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It's his home away from home


Lebanese man gives back to communities that nurtured him

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon president Hadi Nouredine in his dental office. Through hard work, the immigrant has seen much success.When he fled from war-torn Lebanon to America as a teenager, the first things that struck Hadi Nouredine about Oregon were its smooth roadways and green, open spaces.

“When the plane landed in Oregon, I got into a car and saw that the roads don’t have big holes like in Lebanon,” he recalls of the bomb-scarred roads in his home country. “And as a soccer player, I said, ‘Oh my God! I could play here and here and here!

“The best thing that ever happened to our life is coming to the U.S.,” he adds, referring to him and his older brother. “We were the fortunate ones. The ones who won the lottery tickets.”

In the decades since his uncle Simon encouraged him to come to America, Nouredine, who serves as president of the Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon, has never lost sight of what he considers an opportunity of a lifetime.

“It’s the greatest country in the world,” he says. “It’s given me grants, loans, a job, made a dentist out of me. It’s provided my family a much better life than we would have in the Mideast.”

That’s not to say any of it came easy.

Pursuing the white robe

Before he became one of the hardest-working dentists around — with three practices aside from his Beaverton office on Southwest Hall Boulevard near Greenway — the Portland Community College Sylvania campus graduate realized he had to study and work his way up from the bottom.

“I came from a low-income family,” he says. “My dad worked in Africa for 30 years and lost everything. I knew I had to do something really good, through higher education, to provide for my family — my mom, dad, sister and brothers.”

Determined to fulfill his mother’s dream of her son, as he says, “wearing a white robe,” Nouredine’s lack of U.S. citizenship prevented him from going into medical school.

“I could apply to dental or pharmacy school,” he explains. “I got accepted into both. I thought, ‘I’m young. I’ll try this for a year or two and maybe try something else.’ But I got into it, and I liked it.”

In addition to PCC, Nouredine studied at Portland State University before becoming one of the Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Dentistry’s youngest graduates. To help with tuition, he worked as a “bottle boy” and checkout clerk at Cub Foods, the precursor to WinCo Foods on Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard.

“I knew I had to pursue higher education to succeed,” he says. “It was not an easy road. I worked full time and went to school full time.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Hadi Nouredine, president of the Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon, came to the United States at 17. Through hard work, he is now a dentist with four different practices.

Prior to opening his own practice, Nouredine worked seven days a week at Gentle Dental and on weekends in downtown Portland at a clinic he rented. He offered care to his Middle Eastern clients, some of whom had no money or insurance, based on whatever they could afford.

Nouredine now hopes to offer free dental care to the area’s homeless population.

“I’m trying to see if we can, in the next month, see if we can borrow a van and provide a day of service to the homeless in downtown Portland,” he says. “I don’t think there’s anything (similar) for them. It would be nice to have something.”

Nurturing heritage

When not engaged in oral health, Nouredine dedicates his time and energy to fostering Lebanese culture and community through the Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon. He’s served on the center’s board of directors for more than five years, the past two of which he’s led as its president. Last summer, Nouredine played a key role in the third annual “Mahrajan” festival at PCC-Sylvania, one of the Arab organization’s highest-profile community events.

“It’s growing, and getting better every year,” he says. “We have a few Arab organizations in the community that are mostly religious oriented. What I like about (this) organization is it’s non-political and non-religious. It’s purely about culture, heritage, activities, music and food.”

As a fellow Lebanese immigrant, Said Fakih, founder and owner of Sesame Donuts in Raleigh Hills, says Nouredine’s energy and dedication to the center provides ample inspiration to its participants.

“One of the qualities Hadi has is, there’s no such thing as ‘We can’t do it,’” Fakih says. “In fact, sometimes we have to tell him ‘No.’ If there’s slack, he wants to jump in and add to the duties he already has.”

Fakih puts his friend of 20 years on the short list of those he counts on to represent the Lebanese community when something is needed from local or regional leaders.

“If I were to take two or three people and say, ‘Let’s go ask for something’ and I want to impress them, I think Hadi would be one of them,” Fakih says. “He represents us very well in what we need to accomplish.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon President Hadi Nouredine goes over a patient schedule at his dentistry office with assistant Christine Carrillo.

Home support

Admitting to the many irons he has in the fire these days, Nouredine says the spare time he has is spent playing soccer and spending time with his wife, Raina, and their three boys, Charlie, 6, Sam, 5, and Nader, 2. He realizes he’s lucky she fully supports his industriousness.

“She knows how much I love to work and how important it is to me,” he says. “She’s one of the major forces for me to stay involved in the (Arab) community.

“I told her it was going to be a lot of work,” he adds. “She said, ‘I want you to do it.’

“She’s the love of my life.”