Throughout high school, Rafat Solaiman was certain that helping others was his calling and felt compelled to help solve the unique needs of his community in St. Peter, Minn. As an incoming University of Minnesota Medical School student, he hopes to make an even bigger impact as a physician.

“I started my nonprofit during my junior year of high school. I was working in a local food shelf and noticed a lot of empty shelves,” Solaiman said. “The director talked about how difficult fundraising is and how a lot of people don’t realize that the majority of food shelves aren’t government funded —it's mostly coming from the public.”

Solaiman was encouraged by his father to seek a solution.

“My dad said, ‘If you really feel passionate about the problem, then you should do something about it,’” Solaiman said. “So, I came up with the idea of Fasting For Friends.”

Fasting For Friends grew from a single concept into a full-fledged nonprofit organization, aiding food shelves across Minnesota with individually tailored aid. 

“The initial concept was that, if you fast for a meal, you are technically saving money, and you can track your savings and donate to a food shelf of your choice. That eventually evolved into us becoming an organization with a mission to aid underfunded and understaffed food shelves,” Solaiman said. “Our mission is to assess what food shelves are the most in need throughout Minnesota, seek out their individual needs and contact them to figure out how we can work with them.”

Solaiman understands the unique needs of individual food shelves, coupling his nonprofit’s outreach to a personalized aid strategy. For example, his organization has previously partnered with Community Emergency Services, a Minneapolis food shelf in the Phillips neighborhood, which serves a diverse population.

“I had never thought of the need for culturally specific foods, which can end up being very expensive. So, we held a fundraiser for an entire month focused on culturally specific foods. We were able to donate around 2,000 meals,” Solaiman said. “That exemplifies our process of identifying specific food shelves in need: working with them, listening to their needs instead of assuming and then trying to deliver on the need that they have.”

Solaiman is integrating his knack for serving others into his education. He is one of just ten students selected for the BA/MD Joint Admission Scholars Program, an opportunity to complete both a bachelor’s degree from the U of M and a medical degree from the U of M Medical School in seven years. The pipeline program admits up to 10 students directly from high school who have an interest in meeting the healthcare needs of Minnesota’s diverse patient population and provides mentorship and scholarship support.

“I’m extremely excited to meet my class,” Solaiman said. “It's really exciting to have classmates who are not only coming from very different ages, but different backgrounds and experiences.”

Though he’s one of the youngest students entering medical school, Solaiman isn’t fazed.

“I’m excited for the challenge of medical school,” he said. “I know that it’s definitely going to be tough but I’m excited to be around some brilliant minds who will make it all worth it.”