Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Maine’s only statewide immigration legal services organization, marked 30 years with its Journey Toward Justice fundraiser Oct. 19 at Innovation Hall at the University of New England in Portland.

“The fact that ILAP has been providing free legal services for 30 years is amazing,” said board member Jenny Beverly of Westbrook. “It’s older than Google.”

The 250 guests included community sponsors and donors, pro bono attorneys and other volunteers, current and former staff and board members, and immigrants who have become community leaders in business, government, nonprofits and the arts.

“The community has been behind ILAP since its foundation, and you can see that in this room,” said Executive Director Sue Roche. “People stay committed to ILAP over the years because they care about the mission of the organization and the immigrant community.”

When ILAP’s founding executive director Beth Stickney hired Roche in 2000, they were the only two staff members. Today, a staff of 30 and over 250 volunteers – many of them pro bono attorneys – provide legal assistance or education for thousands of new Mainers annually.

“ILAP is the hope of new Mainers,” said staff member Eric Munyentwari. A Rwandan immigrant who has been in Maine a little over a year, he says he sees people show up to asylum assistance orientation meetings in tears and leave relieved to have the information they need.


With dozens of corporate and individual sponsors, ticket sales, donations and a matching contribution from the George J. and Theresa L. Cotsirilos Family Foundation, the event raised $60,000.

During the cocktail reception, guests enjoyed a globally inspired buffet of African, Asian, Latin and Middle Eastern food. Guests who completed four engagement activities – a letter to a Congress member, a note of appreciation, getting creative with Ghanan symbols provided by artist Ebeneezer Akakpo and completing a survey – were entered into a raffle for a two-night stay in a yurt or a basket of gifts from immigrant-owned businesses.

“People have been loving these activities and saying that they have been an engaging way to spend time at this event,” said volunteer Julia Gooding.

Capping off the event was a concert by the Bilad El-Sham Ensemble led by Syrian-born rapper Assasi, whose original works are in Arabic. He was accompanied by Bates College student Mavy Le on violin, Peter Dugas on accordion, Duane Edwards on bass guitar and Eric LaPerna on a goblet drum and Persian flute.

“The reason behind Bilad El-Sham is to share unity through music,” Assasi said, adding that the group’s name translates to “land of the masses.”

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

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