Iraqi in US, uses scholarship for dental training

Mohammed Aysar Abbas is well on his way to becoming a dental assistant thanks to Community Sharing in Highland Township. Abbas, 22, a Lakeland High School graduate, recently received the outreach center’s first Kathy Pardikes Memorial Scholarship, which he will apply toward a 14-week course in dental assisting. 

It’s a career move the Iraqi native says will set him apart from other candidates when he applies for dental school a few years down the road. Community Sharing volunteers have gotten to know Abbas over the past three years as he escorted his mother to the center’s food pantry every month. 

When an aunt immigrated to Wixom — where he, his parents and younger siblings live — he began taking her to the food pantry, too. During one of his visits last year, Abbas, who attends Oakland Community College, mentioned that he wanted to find work in a dental office but didn’t have relevant experience. 

He figured a dental assisting course would give him the credentials he needed to find a job, but he didn’t have enough money for the course. “They (Community Sharing) interviewed me and accepted me and said I was eligible. I was in class and they called me and told me they found someone to pay and congratulations. I was so surprised," he recalled. 

The center’s board decided Abbas was the perfect candidate for the new Kathy Pardikes Memorial Scholarship, which was created to honor the former food pantry manager and board member. Pardikes, who died in August 2016, volunteered for Community Sharing for at least 10 years. 

“In lieu of flowers I wanted everyone to make a donation to Community Sharing,” said Steve Pardikes, Kathy’s husband. “I believe some of the donors requested a scholarship fund and they ended up doing it. I thought it was real nice in her memory. She did an awful lot for Community Sharing. 

Pardikes said he wasn’t involved selecting Abbas for the scholarship, but recently got a chance to meet him. “He seems like a fine young man. I hope that works out for him. Kathy had that spirit of giving. I hope he can apply that same kind of spirit in what he’s going to do.” 

Family, school 

Abbas is involved in a leadership society at OCC and keeps his family’s household running smoothly. “I pay the bills, talk to people, make appointments,” said Abbas, who translates for his parents. “I help my aunt, too.” 

He’ll start the dental assisting program next month, taking the course on Sunday and working it into a busy schedule that includes weekday classes in physics, psychology, statistics and yoga at OCC, along with family responsibilities. “It makes me stronger and it makes me like working hard because I have a chance now in the U.S.” 

Abbas said his father, who now works as a caregiver, was a journalist in Iraq who nearly lost his life at the hand of terrorists. “They didn’t like that he was taking pictures and interviewing people. They didn’t like the idea he was working with Americans,” Abbas said. 

“He went with my uncle and my cousin in the same car to work every day. One day he was too late to go with them. They went by themselves. That day there were four terrorists. They stopped the car and killed them. They called us after they killed my uncle and my cousin to make sure my dad is at home. 

They knew they just killed two people. They called to make sure — is my dad at home? After a half hour we left our house. We went to a different city and lived with another uncle for six months.” The family moved to Syria, to Jordan and then back to Syria, before coming home to a different city in Iraq. 

They moved to the U.S. three years ago and haven’t looked back. “I love my country, but everything I do here is easier than staying there. Everything is hard, but it’s better than in my country.” Abbas plans to attend Oakland University in the fall. He hopes to apply for dental school two years later. 

by Sharon Dargay and for further information please e-mail: sdargay@hometownlife.com

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