Adele Ngoy, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is stitching together an incredibly diverse community here in Southern Maine, one dress at a time.

Seven years ago, Ngoy founded Women United Around the World, a Portland-based nonprofit that celebrates the ethnic traditions, food and fashion of new Mainers. Being a dress designer, she organized an annual fashion show and taught sewing classes for female immigrants.

The fashion show is always heartwarming, but this year’s event at the Italian Heritage Center – the organization’s first ticketed gala – brought things up a couple notches.

“I have a very good team of women who work together,” Ngoy said. “We wanted to do a gala, and, after eight years, we’re growing up!”

“Being her daughter, I’ve watched this event grow from an idea in her head – and I’m in awe right now,” said Marielle Thete. “There are a lot of communities represented.”

“We made it a little fancier,” said Lisa DiGiovanni, vice president of the board of directors. “We also turned it into more of a fundraiser. I love seeing women together from all over the world and seeing the empowerment and connection.”

“This is a great organization that showcases how diverse Maine is getting,” said Akech Allolding, a Liberian American from Saco.

“It’s often hard for people who are new here to feel welcome,” said Trace Salter, who teaches English at Portland Adult Ed. “But a night like this makes them feel welcome.”

“There are so few opportunities in the city to go into a fundraiser like this with so much ethnic diversity,” said Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland. “I’m having a wonderful time. Tonight I’m really proud of Portland.”

“I fell in love with the concept and the mission of the organization, because I’m an immigrant myself as well as an immigration attorney,” said board member Aga Asbury, originally from Poland. “We want to help all female immigrants to be able to provide for themselves.”

“This is the first time ever that we’ve been able to get sponsors, donors and silent auction items. Every company that we asked gave us something,” said Dorothy Olaru, treasurer of the board of directors. “After today’s event, the organization will be able to do what we are focusing on, which is to get industrial sewing machines.”

“A couple of months ago I joined a sewing class,” said Djima Ainan, an immigrant from Djibouti. “I came with no skills, not even knowing how to use the machine.” She walked the runway, proudly modeling the dress she made herself for the gala, saying, “You can find a job easily by knowing how to sew.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

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