Second chance: LEO boosts Excel Center mission of high school diplomas for adults

Author: Brendan O'Shaughnessy

Rizan Hajji Mohamed stands in front of The Excel Center building in Indianapolis

Rizan Hajji Mohamed bundled his pregnant wife into a car and drove from Los Angeles to Indianapolis because an online search identified only one program that grants high school diplomas to adults. The Syrian refugee arrived in a snowstorm, the first he’d ever seen.

But Mohamed, now 42, was no stranger to desperate treks across the miles. He fled Aleppo, Syria, because the Bashar al-Assad regime was persecuting Kurds like him who advocated for political freedom. He landed in Lebanon in 2007 and lived at a refugee camp, eking out a living in the industry he’d formerly owned a business in—embroidery design.

Warned that the intelligence agencies of Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria were trying to kill him for his human rights advocacy in Lebanon, he fled again. The United States granted him political asylum and flew Mohamed and his wife to Los Angeles in 2012.

Once they arrived in Indianapolis, he enrolled in a tuition-free Excel Center to get the high school degree he’d been denied in Syria. At the same time, he applied for dozens of jobs with no luck until he found a furniture company willing to hire him.

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