A month ago when several other nonprofits were canceling events or moving them online in light of troubling COVID-19 statistics, ProsperityME founder Claude Rwaganje didn’t even prepare remarks because he didn’t know if the nonprofit’s 13th annual block party at Thompson Point would happen.

But, as it turns out, 150 supporters were willing to show proof of vaccination at check-in, wear masks when indoors for the awards presentation, and take their Jamaican dinner from Yardie Ting to go.

For ProsperityME leaders and students – refugees and other immigrants adapting to a new country, its language and financial system – jumping through a few extra pandemic-related hoops for the Sept. 16 block party wasn’t a deal-breaker.

“It’s a choice that you make,” Rwaganje said. “Whether you are a sponsor, a donor, a friend, a partner organization, a student or staff, all of you who are here tonight, I want to say thank you for being here to share the accomplishments of our program over the year.”

In 2019, 400 people came to the ProsperityME block party. In 2020, it was virtual. And this year, it was intentionally smaller but no less inspirational.

“Every time we have this celebration, the most inspiring thing is listening to the stories of immigrants and their personal testimonies about how ProsperityME has helped them thrive in America,” said board member Gregory Hansel, an attorney and partner at Preti Flaherty.

Student panelists included Gabriel Sibomana, who came to the United States from Rwanda two years ago and studied English with Portland Adult Education and financial literacy with ProsperityME. Last year, the nonprofit awarded him a Prosper Scholarship, and he is studying computer science at Southern Maine Community College.

“ProsperityME helps you to not waste time,” Sibomana said. “All the information that immigrants need to get integrated into the community – housing, school, language learning – they have all these resources. ProsperityME is a game-changer. Now when I look at my life and the 11 siblings I have back home, I want to change their stories and to be part of the social economic impact that our community needs.”

Rwaganje presented the Commitment to Service award to Mufalo Chitam, executive director of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, a network of 77 organizations representing diverse ethnic communities across Maine. The award was in recognition of the coalition’s support of asylum seekers at the Expo Center in 2019 and for advocacy for the health and safety of people of color during the pandemic.

The Outstanding Community Partner award was presented to In Her Presence in honor of the nonprofit’s colloborative leadership on Charting Your Course, an economic empowerment program for immigrant women funded by the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation.

Volunteer of the Year was presented to board member Tara Jenkins, founder of Conscious Revolution, a Portland-based consultancy that works with business leaders to build conscious companies that transform how work is done and business is run. Rwaganje said, “Her tireless work and design have shaped ProsperityME into what it is today.”

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


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