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Oak Forest teen has selfless vision

HelwSaleh Oak Forest hopes become an optometrist help those with special needs.  |  Supplied phoby Cheryl Harris Sumida

Helwa Saleh, of Oak Forest, hopes to become an optometrist and help those with special needs. | Supplied photo by Cheryl Harris Sumida

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Updated: May 8, 2014 9:19AM



Helwa Saleh, a senior at Oak Forest High School, enjoys helping people and giving back.

That is why Saleh, a stellar student with a 5.0-grade-point average, is planning to become an optometrist for people with disabilities.

Saleh, 18, plans to major in biology or pre-optometry in college.

“I want to do something with people with disabilities. I like optometry because I can help people but I want to see if I can help those with special needs,” she said.

Her interest in both is rooted in her daily life. For years, she watched her mother get her eyes checked, and she admits to having her share of eye problems, too.

“I started to like going to the eye doctor. That made me realize this is something I’d like to do,” she said.

The other half of the equation — helping people with disabilities — started in high school. There, she works as a peer tutor in the adaptive physical education class, helping students with disabilities.

“We do everything students do in a regular gym class, but we make it so everyone in a wheelchair or other disability can play, too. We make sure they are having fun,” she said.

Saleh also works with kids in Oak Forest High School’s Destiny program, which helps students struggling with learning disabilities.

“Sometimes we are the only interaction they have with the student population at Oak Forest,” she said.

Outside of school, Saleh has a work-study class with the South Suburban Recreation Association, where she works as a historian. That and her work with students at Oak Forest with physical or learning disabilities top Saleh’s list of favorite activities.

“I enjoy helping others. It is cheesy, but I like making someone smile,” she said. “I also like seeing those who don’t interact that much get involved. I like helping them out.”

An avid volunteer, she gave 54 hours of her time at the Quran Academy in Orland Park last summer. She also helps in the community up to four days of week, helping adults learn basic skills at home.

“One program is like a chef’s kitchen and we show them how to cut vegetables and stir food on the stove. They know how to do it but need help,” she said.

Back at school, she is president of the International Club, editor of the yearbook, and a member of KAMA, the literary magazine and book club.

The daughter of Fatima and Mohammad Saleh, of Oak Forest, Saleh said her mother is her mentor.

“She is a big part of my life because she wants the best for me and to have fun and do things,” Saleh said. “She and my dad always want us to feel like we have a life.

“Last May, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. During the summer, I was with her and took care of her. It made me realize what an impact she has had on my life and I don’t think I can ever live without her,” said Saleh, happy that her mother is doing well now.

She is still undecided about which college she will attend. She has been accepted to Benedictine University, Loyola University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her decision will depend on what scholarships she receives.

“I just want to make a difference in someone’s life, so I keep going,” she said. “I want to show my family that I can do it and won’t give up. I want to make them happy and I work hard to make them happy because that is important to me.”



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