Haiqa Faheem of Houston Helping Hands: “Get out of your comfort zone”

Get out of your comfort zone. I would have never known that I could establish and run a successful non-profit organization unless I tried and in my eyes that is the beauty of stepping up and taking initiative. You will never be able to become a better leader unless you do things that are new […]

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Get out of your comfort zone. I would have never known that I could establish and run a successful non-profit organization unless I tried and in my eyes that is the beauty of stepping up and taking initiative. You will never be able to become a better leader unless you do things that are new and maybe even frightening. Personally, taking such a large step forward was the most difficult part for me because I was scared of making a grave mistake but now I know that the only way to learn is by making mistakes and taking a lead.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Haiqa Faheem.

Haiqa Faheem is a sophomore at William B Travis High School. She is the founder of Houston Helping Hands, a passion project that has developed into a non-profit organization that works to provide students with volunteer opportunities throughout the Houston area while shedding light on local organizations in need of assistance and aiding underprivileged Houstonian communities. Since its founding in August 2020, Houston Helping Hands has connected over 200 individuals with volunteering opportunities throughout the Houston area, been featured on KPRC’s Houston Life Talk show, and collected over 8,000 dollars worth of items such as books, toys, and canned goods to provide to individuals.

Haiqa also leads her very own podcast by the name of “Houston Hears” which is a part of the organization as a whole. Through Houston Hears, Haiqa has the privilege to engage in meaningful discussions with representatives of organizations regarding their mission, goals and work not only to provide the students she works with a better understanding of the organization they are looking to get involved with but also impart the organization with a better idea of what students are looking to do in collaboration with them.

Besides her passion for assisting those in need, Haiqa is very eager about changing the stigma around volunteerism. Haiqa believes that volunteering is a privilege that grants an individual the power to make change through their time and commitment. Through her work in the field of servant leadership, she noticed that many students did not view volunteerism in this way but rather as a task that was necessary to complete for school because they lacked interest in the work they were being required to complete. After experiencing the problem firsthand, Haiqa started to bring attention to the problem through Houston Helping Hands.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Haiqa! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up in the diverse and bustling city of Houston, Texas where opportunities to assist others are available around every corner. From a young age I became increasingly involved in community service activities such as assisting in community garden events and as I grew up my passion for volunteering continued to grow with me. My parents always pushed my siblings and me to go above and beyond in academics so much of my time was also dedicated to my education, which I value so greatly. In the free time, I had apart from volunteer work and school I loved to read — especially stories about far-away lands and mysteries. Being busy as a child provided me with much of the determination I have today to keep pursuing my organization and its goals!

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

During the COVID-19 pandemic over 100,000 businesses closed and more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs. As the pandemic took its toll the youth population also endured school closures and terminated opportunities while non-profit organizations were struggling to keep their doors open due to the lack of volunteers available. Each year students struggle to complete school volunteer requirements but with the pandemic raging in full force, it was nearly impossible.

Houston Helping Hands solves this problem that impacts non-profit organizations and Houstonian youth by creating a bridge between those in need of volunteers and those in need of volunteer opportunities. Not only does our Houston Helping Hands provide organizations with volunteers but our group also hosts drives to collect items that are needed by individuals and groups throughout the city.

Students should not have to sacrifice their success due to the lack of awareness regarding this issue and neither should organizations have to suffer for wanting to raise awareness about crucial topics in the community. Our team cannot change these situations directly, but we can take a step forward to creating change — and that is precisely what Houston Helping Hands set out to do.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I noticed that many students and friends that I had in my community, especially those who were closer to graduating, were struggling to complete their school’s volunteer requirements so I was inclined to find a solution to this issue. As I began to communicate with my peers more about the problem at hand, I came to know that many of them didn’t know where to start when looking for opportunities to get volunteer hours outside of school because typically during an average school year, we are provided with numerous options ranging from sporting events to fundraisers that allow us to earn hours but without having the ability to attend school face-to-face those options were no longer available so given this, many students were unsure of where to start when searching for opportunities.

These conversations along with the struggle I saw many organizations having to go through to get volunteers during the time of the pandemic are what sparked my idea of creating an organization that would provide students throughout the Houston area with volunteering opportunities while also shedding light on groups in need of volunteers. As for the other organizations, I saw firsthand how much the pandemic was impacting Project C.U.R.E which is an organization that I completed an internship at this past summer. They work to donate medical supplies to developing countries and when COVID-19 hit they were very low on volunteers, which are a crucial part of their organization so I was able to witness that change and wanted to help.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

For me, there was not a single moment that pushed me to start making change, but rather a series of pushes that told me that I needed to make the final leap. Conversation after conversation went by and almost everyone I knew was struggling with the same problem and all they needed was one solution. The fact that I could be the one to find that solution kept me thinking for several nights and eventually I told myself that I wouldn’t only be there for my peers by being a listener, but by being a change-maker and that is exactly what I set out to do by creating Houston Helping Hands. I wanted to provide these opportunities to not only my immediate community but to all the communities in the Houston areas. In the future, I aspire to expand into even farther cities, states, and even countries. We have already started this process by creating three new school chapters of Helping Hands in just a month!

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

The process of creating Houston Helping Hands was definitely not an easy one. In the start, I was new to the realm of leading the launch of a non-profit and I was working individually which made it a lot more difficult because I had to balance my school work, extracurricular activities, and this project. I began the development process by looking into the more logistical aspects of a non-profit organization such as how to reach out and find individuals who would be interested and how we would go about accomplishing our mission of providing students with these opportunities to earn their hours. I love to have a well-written plan before taking any action so throughout the start-up process I often made edits to different ideas. Throughout all the planning, I couldn’t help but keep my focus on doing as much as I could to reach as many people as possible in my community. I later moved into the design aspect of things where I worked on the logo, website, and social media design. I enjoyed the designing aspect of things more because it allowed me to be more creative than I could be in previous developments. My favorite part of designing was creating the Houston Helping Hands logo because choosing an image that would encompass the meaning of the whole organization felt like such an ambitious yet meaningful task. Even following the launch of Houston Helping Hands I continued to come up with new ways to reach Houston’s youth leaders such as creating “Houston Hears” and our website.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The most interesting thing that has happened to me since I started leading Houston Helping Hands would have to be the opportunities I received to be featured on The Kelly Clarkson Show and Houston Life. I had submitted a pitch to Houston Life and the day I received the email saying that they wanted me to come onto their show was unbelievable! Not long after my feature on Houston Life, I was contacted by the senior producer for the Kelly Clarkson show asking to provide some more details about Houston Helping Hands. Following my pitch submission, I received news that the team loved my story and would be sending me a date for our feature soon! Never in a million years would I have ever imagined being on television, let alone being asked to be featured. In those moments I just felt so accomplished and both offers were such notable occasions to stop and reflect on myself and where I was headed.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

The biggest yet funniest mistake I made when I was first starting Houston Helping Hands was attempting to take care of everything on my own. At the time I did not realize that it was okay to ask for help, but over time I worked past my false beliefs and learned that having help is a complete game-changer! I was finally able to move onto other tasks that would help expand the organization instead of being stuck doing one thing. I also had a hard time delegating tasks to individuals because I am a perfectionist and I was very selective about all the decisions made regarding Houston helping Hands. I often wish I had shared tasks sooner because so many sleepless nights and stressful days could have been easily avoided. I am so grateful for everyone that has helped me build Houston Helping Hands into the amazing organization it is today!

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

As common as this may sound, my biggest supporters would have to be my parents. My mom and dad have always pushed me to do my best and provide the motivation I need to keep moving forward. Being the daughter of immigrants, I understood the sacrifice and hard work that my parents put into my future and I wanted to make sure to do something to make them proud while giving back to the community. My parent’s determination and hustle to always provide my siblings and me with everything we need has constantly served as a form of motivation in my life and will continue to push me to put my best foot forward in everything I do.

The organizations that I have worked with closely such as Hope for Three and Project C.U.R.E have also had a significant influence on the successes that Houston Helping Hands has had. Mrs. Farmer, the executive director of Hope for Three shared such touching stories with me about the impact that she has made as a part of the organization and hearing her share the experiences she has had inspired me to want to work harder. I wanted to keep moving forward so Houston Helping Hands could impact a greater number of individuals.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Our organization has created a significant impact on the lives of students at Travis High School. The Travis High School chapter of Houston Helping Hands is one of the opportunities we offer as an organization that allows an individual to start a Helping Hands chapter at their school. Basically, as a school chapter, students work to cater to the direct needs of their peers while making a difference in their immediate community. These chapters allow individuals to have opportunities closer to them that meet with “school-specific” requirements and function as a club that can be joined by the student body. Through the establishment of Travis Helping Hands, our organization has changed the lives of numerous students. So many individuals send me messages or emails talking about how much easier Houston Helping Hands has made their high school experience by hosting and sharing volunteer opportunities!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

One of the biggest ways the community can assist Houston Helping Hands is by getting involved. We are always on the lookout for passionate individuals who want to help our organization expand, volunteer, or donate!

Houston Helping Hands also offers individuals the opportunity to create chapters of our organization in their school, city, or state. These smaller branches of our organization allow for a more centralized influence which when combined with other areas creates a huge impact. Without our members and volunteers, we would not be able to do any of the work we are fortunate enough to complete today!

We are always looking to provide new organizations with assistance so sharing our impact and social media posts is a great way to share the services that we offer and spread the message of changing the stigma around volunteerism. If you are an individual that works closely with a group in need always feel free to contact us and I’m sure we could work together to create a plan that can benefit those in need.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Get out of your comfort zone. I would have never known that I could establish and run a successful non-profit organization unless I tried and in my eyes that is the beauty of stepping up and taking initiative. You will never be able to become a better leader unless you do things that are new and maybe even frightening. Personally, taking such a large step forward was the most difficult part for me because I was scared of making a grave mistake but now I know that the only way to learn is by making mistakes and taking a lead.

2. Don’t be afraid to connect with new people because connections make the world go round! Your team and you can create tons of awesome ideas on your own but unless those ideas are being shared by other people, it becomes difficult for your organization to grow. Connections can help bring a remarkable amount of attention to your mission, therefore, bringing in more volunteers, organizations, donations and overall allowing for more awareness surrounding your vision.

3. Get opinions from different people. You are always your harshest critic but sharing your creations and ideas can help you get insight into things that you would have never thought of on your own or overlooked. A fresh set of eyes can bring constructive criticism, brand new ideas, and guidance which are all vital to a successful organization. Talking to people will always benefit not only your work more than the Internet but your personal development as well.

4. Rejection is okay, learn to accept it. During the start of my journey with Houston Helping Hands, the word “no” scared me to death because it made me feel like I was failing or not doing something correctly. As I pursued my work, I acquired knowledge that allowed me to take these rejections as redirection. I accepted that it was okay to be told no and I just needed to try a different approach. This is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned from leading Houston Helping Hands.

5. Numbers are not everything. This was one of the things that I had the hardest time accepting because for me numbers were a way of determining if I was doing something right or wrong. Throughout my life I looked towards numbers for justifications whether it was through my grades or rank, life was always about numbers. Houston Helping Hands taught me that numbers do not define success, the impact does. Seeing the smiles of those you have affected should always be worth more than any amount of likes, shares, or profit.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would say to step up and take charge regardless of anyone that doubts you or makes you feel that you cannot achieve the goals you have set for yourself. You cannot know if something will be successful or not until you have tried. There are so many problems present within our seemingly perfect society which makes it even more important for change makers to do their part. If you have a passion for something that can create establish positive change, why not take the lead and establish the change or impact that you know is necessary. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you. Tell your story, impact lives and be the change you want to see in the world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

One person in the world that I would love to have lunch with would be Greta Thurnberg. Over just a few short years, she has made such a large-scale impact throughout the world. Her strength perseverance, and determination all serve as great inspiration for me. I would enjoy speaking to her about how she has her voice heard at such a young age and what helps her stay motivated through her endeavors.

How can our readers follow you online?

If you are interested in making a change in your community and joining the journey of changing the stigma around volunteerism you can learn more about Houston Helping Hands on Instagram @houstonhelpinghands or visit our website houhelpinghands.weebly.com!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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