By Danielle Roslevich  | Photos courtesy of Allagash

Thanks to the work of In Her Presence (IHP), Allagash Beer Company, and the New Mainers Resource Center at Portland Adult Education (PAE), some immigrants seeking to break into the workforce in Maine have found a pathway that proved just right for them – internships. And businesses now have a model to follow if they want to try internships as one approach toward solving their workforce problems. But in order to be successful, these positions must be paid and coupled with intercultural training for company employees. 

Celine Ffueh

The 2021 launch of an internship program that is now ongoing developed from a series of conversations that included Claudette Ndayininahaze, now executive director of IHP; several employees at Allagash, including Celine Frueh, the Human Resource Director; and Sally Sutton, program coordinator of the New Mainers Resource Center at Portland Adult Education.

The first interns to participate worked in the tasting room (an intern from IHP) and the warehouse (an intern from NMRC). Those interns eventually earned full time job offers and are still with Allagash. This summer, Allagash has two more interns in the Tasting Room (from IHP).

Ndayininahaze has firsthand experience with the difficulty in finding employment in one’s area of expertise in Maine. When she first arrived in Maine from Burundi with a background in international sales with the Heineken beer company, her first conversations with a number of other companies – including Allagash – led nowhere. But Ndayininahaze persevered and continued to engage with Allagash, even after she had co-founded In Her Presence with Abusana Micky Bondo – although though she was no longer looking for work in beer sales. 

Eventually Allagash agreed to become a financial sponsor of In Her Presence. The company was impressed with the work being done by the immigrant-led nonprofit organization that is dedicated to empowering immigrant women and families. IHP serves over 90 women from 16 countries, who speak over 20 languages. Then the brewery contracted with IHP for training in cross-cultural communication, power, language acquisition, and creating inclusive and equitable work spaces.  

The first was Cross Cultural Dialogue training for about 75 employees, and later an advanced version for the brewery’s Tasting Room department. Next came a tailored version of the course for the Field Sales Team, and implicit bias training for every employee with Sycamore Keys Consulting. By this point, the managers had studied “Removing Bias from the Interview Process and Retention of Diverse Employees” with Dr. J. Jackson-Beckham. And the company has developed a code of conduct that clearly states Allagash’s intent to have an inclusive workplace where anyone – at any stage of life, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, age, religion, whether or not they drink alcohol, or any other identifier – can feel comfortable and thrive. 

Frueh, the Allagash Human Resources Director, said good jobs are available in craft beer, and she hopes the benefits appeal to everyone, including immigrants who are getting started in Maine. Every employee at Allagash receives $5,250 per year in tuition reimbursement to continue their education and  generous paid time off, and the company pays 100% of medical and dental insurance premiums. “We are proud of the way we treat each other at Allagash, and want to invite and welcome more immigrants to our organization,” she said.

Ndayininahaze of IHP is looking for additional companies or organizations to become dedicated partners and provide paid internships for the women of IHP. She said she hopes the program will evolve into a fellowship program, with a two-year internship designed to lead to the hiring of interns as full employees, following successful completion of the program.  

However, a big challenge to immigrants considering internships – even paid ones – is that the compensation is generally low. Also, potential supervisors for interns are often afraid to take on the responsibility because they worry they might not be prepared. But Ndayininahaze said a paid fellowship program, with a guaranteed two-year paid training opportunity, could enable some people with financial need to participate, and immersion helps supervisors overcome their fears.   

She stressed that In Her Presence offers both language and cultural training support to partners who offer paid internships to immigrant women through their program. “We are here to bridge that gap and train the women and the companies. It is OK to be afraid! And In Her Presence wants to help!” she said. “But partners need to understand that it is a learning process, it takes time, and there is support for you. That support is a collaborative process, and the relationship builds trust.”  

Frueh is eager for Allagash and In Her Presence to continue learning and growing together. “This [internship program] has been a tremendously rewarding experience for our team, and serves as a great learning experience for them. Then, if they are on an interview team, speaking with someone for whom English is a second, third, fourth or fifth language, for example, they already are familiar with what that is like.” 

Interested businesses that would like to partner with In Her Presence, as well as others who would like to learn more about cross-cultural training or career-building may contact (207) 347-9891, [email protected],