Along the 9300 block of West Bellfort, the Raindrop Turkish Center and the Istanbul Conference Center combine to provide a treasure to all Brays Oaks Management District residents and well beyond.

While the curriculum for the private school on site includes lessons in the Turkish language, in the same building as a mosque and a cafe’ serving Turkish coffee and other delights, The Raindrop Foundation operates the facility as a community center open to everyone. It built the structures in 2008 and 2010.

Sitting near major freeways on the southwest side of Houston near Fort Bend County, the complex has gathered people of all backgrounds, religions and heritages at events such as children’s festivals, art festivals, health fairs, relief giveaway events, and business networking events; along with a variety of free programming for people of all ages. There is no membership fee to join their programs or events, and the conference center provides access to celebrations and meetings that reflect the city’s diversity of backgrounds and interests.

The Foundation states its vision “to establish bridges between the Turkic and American cultures and communities by providing easily accessible educational, social, and cultural services. Services are provided with the intention of contributing to global peace at the grassroots level by sharing Turkic countries’ heritage of tolerance and understanding.”

Turkic countries include Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic.

“We want to find common grounds for all of the cultures and find solutions to all of the problems we share,” said Orhan Osman, president of the American Turkic Business Council. “We do not just gather and help Turkic origin communities, which are also very diverse and come from several countries, but we embrace all communities. We aim to have an interfaith and intercultural dialog.”

To that extent, the complex hosts a Thanksgiving dinner where they feed from 300 to 400 neighbors from every culture and walk of life. During the pandemic times, they held two food drives and a clothing  drive. All events were open to the public at large through postings on social media.

Fine arts programs and immigration services are also open to all and are free of charge. Cooking classes have been some of the most well attended programs but have gone online during the pandemic.

Sheer Alpaslan, director of the Raindrop Women’s Association, listed many offerings for families and children. Every program is run by volunteers. 

“We have panel discussions to empower women and we participate in International Women’s Day,” Alpaslan said. “We offer speakers on various topics; we offer a cultural program series that highlights various cultures. Some past ones included Nigeria and Mexican cultures where food and other cultural information was shared for the entire community. We offer language classes, English for refugees and immigrants, and we also offer Spanish language and Russian language.”

Services also include counseling, mentoring, job searches and business start-up support — along with furniture — for immigrants from any nation. 

Osman said many people from Turkey and nearby countries have moved to the Houston area.

“I would estimate there are about 10,000-12,000 of people from the Turkic countries in the Houston area,” Osman said. “The political and economic issues drive them to come here, but many are highly educated and come from successful businesses. They come with nothing and we try to help them establish businesses here.”

That’s not all. 

The complex also offers sports, piano lessons, a journalism club, photography, drawing class, embroidery class, drama club and other arts programs, all free except for supply fees.

“It is very important to help our community express themselves through art,” explained Nazli Cizmeci, director of Raindrop Dialog Institute of Southwest ,who oversees the great variety of programs.

The business arm of the center hosts networking events and brings in speakers on all kinds of economic and political topics. This includes a real estate and construction summit. 

“Our business networking events are sometimes half day events and draw a good number of businessmen,” Osman added. “We also average 65-75 local business owners at our monthly business networking luncheons.”

For information, visit www.raindrophouston.org.

— By Arlene Nisson Lassin