Participants in the Office of Economic Opportunity’s Dance Mile make their way down Pearl Street on Sept. 14. The event was one of several held to celebrate diversity during Welcoming Week. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — When more than 400 asylum-seekers came to the city fleeing danger and unrest in their home countries, local organizations such as the YMCA of Southern Maine rallied together to provide community support.

As part of Welcoming Week, individuals at the Greater Portland YMCA have marked where in the world they are from. The event, which runs through Sept. 23, celebrates diversity in the community. Courtesy / YMCA of Southern Maine

Now, with many of those individuals transitioning to permanent housing, the organization has been taking time over the past few days to show the Portland area is a welcoming community year-round. Beginning on Sept. 13, the YMCA joined forces with the city’s Office of Economic Opportunity and Welcoming America to celebrate Welcoming Week, an effort to highlight the contributions immigrants and refugees making in their local communities.

“With all the asylum-seekers coming into Portland over the summer, it’s more and more important to make those new to our community feel welcome. We have always been committed to welcoming new Mainers and finding ways to support them,” YMCA of Southern Maine Executive Director Helen Breña said.

While many in the community and across the state know YMCA for its healthy living and youth development programs, Breña said providing services to immigrants is a big part of what the YMCA does, making participation in Welcoming Week a natural fit.

“It’s part of our history,” she said.

The city’s office of economic opportunity was also happy to get involved and organized a Dance Mile, in which dozens of people danced to global music through the streets of downtown.

“Welcoming Week is an exciting opportunity to celebrate, among others around the country, that Portland is a global city, a city of neighbors where all individuals, from all backgrounds, races, ethnicities and countries of origins are welcome, celebrated and valued,” Julia Trujillo Luengo, director of the city’s Office of Economic Opportunity said. “As our city becomes more diverse, it also becomes more vibrant.”

Throughout Welcoming Week, the rotunda at City Hall has been featuring the writing and artwork of children in the school department’s Before and After the Bell program. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

“Welcoming Week allows the city of Portland to celebrate the values that unite us as neighbors, parents, and colleagues, and to make our great city even more welcoming to newcomers and to everyone who calls our community home,” Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Specialist Mandy Levine said. “The city is committed to not only diversifying its workforce so that it better mirrors the city’s population, but also to creating and maintaining an inclusive and equitable work culture where employees of all backgrounds and perspectives feel heard, respected and connected.”

Welcoming Week is an initiative of Welcoming America, an organization set up a decade ago to unite immigrants and community members. Last year Welcoming Week included more than 2,000 events in 400 communities.

“These events are part of a powerful and growing movement in our country and around the world, demonstrating that communities want to be welcoming,” Welcoming America Executive Director Rachel Peric said. “Welcoming Week is a reminder of the resilient and inclusive spirit of American communities. Thousands of local leaders nationwide are bringing their communities together to bridge divides and build stronger local economies where everyone belongs.”


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