Lisbon Police Department presented Deo Gratias, a new member of Lisbon, with a new bicycle to help him get to his volunteer stint at the Lisbon Transfer Department. From left is Interim Police Chief Ryan McGee, School Resource Officer Renee Bernard, Deo Gratias, Officer Shawn Kelly and Detective Chris Sibley. Lisbon Police Department photo

LISBON — When Lisbon police learned Deo Gratias, an African asylum seeker who recently moved to Lisbon, needed a way to get to the town’s transfer station where he volunteers, they jumped at the chance to help him.

The department purchased a new bicycle for Gratias and equipped it with safety lights and a basket.

Gratias, 41, an asylum-seeker who has been in the U.S. for about six months, has struggled to find a place to live even with assistance through the town’s General Assistance program, which  provides basic necessities like rent but doesn’t pay for the apartment deposit most landlords require. He found himself homeless until he met a man recently who let him live in a camper for a month and then move into a Lisbon apartment he owns.

As part of federal requirements, Gratias said he is required to volunteer, which he does helping at Lisbon’s transfer station. But he needed a way to get there, which is where Lisbon Police stepped in.

When Gratias was presented with the new bicycle last week, Gratias said he was surprised. He had been getting a ride from a transfer station employee who since retired, and then was borrowing a bicycle.

The new bicycle handles much better and he’s able to get to the transfer station almost 3 miles from his home. In bad weather, he calls the transfer station for a ride.

“It’s a nice gift,” Gratias said.

While the police are often seen as authoritative figures, they aren’t often seen as helpers as they have been for him, Gratias said.

Interim Police Chief Ryan McGee said Gratias is a very driven individual and police wanted to find a way to help him.

“It’s not too often we get the opportunity to help someone else who is pursuing their dreams,” McGee said. “Every day we try to make a difference in someone’s life. It’s important we do what we can.”

Volunteering at the transfer station gives Gartias confidence to know he can work well with the employees there as well as with the public to do a task and contribute to the community. Members of the community have helped him, bringing him some furniture for his apartment and giving him rides to the store and doing his laundry since he has no washer and dryer. Without the help, he’d be homeless and starving, he said.

Now he aims to become less dependent. As an immigrant seeking asylum in the U.S., a process that can take as long as four years, Gratias can’t work for pay until the government processes and approves his application, a process that can take months.

Gratias said he believes he will make his way in the U.S. His background is in environmental management and climate and he has a degree in agriculture and a bachelor’s in education.

“The American dream is the great opportunity they give me to work as a resident and even become a citizen with a lot of opportunities,” Gratias said. “My dream is the American dream.”

 

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