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Launching a center where Minnesotans of East African descent can get help overcoming addiction has long been Yussuf Shafie's goal. But when the time came to craft a name for the facility, he nixed the words "treatment" and "addiction."

In the newly opened Alliance Wellness Center in Bloomington, Shafie will wage battle not just on substance abuse, but also on the profound stigma of mental illness in the Somali community. The recent University of Minnesota graduate hopes he has an edge as a community insider.

"I know people in my community need these services," he said. "I want to empower them to seek help."

The outpatient center might seem like an ambitious venture for the young social worker. But Kate Erickson, Shafie's supervisor during an internship and temporary position at the Community-University Health Care Center in Minneapolis, says Shafie is a born overachiever.

She met him 12 years after he had arrived in America speaking no English. By 2013, he was working on his master's degree in social work and running a Burnsville restaurant he had recently opened. "Yussuf is a unique person with more tenacity than most," said Erickson.

Now, Shafie is wrapping up a job as a Minneapolis school social worker to open the new center, which will focus on serving East and West African refugees. He says too many are reluctant to seek professional help for mental illness. Shafie hopes that as a Somali and practicing Muslim leading a diverse team of six professionals, he can readily build trust with clients.

David Schuchman, who facilitates a network of mental health providers serving African patients, says a few local facilities such as South East Homes in Minneapolis specialize in working with that population.

"I think there's a need," he said, "and the need will grow as the East African community becomes more acculturated and Americanized."

Mila Koumpilova • 612-673-4781