From knapsack to boardroom

Jan 2, 2008

Russell J. Ebeid's father immigrated to the U.S. to give his children a brighter future - his son is passing that legacy to the next generation of Arab-Americans.

Russell J. Ebeid ’62 is driven by two passions; a desire to make a difference in educational opportunities for under-served youth, mostly from immigrant families, and to stay close to his Lebanese heritage. These passions guide his philanthropy, including his recent gift providing scholarships for students of Arab-American descent attending Kettering University in Flint, Mich.

“The Russell J. Ebeid ’62 ACCESS Scholarship for Arab American Students” is designed to encourage young U.S. citizens of Arab-American heritage to attend Kettering University. Starting with an initial donation of $25,000, the fund will provide renewable scholarships of $5,000 each for 25 years. It is estimated the fund will support 71 students during this time. Criteria considerations include U.S. citizenship, community service and academic achievement.

“Kettering University appreciates Mr. Ebeid giving today’s youth the same opportunities given to him through his education and co-op experience at Kettering/GMI,” said Vida Fisher, director of Corporate and Foundation Gifts at Kettering University. “Mr. Ebeid is a firm believer in cooperative education, and Guardian Industries is a Kettering co-op partner. He believes in rolling up your sleeves and gaining the opportunity to grow through education and work,” she added.

The son of Lebanese immigrants, Ebeid grew up with a strong work ethic.  Although neither of his parents finished high school, they instilled in him the value of hard work and strength of character. With their support, Ebeid rose from his working-class roots to become one of four directors of Guardian Industries and the president of the Guardian Glass Group, world leaders in glass, automotive and building products sciences.

“My dad was a knapsack immigrant,” he said. “He came here not knowing what he was looking for necessarily, but he knew what he was leaving behind. It’s hard to fathom the risks he must have taken in a new land, without money, language, or contacts,” Ebeid said, adding “I can’t even with certainty tell myself that I would have had the courage to make the journey.”

He has made a different journey; from the son of immigrants to the highest echelons of international business – the classic path to the American Dream. Along the way Ebeid has had many adventures and success stories, one of which includes securing a contract for the high-tech glass that will be installed in the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building. Now he is helping to secure the American Dream for generations to come.

“I feel good about what I am doing.  It takes work to be successful in your giving, but you feel better about giving back.  I hope that my experience will inspire other Arab Americans to stand up, be proud of their identity and give generously where they can.”

To leverage his donation for the greatest impact, Ebeid partnered with Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) to engage the broader community in his donation while benefiting Kettering and bringing greater visibility to ACCESS and the Arab American National Museum, according to Maha Freij, ACCESS deputy executive director/CFO.  With the guidance of ACCESS staff, Ebeid created an endowed fund at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan (CFSEM), and leveraged his $500,000 to receive a $250,000 match from CFSEM, establishing the $750,000 Ebeid Family Fund.

For the first 25 years of the fund, the majority of the grants will be given as scholarships for Arab-American youth attending Kettering University. The Ebeid Family Fund will then become a permanent endowment after 25 years to support charitable programs in southeast Michigan that provide educational, arts and cultural opportunities for promising, low-income youth with demonstrated leadership skills.

“Mr. Ebeid has established a legacy that will support educational and cultural services in southeast Michigan and across the United States in a manner that we hope will motivate other philanthropists in the Arab-American community. We hope that other community foundations around the country will also partner with Arab-American non-profit organizations to cultivate their donors for strategic and long-term philanthropy,” said Mariam Noland, president of CFSEM.

Written by Dawn Hibbard with information provided by the Access web site