THE IMMIGRANT OPPORTUNITY
Sazan Elsalakawy, originally from Egypt, sews together a sweatshirt at American Roots in Westbrook, where she’s part of a primarily immigrant staff of seamstresses. Photo by Gabe Souza.
Maine’s got plenty of immigrants who want jobs and an abundance of jobs to fill. Seems easy enough to put the two together, right? Only it’s not.
To solve severe labor shortages, Maine employers are increasingly looking to hire immigrants who are eligible to work in the United States. But immigrants often can’t just fill out job applications and then show up for work. These potential employees face myriad obstacles that keep them from joining the workforce.
Advocates for getting more immigrants into Maine jobs and making the most of their skills focus on three barriers: lack of language proficiency, difficulty acquiring credentialing for professionals, and cultural knowledge.
These barriers are being addressed on several fronts by municipalities, nonprofits and business coalitions in Maine.
In Portland, for example, the New Mainers Resource Center, which receives $75,000 a year in state funding and is operated through the city’s adult education program, concentrates on helping professionals find work in their fields, an often-complicated process that involves credentialing, transcript evaluation and meeting professional guidelines.
Hiring immigrants has been a great experience for one Westbrook employer who says it’s just taken some accommodation and patience – from both sides.
Advocates say increasing support for immigrants so they can be more involved in Maine’s workforce is critical to the state’s health, but opponents worry about associated costs, added bureaucracy and favoring outsiders.
CENTERPIECE, EDUCATION, POLITICS, TRANSPARENCY
The Maine Trust Project
INSTALLMENT 10: BOBBY BERGERON
For Bobby Bergeron, trust can depend a lot on where you live and how comfortable and confident you are with yourself.
INSTALLMENT 9: DONA EMERSON
Dona Emerson picks up hitchhikers. Most people, especially women, have been schooled in the dangers of giving strangers a ride, and Dona was no exception. “My (85-year-old) mother,” she said, “would kill me if she knew how many I’ve picked up.”
And yet, she still does it.
Why? Because Dona Emerson understands the importance of reaching out to people to create connections, and she values the role of trust in that endeavor.
INSTALLMENT 8: DEON LYONS
Deon Lyons has cancer. It’s advanced and the outlook is anything but cheery. But he’s not letting that get him down. His attitude is not surprising given one of his favorite words is “opportunity.”
“Opportunity” is a much better way of looking at what life has handed you then, say, “challenging,” which is the word most people would use to describe what he has faced over the course of his life.
Get to Know Deon Lyons
INSTALLMENT 7: AMANDA HUOTARI
When physical comedian Amanda Huotari was about 10 years old, in her hometown of South Paris, she saw an ordinary man transform himself.
You could argue that this man – the late master mime artist Tony Montanaro – was anything but ordinary. But, alone on the stage, dressed totally in white, without props, there was nothing to suggest what was about to happen.
Before Amanda’s young and amazed eyes, and without uttering a word or sound, he morphed from human-ness to rooster-ness.
Get to Know Amanda Huotari
INSTALLMENT 6: JOE REAGAN
Joe Reagan was just 22, a new graduate of Norwich University (a private military academy in Vermont) and had just completed 10 months of training as a second lieutenant in the Army when he arrived in Afghanistan for his first tour there with the 10th Mountain Division.
As a leader of a platoon of 28 men (women weren’t allowed in combat roles at the time) that scouted locations in advance of the rest of the division, he felt “extremely underqualified” for the role, he says. He was in a place that was unlike anything the Massachusetts native had experienced before.
Get to Know Joseph Reagan
INSTALLMENT 5: MYRON BEASLEY
When Myron Beasley moved to Maine 11 years ago to take a position teaching African American studies and American cultural studies at Bates College in Lewiston, he was determined to reach beyond the borders of the Bates campus to make connections with people in his new community.
As someone who has lived in and traveled to many places across the globe – Myron grew up in Israel, was schooled in Europe and the United States, and has done ethnographic field work in Haiti, Brazil, Morocco, and the United States, including here in Maine – he knows how to create community wherever he is.
Get to Know Myron M. Beasley
INSTALLMENT 4: MARIE HARNOIS
Four years ago – during the “coldest December ever” – Marie Harnois found herself doing something she couldn’t have imagined before: installing hoses to collect sap from sugar maple trees.
If you didn’t count the time as a child when she’d helped a friend’s family with their 30 buckets, Marie had not run a maple sugaring business before, and yet, here she was trying to do just that – and freezing her fingers in the process.
INSTALLMENT 3: JOE BLACK
Joe Black is a man living his dream. With a light in his eyes, a quick smile and a sense of humor that invites you in, he stocks shelves and engages customers at Renys department store on Front Street in Bath. He’s been doing his dream job for more than 20 years and says it’s the perfect job for him.
“I’m a firm believer that there are different kinds of dreams,” he said. “Some people want to be rock stars. Some people … want to be president. These are big, huge dreams – and big, huge dreams are awesome – but there’s nothing wrong with little dreams.”
INSTALLMENT 2: MIKE DOUGLAS
Finding common ground and engaging in civil conversations about important issues facing our communities, our state, our country and our world can seem elusive, if not sadly impossible.
In our second installment of "The Maine Trust Project", we speak with Mike Douglas of Augusta, for whom trust is about wholeheartedly investing in relationships, believing he'll get out of them what he puts into them.
INSTALLMENT 1: MARY BETTERLEY
Every day, 83-year-old Mary Betterley and her border terrier Raymond, aka, The Mayor, walk down the hill from their condo in Damariscotta to Main Street. Having lived in town for 40 years, Mary is greeting or greeted all along her way by most of those who are out and about.
Trust, for Mary, is a default position – she trusts unless given a reason not to. This attitude extends even to taking a risk with her life, as she did at age 65, when she found herself placing her toes on the edge of Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge at A.J. Hackett’s Bungy Centre outside Queenstown, New Zealand.
CENTERPIECE, CRIME, POLITICS
CRIME, POLITICS, TRANSPARENCY
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