How a Wellness Mission Led New York City Muslim Center to Early Learning

By Lana Abuawad & Kelly Escobar

New York City Muslim Center, a faith-based organization that serves one of the City’s largest Muslim communities, has been a pillar of educational supports for children in their community for almost two decades. Building on years of experience with K-12 education and a commitment to sustaining multi-generational wellness, NYC Muslim Center recently expanded its reach with a program designed to support families and children ages 0-5 years.


About New York City Muslim Center

Founded in 2010 in Hollis, Queens, NYC Muslim Center promotes wellness through education, research, foster care, spirituality, and community initiatives. The Muslim Center launched with an educational program focused on adult and child language and faith-based studies, but they soon began to recognize the impact that facility expansion and programs could have on childhood learning. In 2011, they opened the Wellspring Schools, offering full-time education for Pre-K to second grade. To counteract the insufficient educational resources available to their community, they have added a grade every year since and now offer a full Pre-K through grade 12 curricula.

In 2020, the Center found itself in one of the most severely hit zip codes of the COVID-19 pandemic. They responded with the NYCMC Angels Program, distributing critical items and providing family mental support, financial relief, job training, and funeral service support. Coupled with additional funding from Robin Hood’s Relief Fund, NYC Muslim Center bolstered grocery deliveries and financial relief for their struggling community members. Despite the critical relief provided by the Center, the pandemic revealed the urgency of supporting parents’ and children’s socioemotional wellbeing. This pressing need triggered the Center to think of new ideas about how to support children and families and reimagine how they could approach early childhood work beyond the traditional classroom.

In partnership with Robin Hood, NYC Muslim Center created the NYCMC Uplift program, a community-informed model that supports the socioemotional and language development of caregivers and children ages 0-5 years. NYCMC Uplift promotes literacy skill development and reading engagement in the classroom and at home. The model encompasses a socioemotional component for parents of young children, offering workshops on patience, stress, and anger management. NYCMC Uplift has also uniquely catered to the cultural norms of the Muslim community by incorporating faith-based elements into its curriculum and parent coaching. Alongside the evidence-based stress and anger management skills, they offer relevant examples of religious figures, hadith, and Quran verses that resonate with the community. NYCMC Uplift has been very well-received by the community, and the Center continues to use their feedback to improve their programs.


Impact of the NYCMC Uplift Program

The NYC Muslim Center’s mission is to uplift the mind, body, and soul to inspire every human to excel in all that they do, and NYCMC Uplift embodies the goals of that mission. By listening to the needs of the community, NYC Muslim Center built a program that recognized the tremendous impact of early childhood work on the literacy, nutrition, and socioemotional needs of young children and their caregivers. The experience opened their eyes to how much more can be done in the sphere of ages 0-5 and how the impact extends to family members and the community at large. In supporting caregivers who may be struggling with parenting young children, for instance, NYCMC Uplift is building healthier dynamics within those families and supporting a stronger, more cohesive community altogether.


Fuel for 50: How Uplift can be a role model

With FUEL for 50, Robin Hood encourages organizations like the NYC Muslim Center to join in focusing on the youngest members of their community. The NYCMC Uplift program is just one example of how faith-based organizations have responded to the call answering the needs of the families they serve and expanding or evolving their existing programs. Although NYCMC Uplift was a new venture for the NYC Muslim Center, it rapidly became clear that the expansion was very much possible and that there is still so much more they can do. Advice from Senior Director Kareem Hassan for other programs looking to take the leap into the early childhood space: “Just do it!”

We hope that NYC Muslim Center’s story can inspire other organizations to reflect on how their work impacts or connects with early learning. Whether your mission starts in faith, education, or community initiatives, you may have a vital role to play in child development and parent or caregiver support.

Lana Abuawad
Robin Hood FUEL Intern
Kelly Escobar, Ph.D.
Senior Program Officer, Robin Hood FUEL