“Our most important work right now is reaching students no one else can reach,” said Heather Davis, executive director of LearningWorks, at the nonprofit’s 50th anniversary bash on Nov. 15 at the historic U.S. Custom House on Commercial Street in Portland.

“We are here for students who need to learn English but can’t afford an education. We are here for students who can’t find their way in the traditional education system. We are here for kids who have fallen into the criminal justice system and need a way out.”

Guests mingled in the landmark’s Customs Hall and perused a photo exhibit from LearningWorks’ 50 Stories Project, featuring photos of students, clients, staff and volunteers who have had a direct impact on the organization’s success over the years. Liz Leddy, a LearningWorks alum, was the featured speaker.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills was joined by Colleen Tucker, an attorney with Preti Flaherty; Victoria Bonebakker, a former board member of LearningWorks; Charlie Miller, founder of The Children’s Initiative; and Sarah Campbell, director of the Portland Public Library.

Xavier Botana, Portland’s superintendent of schools, chatted with Adele Ngoy, president of Women United Around the World, and Anja Hanson of Portland Adult Education. Alain Nahimana, executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Center of Greater Portland, was joined by Mary Allen Lindemann, co-founder of Coffee By Design, and Damas Rugaba, board chair of the Immigrant Welcome Center.

“LearningWorks has been a road to success for thousands of Maine children who otherwise wouldn’t have made it,” said Mills, admiring the crowd of supporters. “Students that no one else could reach. We need a LearningWorks and this kind of programming everywhere in the state of Maine.”

“They are a great partner to the schools here in Portland,” Botana said of the nonprofit that provides free community-based education programming for children and families throughout southern Maine. “It’s a place where many of our kids go to get a great opportunity to learn that extends what they learn during the school day.”

“We bring our students from a place of struggle and hopelessness to a graduation stage, to the workforce and into the community,” said Davis, who is marking her first year as executive director. “I am so grateful to everyone who joined us to mark our 50th anniversary and support the work we are doing with students across Maine.”

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

[email protected]

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