Community supporters Mary Allen Lindemann and Charlie Miller hosted their third annual Metamorphosis Awards in a small reception in Miller’s West End garden Sept. 17 honoring leaders of innovative programs for teens promoting education, leadership, civic engagement, and self-expression through the arts.

“We’re honoring four people in Greater Portland who dedicate their lives to serving others,” Miller said. “We recognize all that’s good in our community and how much more powerful we are working together.”

The honorees were Abdullahi Ali, founder and chief executive officer of Gateway Community Services; Shima Kabirigi, interim director of Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center; Jen Pierce, unit director of the Portland Clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine; and Elizabeth Lau, community programs director for Portland Youth Dance.

“I am extremely honored to receive this award alongside three amazing leaders in our community,” said Ali, a former Somali refugee who settled in Maine in 2009. “This is not about one person; it’s for my colleagues, friends and family who have believed in my vision and worked tirelessly to make a difference.”

Gateway’s civic engagement programs have served more than 350 young people, mostly refugees and recent immigrants.

“Abdullahi is such a visionary,” said Kate Fahey, director of programs. “He brings so many people together.”

Kabirigi, the interim executive director of Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and settled in Portland at 14. As a high school student, she participated in The Telling Room’s Young Writers & Leaders program, which was supported by Miller. Years later, she co-led the program with Sonya Tomlinson, who received a Metamorphosis Award last year.

“This feels full circle,” Kabirigi said, “because there are many connecting pieces.”

The third honoree, Pierce, became the longest running employee of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine this year, just as the after-school program morphed into a full-day program to complement hybrid school schedules in response to COVID-19.

“She has developed critical community partnerships that together create a web of support for Portland’s kids and teens,” said Karen MacDonald, chief operating officer. “She has been a champion for kids who have a hard time fitting in.”

The fourth honoree also works closely with the Boys & Girls Clubs, having run Portland Youth Dance community programs for the past eight years for Casco Bay Movers dance studio.

Lau shrugged off the praise, saying, “The kids I get to work with often end up teaching me more about the world and life than I teach them.”

Tiffanie Panagakos, who received a Metamorphosis Award last year for her own work with the Boys & Girls Clubs, said, “Dance is so important, especially for kids who are immigrants and don’t speak English well. They can freely express themselves through dance. Elizabeth keeps it accessible.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]

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