“These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That spirit of volunteerism, that spirit that says we are all in this together, that spirit is exemplified by the five Points of Light recipients.”

— President Barack Obama, speaking about the Points of Light honourees at Texas A&M University on 21 October 2017.

On behalf of the Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering (I-CERV), President of the Council for the Southwestern United States, Murad Ajani, was honoured as a Points of Light recipient at a concert on 21 October at Texas A&M University.

The Deep From the Heart: The One America Appeal concert was attended by all five living former U.S. presidents, namely, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, as well as Points of Light Chairman, Neil Bush.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, over 2,500 volunteers from the Ismaili Muslim community quickly organised to help serve their local community in the greater Houston area. Volunteers fanned out across the region and dedicated more than 13,000 hours of work at food banks, evacuation shelters, food and supply drives, and in individual homes to help flood victims in the recovery and rebuilding process.

The volunteers’ hard work and selfless devotion did not go unnoticed. The Office of the Mayor of Houston and Volunteer Houston, which led the City of Houston’s volunteer deployment efforts, recommended President Ajani for a Daily Point of Light Award in recognition of the mobilisation of the thousands of volunteers for hurricane relief efforts. A short video was shown to the thousands in the audience, describing the efforts of the volunteers.

The One Americal Appeal campaign had collected $31 million for hurricane relief and this benefit concert, featuring artists Alabama, Lady Gaga, and Lyle Lovett, collected another $2 million. The Points of Light Award was established by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and recognises volunteers who step up to serve their community and effectively serve as a point of light during difficult times.

Other volunteers honoured as Points of Light were Leah Halbina, who created the IrmaResponse.org website, informing victims about shelter locations and capacity, and donors about the needs of each shelter; Derek Auguste, who helped with preparation and cleanup efforts surrounding Hurricane Irma, and now supports recovery efforts in Puerto Rico; Kat Creech, who put her wedding planning business on hold to start Recovery Houston, recruiting hundreds of volunteers to rebuild more than 120 homes in one week; and Zachary Dearing, who arrived at an evacuation shelter and organised rescue groups, distributed food and supplies, and helped keep 126 people safe during Hurricane Harvey until officials arrived.

Following the event, President Ajani said, “It was an absolute honour to represent the Ismaili Muslim community and for us to be recognised on such a national platform by the Points of Light organisation and the five living former U.S. presidents.” He went on to describe the event as a “milestone for the entire USA Jamat,” as it illustrated our commitment to service as being part of the spirit of our faith and the spirit of our great country. “This would not have been possible,” he said, “without the dedication and hard work of each one of the thousands of i-CERV volunteers who came out in the most difficult of circumstances to help their neighbors and community. “

The efforts of i-CERV were also recognised by civic leadership in the Greater Houston area, including the City of Sugar Land’s First Lady, Nancy Zimmerman, who publicly commended the efforts of Ismaili volunteers.

“Words truly cannot express how grateful [Mayor] Joe and I are for the Ismaili community's immediate and overwhelming response to the needs of Sugar Land, and Fort Bend County. Yours is not only an incredible example of love and caring for others, but even more, an example of putting your faith and that love into practice. The unbelievable abundance of aid at the Jamatkhana and Center, and all the volunteer work provided is simply overwhelming,” she said.

The recognition of the Ismaili Muslim community’s volunteers underscores the belief that volunteerism and service to society are an integral part of the Ismaili ethos, and a fundamental expression of American civic values. 

In the words of Anar Gulamali, an I-CERV volunteer facilitator, “We all went through Hurricane Harvey together. As much as it was devastating, the days afterwards were also inspiring, because I-CERV volunteers came from all over Texas — Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, College Station — to help the victims.” She noted that people of all ages and all backgrounds worked together, with I-CERV volunteers often the last ones to leave an assignment.

“We were just doing what we’ve always done as Ismaili Muslims … we serve,” Gulamali remarked. "It just goes to show you that even after rain, there is always a rainbow. I am very proud to be part of a community like ours. I am also very proud that President Murad Ajani accepted the Points of Light Award on our behalf.”