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Originally published September 23, 2013 at 7:25 PM | Page modified September 23, 2013 at 9:40 PM

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Federal Way man to be honored with White House’s Champion of Change award

When severe weather hit the Puget Sound area last year, Mohamed Ali found himself uniquely qualified to serve as a go-between for public-health agencies and the largely immigrant, non-English-speaking Somali community.

Seattle Times staff

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A Federal Way man is being recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for his heroic actions last year that saved lives during a winter storm.

When severe weather hit the Puget Sound area last year, Mohamed Ali found himself uniquely qualified to serve as a go-between for public-health agencies and the largely immigrant, non-English-speaking Somali community, a King County news release says.

Ali, a Somali refugee with a master’s degree in public health, serves as program coordinator for the Hepatitis B Coalition of Washington at WithinReach.

He reached out to a local mosque, the Abubakr Islamic Center, and they set up automated phone calls warning the community about the dangers of carbon-monoxide poisoning: It had caused deaths in previous years’ storms when people brought generators and charcoal grills inside their homes to warm them after power went out.

Ali and other volunteers at the mosque set up help lines for citizens who had questions or needed aid. They rented all-terrain vehicles to bring hot meals to those who needed them. Working with Public Health — Seattle & King County and local emergency teams, they set up a warm shelter at the Islamic Center after hearing some residents were without heat.

It worked.

Ali was partly responsible when hospitals could report 90 percent fewer carbon-monoxide poisoning patients than in the winter power outage in 2006, when 200 people in King County were hospitalized — and eight died — because of carbon-monoxide exposure.

No one died in last year’s storm.

In the release, King County Executive Dow Constantine congratulated Ali on the award, offering him “my heartfelt gratitude for stepping up for our local Somali community in a time of need.”

“His actions show the crucial role that one person can play in the resilience of the community,” Constantine said.

Ali has served as something of a health care-focused ambassador for the Somali community for several years, the release said. He helped put together a Somali Health Board to bring Somali immigrants and health-care organizations together and better distribute health information in the community.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency last year recognized him as a Community Preparedness Hero.

The Champion of Change award Ali will receive in a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday morning is a special recognition that honors ordinary citizens who make extraordinary changes in their community. Ali was selected for his leadership in individual and community emergency preparedness.

“I was in a unique position to help because I have good contacts at Public Health, I understood the dangers, and I am trusted on health issues in my community,” Ali is quoted in the release. “When I received the call of warning, I felt the health of the entire community depended on me, so I had to act.”

The Seattle Times put out a special section during the 2006 storm with a front-page warning (bit.ly/18lQ9c8) about the risks of carbon monoxide, printed in several languages for the area’s immigrant communities.

Ali’s ceremony will be streamed live on the White House website (www.whitehouse.gov/live) at 10:30 a.m. Seattle time on Tuesday.

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