prices are cheap?
He makes some compelling arguments. But the Detroit grocers’ own website admits that one-third of the money city residents spend on food is spent in the suburbs. One Saturday afternoon a few years ago, I saw three Detroit council members separately shopping at Royal Oak’s aforementioned Holiday Market. Why is that, if the city has so many great grocers? Younan paused.
He’s never been a grocer himself. But as a boy, he used to go help his father, a butcher at a small market in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods back in the ’70s and ’80s.
“I think people shop in the suburbs largely to get away from the crime and blight around them, and to be somewhere they can drop their kids off for an hour and know they are safe,” he said.
Whole Foods may do better than he expects, especially if members of the Wayne State and Detroit Medical Center communities take to shopping there on their way home.
Possibly it may even spur surrounding stores in a good way. But I have an uneasy feeling that the odds are against it. In any case, Detroit’s independent grocers may not have served their communities perfectly. But they have been there when nobody else has been.
And they also deserve to be heard.
Health care they can’t take away: One of the area’s more amazing health care stories has been the FernCare Free Clinic, which opened less than two years ago after a group of friends spent years planning and raising money to make it happen.
After starting in a temporary location, they finally got a permanent clinic last fall, in a renovated building at the corner of Paxton and East Nine Mile roads.
They have done their best to do everything right. They treat only uninsured adults between the ages of 19 and 64. They don’t treat children or those eligible for Medicaid. If you have a venereal disease, they send you to the health department; if you are in anything like critical shape, they pack you off to the nearest emergency room.
Even so, they never run out of patients. Ann Heler, an amazing and dynamic woman who is the president of their board, says there is always a waiting list, which is not surprising given that there are at least 50 million Americans who lack any health care at all.
Nor is that need ever going away. Even if President Obama’s health care law survives our basically right-wing Supreme Court, Heler estimates there will still be about 20 million uninsured without care. Next Thursday, May 24, the rock band Mostly Static is hosting a fundraiser for FernCare, starting at 8 p.m. at the Berkley Front on 12 Mile. Be there, be worse than square, or send ‘em a check.
After all, you’re more than likely just a pink slip away from FernCare, (ferncare.org) which treats folks from many different towns two Saturday mornings and an occasional Thursday night every month. If you go, tell them some left-wing columnist sent you.