Nurilegn Mohamed always looks to help people in her community. But before last year, her options for doing that were somewhat limited.
That was when she received free job training to be a senior personal care assistant from Express Care, a local Herndon non-profit organization that specializes in health education and professional training.
Now, Mohamed, a Sterling resident, mother of three and Loudoun County Public Schools food service worker, can earn extra money while helping seniors on weekends at the Sunrise Senior Living center in Reston.
"After I took this program I started to help elderly people too, to work for their health care," she said. Express Care "did a lot for us in giving us this program ... I always wanted to help other people and now because of the PCA [class] I get to do that."
Mohamed was one of 39 area residents who took the class offered by Express Care last year. The program, which featured a 30-hour training class and on-the-job training, was a result of a grant from the United States Department of Labor to provide professional training for low income families, according to Naila Alam, founder and CEO of Express Care.
The training program "went very successfully and we got a lot of real great attention for it," said Alam. "Studies here in America are very expensive and for many of them it was the first time they had received formal training."
EXPRESS CARE'S WORK has not gone unnoticed. The organization has been commended in personal letters from President George W. Bush and Gov. Tim Kaine.
Alam, who runs Express Care out of Herndon's Neighborhood Resource Center with her sister, Yasmin Durrani, started the non-profit in 2003 after beating back a life-threatening blood disorder she was diagnosed with in 1996.
It was then that Alam, originally from Pakistan who was living in the United States while studying to become a hotel manager, decided to change the direction of her life.
"When I was ill, I could feel how important a day was and I realized just how fragile that is," Alam said. "But what about those people who were suffering who didn't speak English, or have the knowledge of the health system here?"
The time she spent recovering in the hospital gave her a chance to reflect.
She wanted to make a difference, so with the encouragement of her sister, started Express Care, a group dedicated to providing health assistance, job training and groceries for low-income families and immigrants.
"She [Alam] provides good care for the people who need it," said Rita Barrett, office manager at the Herndon Neighborhood Resource Center. "She has the contacts to get these people the help they need and she does a great job."
LAST YEAR, Express Care provided not only the government grant-funded job training, but helped 200 families with medical issues and through health education sessions as well as 300 people with groceries. The organization, which spends approximately $50,000 a year in its community education, training and personal assistance programs, serves any area resident with a need, Alam said.
While both Alam and her sister are Muslim, their religion, they said, plays a minor role in the work they do with Express Care.
"When someone knocks on your door and asks you for help, you don't make your decisions based on their religion," she said.
Many of the health education programs that Express Care runs are through Inova Health Source. Express Care has worked with Inova to sponsor flu shot drives and provide education to adults about diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
"If you want to find people who genuinely give from the hearts and care about other people, you can't find any better people" than Alam and Durrani, said Sandi John, senior manager for congregational health partnerships with Inova. "They're very assertive on behalf of all the people they care about."
THE MOST IMPORTANT goal for the group, Alam said, is getting more training to the people who need it so that they can better provide for themselves and their families.
"We see many people who don't know how to use computers, or drive a car or speak English," she said. "Once they are helped to learn these skills, then they can get better job placements and a better life."
Despite all the attention they've received, Alam said that it's just a welcome side effect of their primary goal: seeing people as individuals and helping them to improve their lives.
"When people aren't doing well, we get upset and we are encouraged to help and you can see that appreciation after you help them," she said. "If you are motivated and you have the will, people really will notice the good you've done."