Supporters of immigrant initiatives, both nonprofit and entrepreneurial, celebrated the opening of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center on July 31 at a reception at Rines Auditorium at the Portland Public Library.

“This is exactly what immigrants, minorities and nonprofits need,” said board member Marpheen Chann-Berry, who was born to a Cambodian refugee family and recently earned a degree from the University of Maine School of Law. “Your investment will have an impact, a lasting impact. To have immigrants be welcomed in an open space right in downtown Portland means a lot.”

Current tenants include the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, New Mainers Tenants’ Association, Maine International Communication Consultants and New England Arab American Organization. Women United Around the World has a sewing classroom within the center to teach immigrant women commercial sewing skills.

“It’s symbolic that if we get together we can achieve more,” said Philemon Dushimire, an immigrant from Burundi representing the Maine Bridge Project.

“When we came here, to Portland, it was very difficult to know where to go,” said Nadine Pembele, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “This center is really a big solution, very helpful.”

The new facility on Preble Street is a place for collaboration, support and referrals with all the standard amenities of a co-working space but targeted at the needs of immigrants and their endeavors – individuals, nonprofits, entrepreneurs and startups.

“People are already sharing ideas and resources,” said board member Mary Allen Lindemann, co-owner of Coffee by Design, one of the center’s sponsors. “The minute the elevator doors open, you can see what the future looks like, and it is beautiful.”

Maine Community Foundation’s Broad Reach Fund invested in the project even before there was a board in place or a location secured, followed by sponsors Red Thread and Port Federal Credit Union, which outfitted workspaces with furniture and technology.

“I’ve been so moved by this project,” said Casey Gilbert, executive director of the nonprofit Portland Downtown. “I can’t wait to see all the magic that comes in the future.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be reached at:

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