Ali Ashour was born and raised in Iraq. At the age of fifteen, he lost his father to the war. Shortly, he moved to Syria, where he remained for over a year before relocating to the U.S. In 2008, at the age of seventeen, he finished high school in Virginia before moving to Maine to complete his education. He first studied Robotics and Automation Engineering but then changed course to pursue a degree in Psychology, which allowed him time to work to support his family while furthering his education. He began working as a language interpreter in the mental health field in 2016 and became a case manager in 2017. He worked both jobs until 2019 when he founded Hand of Mercy Health Care.

Ali Ashour founded Hand of Mercy because he felt able to create a better place to support clients, provide the right work environment and benefits to employees. With Hand of Mercy, he seeks to provide better mental health services to as many people as possible while ensuring a more supportive work environment for his employees. He has found significant success in these endeavors, and the agency currently has over one hundred and fifty clients and twenty employees, intending to expand further.

Why did you decide to create your own business?

There were multiple reasons, to be honest. First, a big part of it is that I have the experience and the ability to do this. I have experience in IT, and I have experience in the mental health field as a case manager and a language interpreter. Achievable, I can use my knowledge and experiences to build an agency that can provide both a higher quality of services for our clients and a higher quality of employment for those who choose to work with us. 

Second, as a refugee, I feel that this country has given me a lot, and I want to give back to this country and my community. Living in Maine has helped me feel better connected to the United States, so I think it’s only natural that I want to give back. I believe  I can give back to the community, and Hand of Mercy Health Care is a part of that.

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

I love connecting with people, and I love saving lives. Every year here in Maine, homeless people die out in the streets. They don’t have housing or any shelter, they don’t have any support, and many of them have mental health issues on top of it all. We’re losing people every winter, and I aim to prevent that from happening. One of my primary goals is to reach a point where we’re not seeing anyone die in the cold, out in the streets. Helping people, saving people, and changing lives, is what I love about Hand of Mercy.

What does a typical day consist of for you?

I typically start my day at seven am, and my first step is to go pick up my younger siblings to drop them off at their schools. Then I eat breakfast, and I’m in the office no later than nine am. In theory, I work until six pm, but there are many days when I don’t leave the office until midnight. Many days I continue working from home. I review all of the work at Hand of Mercy to verify that everything is done accurately and ethically, and sometimes that takes time. 

As a business owner, I work hard to confirm that my employees get the training, IT support they may need, and they are paid reliably every week. My days are busy and stressful, but I’ve become accustomed to managing stress ever since my time as a refugee, so I’m used to it.

What keeps you motivated?

What motivates me is the improvement I can make for others and myself. We are making noticeable changes in our community. We are making progress, and that progress has been a continual motivation for me.

What moves me on is that I don’t know how to give up.

How do you motivate others?

The way I motivate others is by praising them when they do the right thing, and explaining to them that what they do is precious – their role is precious, and they are saving human lives. Even the little things they do, like submitting housing applications for clients, count as achievements. That person is homeless, in the streets with no other support besides their case manager. So I motivate them by showing them just how much they’re doing for their clients.

As an example, we have one client who was homeless for 20 years. He worked with many other local agencies, but they could not find housing for him. They could not get him the help he needed. One of our case managers was able to find him housing in only 2 months. I hope to write an article about the effort our case manager put to help this population.

How has your company grown from its early days to now?

I decided back when I started this agency that profit is not the priority. The priority is quality. To that end, I spend a lot on the tools that my employees need to do their jobs smoothly and easily. To ensure a smooth workflow, we do everything electronically – we don’t use paper documents – and I provide for my employees all the tools they need to maintain that workflow. I also provide higher pay to my employees, better benefits, regular training, and I cover the costs of continued education. This is an expensive way to do business, but it allows me to provide consistent quality for my clients, as well as attract the most qualified people for the job.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My inspiration comes from my desire to give back to the community. I want to give back to the place that gave me safety and gave me a home. I was able to help my family and help myself change for the better, so I decided that I can help others to change their lives for the better as well. That is how I can do something for this community.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

My father and my uncle. They were both killed in Iraq – my father in 2006 and my uncle in 2007. They were both young men when they were killed, and I was only 16. But they taught me how to be a wise man, and a responsible man, and they taught me how never to give up. Their energy inspires me to this day. I have never met two people who have similar energies to them. When I think about the things they told me and taught me, it still inspires me to do the right thing.

How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

I take responsibility, and I do what it takes to do the right thing. When there’s something I must do, I just do it. I use my time wisely, but to be honest, I’m not trusting enough in this position. To be able to do all of this at the same time, I don’t give myself enough time to rest. From the day I started this agency to today, I haven’t taken a single day off and I haven’t gone on vacation. I used to hike and camp regularly, but I’ve stopped. Hand of Mercy is what I do.

That said, I do still find a bit of time to go on walks. I enjoy walking, and it helps me to manage my stress. I walk close to the ocean, where I can see the beach and the moon and the stars. It helps me to think clearly about everything, and it’s stress relieving, but it is the only activity I do now outside work.

What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?

I believe the experiences I had helped carry on traits to carry me on in life and to help carry others throughout my work. I care deeply for my community and the people in it. I’m very detail-oriented, and I put my full effort into what I do. I handle pressure well, and feel a powerful drive toward achieving my goals.

What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?

They have to love what they do. They have to do it out of love, not out of profit or out of anything else. Of course people are driven by profit, but it shouldn’t be the only or the main reason to do this job, because this job requires a lot of emotions and feelings. You are dealing with people’s mental health. Employees who would work for you will have to deal with a lot of anxiety and stress, which can lead to depression. It requires care and love, and you have to think about that before you think about profit.