Ikram Koliso, who lives at CommonBond’s Torre de San Miguel housing community in St. Paul, recently received two top honors from St. Catherine University in St. Paul. As valedictorian, Ikram graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 cumulative GPA , and was selected as the student commencement speaker for the Baccalaureate ceremony.
A double major in social work and public health, Ikram has held several key student leadership positions. She is also the 2017 award winner of the Mary E. McCahill Award, which is presented to a senior who has consistently demonstrated outstanding leadership, academic excellence, loyalty and service to the university throughout her years at St. Kate’s.
“Ikram is a scholar and deeply engaged member of the St. Catherine community. Amazingly, she received 12 nominations for this award,” said President ReBecca Koenig Roloff, president of St. Catherine.
Supporting academic success and leadership skills among residents like Ikram is a goal of CommonBond’s supportive housing model. Brenda Petry, an Advantage Services Regional Manager for CommonBond, said, “CommonBond’s stable, safe housing, where community members have access to critical support and resources along the way, can provide such an important foundation from which individuals can launch and reach their own goals and successes. We are so thrilled for Ikram and her family, and for all of their successes and accomplishments.”
Ikram’s other achievements and awards include Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women Student Leadership Awards (2015 and 2017); an Antonian Scholars Senior Honors Project Award; and induction in the Phi Alpha (social work) and Kappa Gamma Pi (Catholic leadership) honor societies.
Meet Hawa Abbajebel, a CommonBond resident and recipient of the top CommonBond Leadership Scholarship. Hawa was one of five CommonBond youth who recently received a scholarship to use for post-secondary education.
Hawa has lived in a CommonBond housing community her entire life – first at Skyline Tower in St. Paul, and then at Torre de San Miguel on St. Paul’s Westside. She just finished her junior year of high school and is excited to continue looking at colleges over the summer.
We sat down with Hawa recently to ask her more about the scholarship and her volunteer service. Her thoughtful answers quickly showed us why she’s such a deserving scholarship recipient and bright light in the community.
CommonBond: Which CommonBond youth programs have you participated in?
Hawa: I did Study Buddies when I was younger, and then Learning Circles. Next year I’m hoping to work with the younger kids at Torre de San Miguel.
CommonBond: How have these programs impacted your school work and what you want to do in life?
Hawa: It was really cool because the Study Buddies mentors were always really interesting people from a variety of different fields. They helped you not only do well with your homework, but also with accessing different learning opportunities in the community. The youth programs helped you to make new friends – it’s really nice to become friends with your neighbors. My younger siblings come to the Advantage Center for homework help – that’s where they’ve met most of their neighborhood friends.
CommonBond: What kind of volunteer work do you do in the community?
Hawa: In my scholarship essay, instead of listing my specific volunteer roles and hours, I wrote about how volunteering in general has played a significant role in my life. To me, it doesn’t mean just going to a certain place without getting paid and then counting the hours you were there – in every aspect of your life, wherever you are, when you have an opportunity to help someone, that’s volunteering. I admire that my parents are very giving people, so that’s what I wrote about.
I also wrote about wanting to be able to give back to this community. St. Paul is a beautiful city – all of it, including the places with a lot of poverty. There’s even beauty in the brokenness of a neighborhood, including the parts that are forgotten. I often hear other kids say they want to get rich and move out of the neighborhood they grew up in – but if you stay, and try to do better and make it a better place, that’s the kind of America that we should aspire to. As the neighborhood residents, we know what’s going to work best – the people who grew up in affordable housing communities need to become mayors and CEOs and other kinds of leaders. We have the knowledge, experience, and ideas to make communities a place where everyone can do well.
CommonBond: What do you hope to do after you graduate from high school a year from now?
Hawa: I think about colleges a lot. I’ve looked at a number of them, and will look at more this summer. Wherever I end up, I hope to stay in Minnesota because it’s home. There are so many subjects and areas I’m interested in – it’s hard to choose. I know whatever I study and whichever field I go into in the future, it will be tied to helping communities.
CommonBond: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not studying or volunteering?
Hawa: My favorite activity is writing – especially short stories based on my own life experiences or my family’s experiences. I’d love to write a book about my family’s stories. I also like art, mostly painting and drawing. And I love skateboarding – I mostly just stay around my neighborhood because I like it here!
With alarming frequency, individuals, households, and entire communities are being displaced as a result of a growing wave of real estate investments – purchases that turn formerly affordable apartments across the Twin Cities region into upscale properties.
Led by the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), a coalition of affordable housing nonprofits and affected renters worked with Twin Cities Public Television to create a 60-minute documentary entitled “Sold Out: Affordable Housing at Risk” on the topic of the loss of affordable housing.
CommonBond’s CEO Deidre Schmidt is featured in the film, as well as many other nonprofit leaders, renters, and other community representatives. Together, their voices lift up the stories of affected residents, showcase the community impacts of displacement, and highlight the urgent need to preserve private-market affordable housing.
“The hope for the future lies in a change in mindset. We have to start looking at affordable housing as critical infrastructure… We cannot assume that housing, particularly affordable housing, will be a natural byproduct of a healthy economy and a healthy society. We have to understand that housing is actually a key ingredient for a healthy economy and a healthy society, so we need to invest in it,” said Deidre Schmidt in the documentary.