DETROIT — The Arab American and Chaldean Council (ACC) celebrated its 33rd annual Civic and Humanitarian Awards Gala Sep. 29. Regional leaders who have partnered with the ACC to enhance its mission of enriching the quality of life for people across southeast Michigan were honored. 

Every year the ACC provides more than 600,000 services to people from its 40 outreach offices. Those who received awards at the gala include, Art Van Elslander, founder and chairman of Art Van Furniture, recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award; Jase Bolger, Speaker of the House serving his second term as state representative for the 63rd District, Gretchen Whitmer, Democratic Michigan state senator and John J. Walsh, Speaker Pro Tem for the Michigan House of Representatives all were honored with the State Leadership Award; Linda D. Forte, Senior Vice President, Business Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer for  Comerica Bank received the Community Service Award; Susan Ellis Goodell, President and CEO of Forgotten Harvest received the Humanitarian Award; Edwin Harlin, Director of Southeast Michigan Development Authority received the Economic Development Award and Arab American entrepreneur Ghassan M. Saab, CEO of Sorensen Gross, Inc., was honored with the Entrepreneur Award. 

“I am truly grateful to the ACC for this tremendous honor, and to be among the other awardees,” Saab said. 

Harlin noted it has been a privilege to partner with the ACC to make housing more affordable for families. “Thanks for giving me the opportunity to work with the ACC, and help people who’re homeless and houseless,” he said. 

Goodell said the ACC has stood with the charity on the frontline to stop hunger.

This past year in partnership with Forgotten Harvest the ACC established one of the largest food pantries in Detroit. ACC’s Pantry and Plenty has benefited over 2000 families in need of food.  

Forgotten Harvest was founded in 1990 in hopes of fighting hunger and waste. It has grown into the nation’s largest independent food rescue mission. Under Goodell’s leadership it has managed to increase the volume of “rescued” food from less than one million pounds annually to over 42 million pounds. She has led Forgotten Harvest since Jan. 2001. 

Forte thanked ACC President and CEO Dr. Haifa Fakhouri for her commitment and passion that has led the ACC to evolve into the crucial resource it’s today. 

Part of Forte’s job involves establishing business strategies that make Comerica Bank a leader in diversity and work life practices. Comerica has reached out to the Chaldean community extensively. 

“The ACC is a group that does so much to help immigrants,” Elslander said. 

He says two of his top sales associates who accompanied him to the gala are Chaldeans. Elslander asked both to stand up, and thanked them for their hard work.  ”They are the best in their business, and always, always in the top one percent of our 800 sales associates,” he said. 

One of the women has been the company’s top sales associate for 19 consecutive years according to Elslander, and this year despite tough economic conditions managed to break her sales record.  ”I’m so proud of both of you, I love you both very much, you know that,” he said. 

He said he’s been fortunate to be a businessman for more than 50 years in Michigan, and while he’s traveled a lot couldn’t think of anywhere else he would rather be. He says that the Art Van Furniture Challenge has managed to give back millions of dollars to needy people in the state. Elslander is widely known for his philanthropic efforts. 

“I believe so much in the importance of the work being done by the ACC, and I appreciate more than you’ll ever know all the work that you do in the state,” he said.

Arab American News: Community News
By Natasha Dado