Reza Jalali resigned as executive director of Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center after nearly three years at the helm. He declined to discuss his reasons for leaving, but said he is looking for another job. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Reza Jalali, a leader of Maine’s immigrant community for more than 30 years, has surprised many by resigning as executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center.

Jalali was hired in December 2020 to fill a position that was held by the center’s co-founder, Alain Jean Claude Nahimana, until his death in May of that year.

In announcing Jalali’s departure, the board of directors credited him with leading the center “to financial and organizational stability and health,” according to a statement from the board.

Jalali worked “tirelessly to strengthen and grow the board, add key personnel, develop sound policies and procedures, secure major grants and create numerous and valued community partnerships,” the statement said. During his tenure, the center’s staff increased from four to 26 and its budget grew from about $400,000 to nearly $3 million.

“His extraordinary talent for making connections and developing relationships with partners, communicating with many local immigrant communities (and) highlighting the value of the (center) to potential funders will be deeply missed,” the statement said.

Jalali leaves the center “in a very good position to move to the next level in its programming,” the Oct. 12 statement said.


“He did a great job. We appreciate all his work,” said board president Quang Nguyen, a financial adviser with Win Financial Strategies.

The center, located at 24 Preble St. in Portland, is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the immigrant community by helping newcomers acquire language and other skills necessary to participate fully in Maine’s economy and civic life.

Jalali has agreed to remain as an adviser to the center through the end of the year to assist with the transition to new leadership, as needed, the board’s statement said.

Jalali, 69, declined to discuss why he left the center. He described the executive director position as the “dream job” he had prepared for all of his life. He said he is looking for another job.

Deqa Dhalac, a South Portland city councilor and Democratic state representative, said she was shocked to learn recently that Jalali was no longer at the center. She is a co-founder and director of Cross Cultural Community Services, an organization that had been in talks with Jalali to provide diversity and inclusion training to the center’s staff.

“It really surprised us,” Dhalac said. “I’ve known Reza for a long time, and knowing that he revitalized the center with staffing, funding and new programming, it was really surprising. He did a lot of good work.”


Jalali said he strived to increase immigrant participation in the center’s board and day-to-day operations; financial and organizational transparency; connections with the wider nonprofit and business communities; and funding opportunities for additional programming.

He pointed to several recent initiatives that were forged with his leadership, including Maine’s first Islamic-compliant home loan program with Androscoggin Bank; cooking and nutrition classes sponsored by Hannaford and the Good Shepherd Food Bank; Maine’s first communal Shabbat and Ramadan dinner with the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine; and weekly Chai Hours for older new Mainers, funded by the Southern Maine Area Agency on Aging.

The center also launched its Women Lead program this year with a $519,000 federal grant to empower immigrant women to reach economic self-sufficiency through the pursuit of their professional, entrepreneurial or educational goals.

An Iranian Kurd and former refugee, Jalali has lived in Maine since 1985. He is an award-winning author, educator, Muslim scholar and human rights advocate who has held a variety of teaching and administrative positions with the University of Southern Maine and the former Bangor Theological Seminary.

He began his career working in social services for the city of Portland, Ingraham Inc. and the state. He has spoken widely, including at Amnesty International conferences, high schools, colleges and universities, the Moth Radio Hour and the Blaine House in Augusta.

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, said she enjoyed collaborating with Jalali on civic engagement efforts and the Women Lead program.

Chitam said she met and became friends with Jalali when she arrived in the United States from Zambia in 2000 and began working as an administrative assistant at USM. At that time, Jalali managed operations and writing programs at USM’s Stone House Center, and he later headed the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

“The Immigrant Welcome Center is a very important organization,” Chitam said. “I am in conversations with the board president about what we can do to support the organization through this transition.”

The center is actively seeking executive director candidates, the statement said.

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