PORTLAND – Beth Stickney began the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project as a one-woman operation. After more than a decade at the helm of the legal assistance and advocacy organization, Stickney is leaving to pursue new adventures with her family in Italy.

Stickney said the nonprofit will move forward without her. The 10-person staff is seasoned, the board of directors is energized and the finances are in good shape, she said.

Those factors meant she felt comfortable about the international job search of her husband, Ken Kunin, former principal of Deering High School. He’ll start July 1 as a secondary principal at the American Overseas School of Rome, a post he expects to stay in for two to four years.

“I wouldn’t have actually encouraged my husband to look at overseas schools if I didn’t think it was a good time,” she said.

In 2000, Stickney hired the agency’s first staff attorney: Sue Roche, the current supervising attorney. Since then, the organization has helped more than 2,000 people get their green cards, more than 400 become citizens and more than 200 to win asylum. It helped another 70 noncitizen victims of domestic violence gain legal status and 80 to win deportation cases.

When Yakelin Pimentil arrived in the United States from Cuba a decade ago, she spoke just a few words of English and had little idea of how to gain citizenship for herself and her son. Stickney — thankfully fluent in Spanish — explained the process step by step, and the agency helped Pimentil through it.

“I send people over there. I know this organization is great,” said Pimentil, a temporary dental assistant who also works in retail and customer service.

Immigration matters make up the bulk of the agency’s work. These days, there’s a wave of asylum seekers from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as ethnic Somalis from Djibouti.

Other assistance deals with work permits and temporary protective status, as in the case of Haitians after the 2010 quake.

More recently, they’ve handled dozens of cases a year involving U.S. citizens — mostly born in Canada — who haven’t been able to get driver’s licenses after a change in state law required them to prove that they were legally in the United States.

Lori Londis Dwyer, board president, has confidence in the people who will start running the agency without Stickney next week. “We’re sad to see her go. She’s amazing. But it’s a good time, if she had to cut the cord,” Dwyer said.

The search committee’s work dovetails with a strategic planning process that was under way before Stickney announced her resignation. That assessment of the organization and its goals will help define the role of the next executive director.

Development Director Hayden Anderson will serve as interim executive director. He said Stickney has built the organization into an agency with strong community support, as evidenced by its more than 100 regular volunteers and more than 80 lawyers on the pro bono panel.

“It’s a special person to create something like that and to create something that’s going to have legs when she leaves,” he said.

While Stickney is able to live in Italy while her husband is working there, she won’t have a work permit. Stickney is looking forward to time with their 10-year-old daughter, Simi, and studying Italian full time at least through the fall. She hope to volunteer in an organization dealing with immigration issues.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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