On what happened to be Equal Pay Day, 540 supporters of the Maine Women’s Fund marked the nonprofit’s 30th anniversary with a luncheon and awards ceremony on April 2 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland that raised $100,000.

“Since 1989, we have made over 400 bold investments in over 200 organizations that have transformed the lives of Maine women and girls,” said Executive Director Megan Hannon. “For today, we chose awardees who tell the story of our 30 years and of women who have shaped the present and future of women and girls in Maine, like Gilda Nardone, who started out 40 years ago with her organization, then named Displaced Homemakers.”

“My first support group of midlife and older women wanted support, but they also wanted skills and guidance for understanding the economy, identifying and transferring their skills, and navigating the changing world of education and paid work,” Nardone said. “Our career and education planning classes today continue to provide these services. The impact of technology, women’s employment and training and economic security advocates, and women themselves have transformed how they research, the skills they need and the education and occupations that are available to them.”

Awardee Susan Roche, executive director of Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP), like Nardone, was there at the beginning of what has grown to be a strong Maine nonprofit. She was the first staff attorney at ILAP, which now has a staff of 17 supported by 178 pro bono attorneys.

“ILAP is the place immigrants in Maine turn to when they need help applying for asylum, self-petitioning for legal status as domestic violence or trafficking survivors, when they want to keep their family members from getting deported or when they want to become U.S. citizens,” Roche said. “The work of ILAP is really about changing one life at a time.”

Awardee Kimberley Acker Lipp is executive vice president of an organization that never applied for Maine Women’s Fund support: Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG). “We see Kim as a leader in making sure young women move forward with the support they need,” Hannon said, adding that JMG supports more than 9,000 students across the state.

“These are Maine kids growing up who have real-life challenges to overcome, and they are finding their potential and their talent and succeeding,” Lipp said. “JMG is playing a significant role in teaching our adolescents how to be effective leaders who prosper when they lead together.”

Featured grantee Fowsia Musse, executive director of Maine Community Integration, said that by the year the Maine Women’s Fund was founded – 1989 – she had already fled Somalia. “I was in the bushes of Ethiopia,” she said, “undergoing female genitalia mutilation without anesthesia at age 7.”

Musse, who came to the United States as an unaccompanied minor, runs a Maine Community Integration summer program in Lewiston called Isku-Filan, which, translated from Somali, means Strong Girl. “With this program, we hope to provide girls what many of us didn’t have,” she said. “We want these girls to know they are not alone. Maine Community Integration works toward providing safe and mentoring spaces to empower girls. Because of the Maine Women’s Fund, our program has become much stronger.”

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

[email protected]

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