Bistra Nikiforova 

For the past seven months, Southern Maine Agency on Aging has been sharing resources and information with Amjambo readers, hoping especially to reach people ages 60 and over who have not been in Maine or the U.S. for long. Our goal is to share information about available social services and programs. 

With 2022 coming to a close, this feels like the right time to reflect on how the resources and information offered by organizations like the Southern Maine Agency on Aging make a difference in meeting the day-to-day needs of Maine’s immigrant and refugee communities. So we thought about all the ways people access resources, with family and community being the most important. 

Families – Finding support for immediate and urgent needs 

From figuring out grocery shopping to applying for jobs or learning English, our family is the first and most important resource. A family can be just two adults trying to balance two jobs each, and making sure they have enough money at the end of the month to pay rent and also send some back home, possibly to their parents. A family can also include brothers, sisters, cousins, and more – all of them living close to each other, sharing childcare, grocery shopping, and even cars. No matter how big or small, a family is often the first and most important source of support for one’s financial, emotional, and daily needs. 

Community – Information sharing and support 

When we move to a new country or state, naturally we search for connections with others who speak our language, celebrate our holidays, share the same food, and follow the same traditions. To us, being part of a community is not only about feeling a little bit closer to “home” (the place where we were born), but also about having access to a broader source of information that can help us in making bigger decisions – how to apply for our first credit card or the process of buying a car or a home. And when our connections cannot provide that help, they direct us to organizations that can. 

Nonprofit organizations 

In the process of building our lives in the U.S., many of us have worked with, or reached out to, community organizations that helped us in our day-to-day challenges. Nonprofits offer English language classes, food assistance, and resettlement case workers, among other services. This support is helpful when all other resources – through our family and community – have been exhausted. Often this support comes free, or at no cost for the person who needs it. And, yes – some services have limitations based on citizenship status. Yet many services are available to anyone, regardless of their immigration status. For many of us, nonprofits might not have existed in our home countries and we may not trust them – we do not know the people who work there, they do not know us, so how can they help us if they do not know us, right? We trust our family and community to provide us with support and information when we need it. Learning to trust the people in nonprofit organizations takes much longer, but when we open and reach out to them, we could get access to services and programs that can help us solve obstacles that we face. 

From all of us at Southern Maine Agency on Aging, we wish you a brighter, more peaceful, and healthy 2023! 

SMAA Communications Specialist Bistra Nikiforova, originally from Bulgaria, moved to the U.S. 20 years ago