When Adnan “Eddie” El-Helou’s father was 7 years old, he became an orphan, his family a victim of the strife that marked the closing days of the Ottoman Empire.
An orphanage in Lebanon took in the struggling child and helped him grow up strong, even teaching him a trade — carpentry.
Applying that trade, El-Helou’s father raised 11 children. The fifth among them was Eddie El-Helou.As part of his own long and tangled journey, the younger El-Helou came to the United States in 1972, eventually winding up in Arroyo Grande, where he owns a jewelry store in The Village.
But selling jewelry is not the only thing on El-Helou’s plate. He also works to help his community, an endeavor that last week earned him a resolution from the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors, which honored him for what Sheriff Ian Parkinson called “countless donated hours to the sheriff’s office and his community.”
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El-Helou, 65, sat in his office next to the jewelry store last week and told his story, one that led to his involvement in his town.
To him, it is about repaying a debt.
He’s saying “thank you” to the United States because of what an American orphanage in Lebanon did for his father all those decades ago, he said.
El-Helou also is carrying out a principle instilled in him when he was a child: community responsibility.
“This is our home,” he said. “I’m proud of my home, my country. I have a responsibility as a citizen to make a difference.”
That conviction is one of the pillars on which he has built his life. Another is religion. El-Helou studied to be a priest in the Greek Orthodox church, and he still says “my faith is my strength.”
Patriotism also drives him. The United States, he said, “adopted me and gave me an opportunity.”
And, finally, there is family. He has to fight off tears when he talks about the sacrifices of his father and mother. El-Helou and his wife, Dorothy, have two children, one of whom is a police officer in Fresno.
El-Helou’s volunteer work covers a lot of territory — helping with floods and parades, looking for suspicious activities. But much of his activity involves fighting graffiti.
El-Helou learned the deleterious consequences of graffiti the hard way, when he co-owned a jewelry store in the Monterey County community of King City.
He said he watched as graffiti began to proliferate there. It usually means there are gangs, he said, and where there are gangs, there are drugs, crime and violence.
El-Helou says he knew a man who was thinking of opening a store in King City but changed his mind when he saw the graffiti.
“It compromises a town economically,” El-Helou said.
He formed a volunteer patrol in King City, then later moved to Arroyo Grande, where he continues to pay back his community.
He encourages others to do the same.
“There’s such a good feeling when you go home, that you did something, even if it’s only helping a family find a lost dog.”
El-Helou said Americans sometimes don’t realize how lucky they are. He tells of when his mother came to visit. As they were driving around, she asked, “Where are the checkpoints?”
“We don’t have checkpoints in America,” El-Helou noted.
And that deserves not only recognition, but involvement on the part of those who live here and benefit from freedom.