She grew up appreciating her diverse heritage. Now she encourages others to do the same.

Maha AJ grew up proud of her Sudanese-Iraqi heritage. Her parents made sure of it.

From the time she was little, Maha Jaafar's (or Maha AJ as she’s known to her fans) family constantly wove her mixed cultural identity into her life. Her dad would show her maps of Sudan and teach her about her culture’s history and traditions, while her mom would show her how to make both Iraqi and Sudanese dishes.

"Mom always encouraged us to be proud of our Sudanese heritage without losing our Iraqi identity," she says in a YouTube video. “I never felt that I was lost between cultures. Instead, I always knew I belonged to both, but each in a different way.”


Photo via YouTube Creators for Change/YouTube

Growing up in the United Arab Emirates, Maha was exposed to many different cultures, which also helped mold her appreciation of diversity. “Living here, you have all types of nationalities all around you,” she says. “It’s very multicultural and there are people from all different countries, and everyone still holds onto their identity, so you can understand their culture.”

However, stereotypes and prejudices still persist there. Maha is on a mission to change that.

Despite growing up in a diverse country, she often felt judged by classmates who didn’t understand her mixed heritage. The question, “where are you from?” began to feel aggressive and limiting, because she felt people were trying to box her into a cultural stereotype.

So Maha set out to break through the misconceptions about her unique background by making videos that celebrate it.

YouTube Creators for Change/YouTube

She's is using her art and her platform to help "bridge the gap" between the cultures in her community. "Our diversity is what makes us richer, stronger, and more beautiful," she says, "and the world needs to see all that beauty."

It's also why Maha is one of YouTube's 47 Creators for Change Ambassadors— an initiative for YouTubers hoping to inspire awareness and empathy for diverse communities.

Launched in 2016, the YouTube Creators for Change program encourages and highlights creators who are tackling the social issues that impact them and their communities. The global initiative names Ambassadors from around the world who use their channels to promote inclusivity and diversity and drive social change. Each Ambassador receives grant money to put toward "social impact project" videos and to aid them in adding their voices to important initiatives and events around the globe.

Ambassadors also pay it forward by mentoring Fellows — up-and-coming creators who work with Ambassadors to help create a dialogue around social issues in their communities.

Maha's YouTube debut two years ago put her on Creators for Change's radar. Today, the 25-year-old dentist spends half her time fixing people’s teeth and half her time pursuing her passion for creating impactful videos.

Becoming a Creators for Change Ambassador has already had a big impact on Maha.

Thanks to the program, she's gotten to meet other YouTube creators who've inspired her, and has even become close friends with many of them.

“This has been one of the best experiences in my life,” she says, “because it’s made me feel ever supported and appreciated. It made me have a platform to reach more people and inspire more people, and it gave me a lot of motivation for myself to go forward with what I want.”

Maha says she wants to use her channel to share the positive things about her cultural heritage and to correct misconceptions and stereotypes, especially about Sudan. She also wants her videos to connect people and promote our shared humanity.

“My ultimate goal," she says,"is to make people understand that we’re all one, and there’s no need for hating on each other or not understanding each other, because at the end of the day we’re all humans.”

These global Ambassadors, like Maha, reach millions of people. Their messages have the potential to change the world.

As Maha says, anyone with a cell phone and/or internet can make connections with people and develop a platform for positive change.

As more and more young people find not just entertainment but heroes and idols in the YouTube space, it's heartening to know that there are awesome, real individuals doing conscious work to bring people together and promoting ideas and actions that will lead humanity to a better future for all.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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