Ms. Fazana Saleem-Ismail is a Research Scientist at the Professional Development Program of the Research Foundation of the State University of New York (NY). She is also the Founder of Jazzy Sun Birthdays, a volunteer project that provides personalized birthday parties for children living in homeless shelters throughout the Capital Region of New York. Born and raised in Staten Island, NY, Fazana spent most of her primary school years in the US save for two extended stays in Sri Lanka as a youth during which she attended Ladies’ College, Colombo and Wycherley International School. She holds a BA in Economics from Bryn Mawr College (PA) and received her Master of Public Policy degree from Georgetown University (DC) where she focused on Family and Children’s Issues and Food and Nutrition Policy. While at Bryn Mawr, Fazana served as President of the International Students’ Association and the Muslim Students’ Association. She was the President of the Georgetown Public Policy Student Association and received an Outstanding Student Service Award.
Fazana has conducted social science research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (DC), Mathematica Policy Research (NJ) and the Institute for Health Policy (Sri Lanka). She served as a Senior Program Officer and Director of the Earned Income Tax Credit Program at the Robin Hood Foundation (NY) and received a Community Capacity Builders Award from the Neighborhood Technical Assistance Clinic in recognition of her work. She and her family moved to Sri Lanka to assist with tsunami-rebuilding efforts as volunteers with the Lanka Relief and Development Foundation (Sri Lanka) in 2005 and remained there until 2007.
Since founding Jazzy Sun Birthdays in 2011, Fazana has celebrated the birthdays of more than 300 children with the help of over 400 volunteers. She is proud that not only does the project make homeless children feel like kings and queens for a day but it brings together people of different racial, ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds and helps young children who volunteer develop a working understanding and awareness of the issue of poverty. Individuals from South Africa, Canada and Sri Lanka have written to Fazana to obtain her advice on replicating her project in their countries.
Fazana is also actively involved in anti-Islamophobia efforts. She has conducted presentations and discussions about Islam for a variety of audiences including Girl Scout troops, middle school students, high school students, church groups and public library patrons. She has also been instrumental in organizing and participating in “Ask a Muslim” events during which individuals are encouraged to ask questions of Muslims in an effort to dispel stereotypes and build bridges. She is a committee chair of the Capital District Coalition Against Islamophobia and is a founding member of the Albany chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom.
Fazana is a highly-respected member of the community of the Capital District of New York who has been featured in local newspapers, magazines and TV news stories and has received numerous awards for her volunteer work. One organization created a special “Dreamer Award” for Fazana in 2014 stating that, “She has single-handedly and in a very unique way made a significant impact on her community.” In 2015, Fazana was selected as a medalist for the prestigious Jefferson Awards for Public Service.
Fazana Saleem-Ismail lives with her husband Jiffry, daughter Sanari (Sun) and son Jaazib (Jazzy) in Albany, NY.