By Martha Stein
The greater Portland area is home to people of all backgrounds, including those who were not born here, but now call Maine home. At Hope Acts, we are excited to welcome and support immigrants who are restarting their lives in our community. Our individualized services are focused on asylum seekers, and our Hope House English Program (HHELP) classes are open to all adults.
Hope Acts has been offering in-person services through most of the pandemic, and we have adapted our workplace to serve clients safely. However, even with the precautions, we have, understandably, lost many volunteers because of health concerns, home schooling, and family related issues. Fortunately, with vaccines now widely available, many former and first-time volunteers have joined us, but the demand for services is far outstripping our resources.
I invite you to join us at Hope Acts, where we work every day to fulfill our mission by providing housing, English classes and other resources that support immigrants as they transition to life in greater Portland, and in achieving their goals for a successful future. There are many ways to volunteer with us, virtually or in person.
One of the easiest ways to be part of our welcoming community is simply to befriend a New Mainer by becoming a mentor. Mentors can meet with their mentee in person or virtually. We match our Hope House residents to community volunteers for friendship, advice, and a cultural introduction to our community. Getting started is as easy as going for a walk, chatting over a cup of coffee, or even getting to know each other via Zoom. Another critical need is for housing mentors who work with asylum-seeker families and individuals who are living in their first American apartment. Housing mentors help New Mainers get settled in their new home. The mentor often helps facilitate communication between the landlord and tenant, so everyone has a positive experience.
The Hope House English Language Program also needs support through teachers, assistant teachers, and substitutes for our beginner through intermediate level English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes. While the COVID-19 surge means we are still teaching online, we are planning to offer some in-person classes later this fall. Volunteers interested in teaching or assisting a class remotely are needed now. We anticipate in-person volunteer needs over the next several months.
Our Asylum Seeker Assistance Program (ASAP) provides one-on-one help to immigrant families who are struggling to navigate resources, access services, and even read mail. We also assist people in completing their work permit applications. If you are a problem solver and you enjoy working one-on-one with a client to solve an urgent problem, consider joining our ASAP volunteers. ASAP volunteers work in person, with the exception of translators who can easily participate via Zoom. Hope Acts employs multilingual staff, but we always need French, Portuguese, and Lingala speakers to volunteer as translators.
We also welcome community volunteers who are interested in working in our gardens or helping to spruce up our building.
We hope to return to the days of multicultural potluck meals and large group social gatherings soon. But for now, we invite you to consider volunteering with Hope Acts and helping us roll out the welcome mat to all immigrants who now call Maine home.