“CeleSoireé is an amazing event,” said Anne Kemper, board member of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP), based in Portland. “People are coming out to support our immigrants, and we need to welcome them with open arms.”

A sold-out crowd of over 400 guests gathered at Ocean Gateway Terminal in Portland to do just that at ILAP’s 13th annual fundraiser on March 24. With an abundance of food, drink and spicy jazz music, compliments of Boston’s Feijoada, guests soaked up the joyful celebration and helped raise money for the organization that is the only one of its kind in Maine.

“There is a beautiful diversity of people in this room,” said Loretta Prescott, ILAP’s development director. “It’s a really important time right now because of this administration’s policies on immigration. They’re creating a lot of need in the community, and we’re the only immigration legal aid organization in Maine. ”

Anja Hanson of Portland Adult Education chatted with Molly Haley, photographer for the ILAP Portrait Project, and Kifah Abdulla, poet, visual artist and presenter. Adam Burk of Adam Burk and Co. and Treehouse Institute, was joined by Bree LaCasse, executive director of Friends of Congress Square Park, and Lucas St. Clair, president of Elliotsville Plantation.

“This is a reflection of our city’s values,” said Pious Ali, Portland city councilor, gazing about the crowded, festive room. He was joined by Beth Stickney, co-founder of ILAP, and her husband, Ken Kunin, superintendent of South Portland schools. “In a perfect world, this is what the world is supposed to look like, and Portland is already looking like that.”

“I didn’t choose to be a refugee,” said Iraqi-born Abdullah, speaking to the crowd that had gathered to listen to him recite a moving poem from his first book. “No one does. Each one of us has a story … I am very proud to be a U.S. citizen.”

Emcee Kerem Durdag was joined on stage by Mary Allen Lindemann, co-founder of Coffee By Design, to manage live bidding on an exclusive trip to Costa Rica with Coffee By Design. Dr. Susan Schraft and her husband, Rick Berne, of Falmouth were the lucky winners.

“We are a statewide immigration legal organization, and we help people gain legal status,” explained Susan Roche, executive director of ILAP. “We represent asylum seekers, domestic violence and trafficking victims, unaccompanied minors, and we help to reunite families. Tonight is an opportunity for people all across Maine to gather together, from diverse groups, and see the value they bring, and to support and embrace our immigrant community.”

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]