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Maine & Asylum-Seekers Stand Together for Community and Home (MATCH)

Linking asylum-seekers to community coalitions and experts in Maine promotes social and economic integration, bias reduction and diversity.

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

In June, 2019 Portland, Maine learned 300+ asylum-seekers from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola would arrive in days. They entered primarily via the southern US border. They fled home and experience/threats of violence, torture, or death due to political, religious, ethnic, or other internationally protected identity. Many heard Portland was welcoming with Congolese and Angolan communities. Maine is a rural, aging, majority white state except Portland, the most ethnically diverse city. Maine has an affordable housing shortage; worst in Portland. Asylum-seekers received emergency shelter in Portland June Aug. Short-term, they were housed with “host families” (thru fall 2019) or in temporary rentals (thru summer 2020). Cultural brokers from nonprofits, faith-based groups, and Ethnic-based Community Organizations helped aiding asylum seekers, municipalities, and community groups thru these transitions. All are seeking a more durable, long-term solution. Meanwhile, a network of agencies and govt. partners is working on long-term housing to promote asylum-seekers’ independence and community integration. MATCH will help asylum seekers and Maine towns forge a web of human relationships, share skills as co-equals, and enrich diversity. MATCH is adapted from two models: “Community Co-sponsorships” used by refugee resettlement agencies in North American and Europe and Amnesty International’s “Longer Table Initiative” where local chapters and grassroots groups build inclusive communities. Approximately 45 “Community Co-Sponsors” groups will be formed: each comprised of 1-12 volunteers who provide 1-year of intensive support to 1 family: language training, finding housing, childcare/school enrollment, medical care, job training/search, legal resources. Community Co-Sponsors will be guided by the “Resettlement Co-Sponsor”, Maine’s federally-designated refugee resettlement agency with 40 years expertise helping Maine immigrants integrate in Maine.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Maine is rural with mainly small ethnically homogeneous towns, which are aging and losing workforce. It is an excellent place to pilot how to welcome asylum seekers and immigrants seeking stability by pairing with communities seeking to stabilize and welcome them. In year one we will pilot the program in Brunswick, a town of about 20,000 located thirty minutes northeast of Portland. In year two we will expand to other smaller communities including Biddeford (21k), Bath (8k) and Saco (19k).

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

The idea demonstrates to immigrants and communities that each is a solution for the other. While showing how asylum-seekers can meet a workforce shortage and be good neighbors - individuals, businesses, community groups and schools gain greater personal knowledge of each other. This deepens the local support . The idea builds dozens of small bridges that form a web. The MATCH program aims to support and serve both asylum seeking communities and host communities in building vital connections.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Three human needs. The first two, mentioned above, are asylum-seekers need new homes in which to settle, work, and raise their families and communities need workforce and to be revitalized. The third is the human need for connection, meaning and purpose. In this time of global displacement and disconnection, people of goodwill need and want to be part of the solution. Forging connections between displaced persons and settled persons heals wounds of the heart as well as the multiple traumas of violence, the journey of migration, the anxiety of resettlement in a foreign place, and the loss of home, family, language, culture, geography (the concept of collective loss). Maine is a place of rooted people. People in Maine are deeply connected to their place. This is a feature they share with many of the asylum-seekers from DRC and Angola, also cultures where people were deeply rooted, have lost that connection, and are seeking new connection to place.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Residents of Maine towns hold a wide variety of views around immigrants ranging from outright resistance and fear to welcoming, knowledgeable groups. In the middle, are those eager to help but lacking in knowledge, skills and experience. Because many Maine communities are small, homogeneous and isolated closed attitudes can persist. The presence of both asylum-seekers AND their network of community co-sponsors will help transform understanding and knowledge. Rather than outside groups coming in extolling the value of diversity and benefits of embracing immigrants or generic public service announcements to which they cannot relate, they can see and hear directly from dozens of their long-time neighbors how and why embracing new members enriches the whole community.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

(1) Mission: Catholic Charities empowers and strengthen individuals and families by providing innovative community-based social services throughout Maine.” The US Conference of Catholic Bishops directs us to “welcome the stranger”. (2) Local interest: requests from Maine communities wanting to attract and welcome refugees by improving knowledge, resources, cultural competency, policies. (3) Necessity: The influx of asylum-seekers is an opportunity to address this at the local level. Despite their less dense services for immigrants, Maine needs to enlist communities with housing capacity who desire to become places asylum seekers chose. The project is important to asylum seekers because more closely supporting them and their chosen communities will better prepare each party to understand the dynamics of their new lives/changing communities, and enhance speed and success of meaningful, relationship-based integration.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

We will first pilot the program in Brunswick, Maine—a racially homogenous and politically liberal community thirty minutes north of Portland. Brunswick has recently welcomed 19 asylum seeking families into temporary independent housing and is eager to build skills to support their new neighbors. here is an active volunteer group , the “Midcoast New Mainers Collaborative” of over 70 members seeking our help to learn about how to best make their community a welcoming one where asylum seekers can thrive. Municipal and private sector support is also good: the town of Brunswick offered to receive these families and a real estate developer provided rental units to the families through summer 2020. Rent is being paid by the State of Maine though General Assistance funds). The housing is located on a former US Naval Air Station , which has been successfully under redevelopment for nearly a decade and includes commercial, retail, and housing space.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

This plan draws on localized community assets in Brunswick to support the long-term success, welcoming, and integration of new asylum-seekers in Maine. The program supports the creation of local coalitions that draw on public and private sectors, organizations, congregations, and individuals to create a network of services that work best for their community. These community co-sponsors will be reinforced by a Catholic Charities Maine team experienced in the field of refugee resettlement and with expertise supporting persons who have experienced trauma and forced migration. Catholic Charities expertise includes refugee and immigrant leaders who are experienced multilingual, multicultural brokers and advocates skilled at building bridges between communities.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Since June we have been worked in a coalition to aid the new asylum-seekers. Partners include the City of Portland, Greater Portland Council of Governments, The Congolese Community of Maine, the Angolan Community of Maine, Maine Access Immigrant Network, Greater Portland Family Promise, the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project and many more. These groups have collaborated to provide emergency shelter services and short term (host family) housing solutions in Maine. Our staff are part of the leadership task force and on the board of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, which promotes immigrant interests at the State and Local level. As this project expands, we hope to bring in more municipalities and community groups to support localized efforts in rehousing and integration. Moving forward, additional key partners in Brunswick will include the Midcoast New Mainers Collaborative and the Capital Area New Mainers Project, in addition to the city of Brunswick.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Catholic Charities Maine

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

This idea grew out of Catholic Charities Maine’s 4 decades of expertise as Maine’s only federally-designated refugee resettlement agency, resettling refuges, immigrants and asylees and helping them attain stability, security and independence. The input of the people we serve has informed our development of new programs (such as cultural orientation for newcomers, employers, community groups and schools). Our staff includes dozens of asylum-seekers and asylees. We are a trauma-informed agency with decades of experience delivering evidence-based programs including behavioral health services. Our experience designing, implementing and managing large immigrant-focused programs enables us to partner with smaller NGOs and ECBOs who have specialized cultural expertise and are from the communities they serve, but have undeveloped organizational infrastructure, resources, or professional networks.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Portland, Maine

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1 . We are interested in ideas for revenues to support the project, beyond grants from foundations. Fee for service is not feasible and asylum seekers are ineligible for federal funding. 2. To supplement paid staff we may seek volunteer regional coordinators. Do you have best practices around creating, supporting, and maintaining motivation for volunteer leadership positions with significant responsibility? 3. There is wide diversity in resettlement towns (socio-economic, size, diversity). How can we get "buy-in" to a single model, without feeling they are losing unique value?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

Our team worked with our mentor Biniam over a skype call to talk through the application and get his feedback on the clarity of our application and ideas. His follow up questions helped us understand where we could improve our communication about the phases of the project, who our project is intended to serve and the long-term outcomes. Biniam shared with us his own experiences living as a refugee in Germany and some of the challenges he faced in integration and pursuing work that aligns with his experience and education. We were able to share about the asylum process in the United States and this conversation helped further our vision for community-based integration and support for asylum seekers. The expert had suggestions for fundraising we plan to implement. For example, we will reach out to our current funding network and invite them to a briefing on the project to enlist support. We already provide some fee-for-service training on cultural orientation to municipalities and community agencies (police, fire, schools) and will consider how to adapt and integrate training to communities receiving the co-sponsorship model. To help communities “buy-in” we will share data among them. This also spurred another idea – we will replicate the training workshop we participated in with IRIS (see question on idea evolution) and offer it to other local groups /individuals interested in becoming co-sponsors. Related to this, we will design a companion workshop for asylum seekers so we have their voice and needs at the forefront, and are concurrently preparing both asylum seekers and co-sponsor groups for mutual success.

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

Our program is designed to support a population that cannot be served by any federal dollars and is often excluded from social services, including our own refugee program funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Asylum seekers in our communities often rely on volunteers, in-kind donations and in-kind services from non-profits to help with immediate and long-term needs. The BridgeBuilder funding will help us pilot a program that supports and systematizes these volunteer and in-kind efforts in a way that the other monies our program utilizes does not allow. The large size of BridgeBuilder will enable us to staff the program adequately, which in turn will enable us to implement all aspects of the model simultaneously and at a meaningful scale, rather than funding work at in small increments that may be disrupted by stoppages or slow-downs when funding is uncertain and small grants are cobbled together.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

BridgeBuilder funds will primarily support staff time in the form of FT Program Manager who will be responsible for community outreach and relationship building, volunteer training and organization, and facilitating “matches” between asylum seekers and community-cosponsors to achieve most effective placements and integration. This staff member will be responsible for providing technical assistance to the host community on an ongoing basis by sharing best practices in refugee resettlement, acting as a cultural broker and advisor where needed and trouble shooting as unforeseen challenges arise.

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

Please see attached GANTT chart.

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

MEASUREMENT: To conduct the “matching” process between asylum seekers and community co-sponsor groups we will use a comprehensive intake process. The intake will form a “baseline” assessment. We will measure impact by comparing project end reports from asylum seekers and co-sponsors on the same factors assessed at intake. More importantly, on an ongoing basis the Project Manager will be in contact with co-sponsor groups and asylum seeker families to help them navigate the integration process and trouble-shoot/support them over time. Factors to be assessed include families’ assessment of their own support, welcome, safety and integration. We will also do focus groups with community groups and town officials to assure that we are identifying all relevant impacts. QUESTION: How do we geographically expand the co-sponsorship model across increasingly rural Maine communities with little access to transportation and interpretation?

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

Please see attached organizational chart.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

Our meeting with our mentor Biniam illuminated that we had assumed our proposal  demonstrated who the program is for. In our conversation, it became clear that we had not clearly enough explained that the MATCH program is a program that both supports asylum seeking families/individuals and co-sponsorship host communities who welcome them. The project will support our newest Maine neighbors, and  “prepare the way” thru assisting host communities who wish to welcome them but lack knowledge or experience to do so without specialized assistance and expertise around aiding displaced persons. To us this made clear the importance of highlighting how the co-sponsorship model is one of accompaniment. We are asking communities to walk alongside asylum seekers from the position of becoming long-time neighbors and community members together. The MATCH program will provide the tools for those relationships to flourish while meeting integration and needs of all involved.

Attachments (1)

List of Media References Regarding Project.docx

A chronological list of media coverage regarding the story of newcomers and build to a community co-sponsorship model.


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Photo of Julie Allaire

Please note - we have a typo in our first reply. The sentence that reads "Approximately 45 “Community Co-Sponsors” groups will be formed: each comprised of 1-12 volunteers " should be corrected to "10 - 12 volunteers". Thank you.

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