Celebrating a quarter-century of helping new Mainers find a path to citizenship, the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project raised $70,000 at its 15th annual CeleSoiree March 22 at Portland’s Ocean Gateway.

“People had the option to purchase an extra ticket, and a lot of people did,” said Executive Director Sue Roche, adding that the 310 guests included 70 members of the immigrant community, thanks to Maine Community Foundation and individual donors.

Guests mingled during a silent auction and cocktail party with an international buffet featuring Maiz Colombian Street Food, Sichuan Kitchen and The Sinful Kitchen (serving Filipino noodle dish pancit bihon). Palaver Strings, a 14-person string ensemble founded in Boston, performed pieces from various ethnic traditions and announced plans to open a community music school in Portland later this year to make high-quality music education available to students of all backgrounds.

Then CeleSoiree got to the heart of what ILAP does, as Jolly Kampemana, an immigrant from Burundi, addressed the crowd with the help of a translator and, along with his wife Agne Habonimana, thanked ILAP – over and over. They also thanked their “American family” – Henry, June and Nikki Gagnon of Westbrook – who wanted to help when the young couple and their four children arrived from Canada. “Now we really are like one big family,” said Nikki Gagnon.

“We are human beings,” said emcee Tom Douglas, an attorney at Douglas McDaniel & Campo in Westbrook. “We all want and deserve the same things: freedom from religious persecution and political persecution, food security, the right and opportunity to make a decent living and to provide a better life for ourselves and our children.”

“I’m a second-generation American on both sides of my family, and it’s so important that these families be given the same chances for safety and opportunity that my family had,” said attorney Alysia Melnick of sponsor Bernstein Shur. “ILAP provides a needed and unique service and voice for Maine’s immigrant and asylum-seeking population who have questions about immigration law.”

It takes an army of more than 250 volunteers, including 178 members of the pro bono panel, to provide immigration legal services for about 3,000 Mainers a year. To support that work, guests raised their bid numbers to donate nearly $20,000, and the 18-member board of directors pledged another $10,000.

“ILAP provides legal services at low cost or no fee basis to immigrants in the state to try to help them obtain legal status in the United States,” said board President Leslie Silverstein, an immigration lawyer. “Clients include asylum cases, juveniles abandoned in the United States, women who have suffered domestic violence and many others.”

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

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