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Hilliard resident is honored for work providing positive outlets for young people

building painted with welcoming messages in many langueages
Debbi Holmes
MY Project USA building at 3275 Sullivant Avenue.

A Hilliard resident has received national recognition for creating opportunities for young people to become productive citizens. Zerqa Abid is the founder, president and executive director of MY Project USA at 3275 Sullivant Avenue. She recently received a $50,000 Purpose Prize award from AARP.

"Sullivant Avenue particularly is a corridor, which is where we know that 40% up the number of sex trafficking and drugs happen there,” says Abid, 53 who immigrated from Pakistan. “And that neighborhood has a very large population of Somali and other immigrant Muslim refugees, especially Somali Bantu Tribe."

MY Project USA began with a community food pantry. It also counsels young people to avoid gangs and human trafficking. Volunteers also support the Hilltop Tigers soccer program.

"I always say that hungry children are easy prey,” says Abid. “So, we started food pantry. We started supporting them with the clothing and basic needs.”

"Every year in winter, we lose our children to drugs and gangs. I have been advocating for more indoor recreational spaces in this area,” says Abid. “I started a Youth Social Justice Collaborative just last year.”

Abid says she will use her award for a new recreational space that will be named after 15-year-old Issa Jilani who was shot and killed while playing soccer in July.

The Ohio Department of Education has awarded My Project USA, a $1.2 million grant for three years. Abid says she can expand the programs to 300 children.

“We have successfully curbed the pipeline to gangs in the, in the hilltop area by this program,” says Abid. “This is replicable. My hope is that we get more support from the governor, from the state, from other states, and we can start replicating it.”

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.