Gov. LePage awards $10,000 grant to Lewiston language program

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Gov. Paul LePage shares a laugh with Fatuma Hussein at the B Street Community Center in Lewiston on Monday. LePage met with local immigrants to hear about the challenges they face in trying to find employment. 

LEWISTON — Maine Gov. Paul LePage is kicking in $10,000 for a program meant to help immigrant families gain English skills.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Learning Works CEO Ethan Strimling, left, and Gov. Paul LePage talk with local immigrants at the B Street Community Center in Lewiston about the challenges they face in trying to find employment.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Mouna Ismail and her 4-year-old daughter, Ibtissan Abdi, hidden, has their picture taken with Gov. Paul LePage at the B Street Community Center in Lewiston on Monday. LePage met with local immigrants to hear about the challenges they face in trying to find employment.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Mouna Ismail and her 4-year-old daughter, Ibtissan Abdi, hidden, have their picture taken with Gov. Paul LePage at the B Street Community Center in Lewiston on Monday. LePage met with local immigrants to hear about the challenges they face in trying to find employment.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Local immigrants listen as Gov. Paul LePage addresses their concerns about barriers to finding employment during his visit to the B Street Community Center in Lewiston on Monday. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald raises his concern that no federal funds have followed immigrants coming to Maine to help them learn English. He spoke at the B Street Community Center in Lewiston on Monday.

In a low-key visit to the city Monday, LePage met with some of the families who will benefit from the program being offered by the Portland-based Learning Works.

Learning Works CEO Ethan Strimling reminded those in attendance that English was not LePage's first language either.

"My first language is French," LePage told the group of about 45 men, women and children from Lewiston's immigrant community.

LePage said he simply wanted to meet with some of the families and hear from them in person about the challenges they face in accessing the workforce.

Top for most of them is acquiring adequate English skills, according to Fatuma Hussein, executive director of United Somali Women of Maine. Hussein and other local leaders in the community were on hand to speak to LePage, who listened and exchanged ideas with the group for about 40 minutes.

"The issue is we've got to get them to English proficiency as quickly as possible; that's the key," LePage said after the meeting. "Everything is education and language. And if they have a barrier, we have to curb that."

LePage also invited several of those with whom he had private conversations, some in French, to come to Augusta sometime after the holiday season to further explore what state government can do to help.

"We will sit down and try to identify areas, specific areas we can impact quickly," LePage said. "It's clear to me, both here and in Portland, that the refugees want to work. They've made that pretty clear."

LePage said he was impressed with the quality of the French spoken, but also that many who were in attendance spoke more than one language. It was just acquiring English that was presenting difficulties for some.

LePage's donation, from the governor's contingency fund, brings total funding for the program to $50,000, enough to help about 30 families and between 60 and 80 individuals, Strimling said.

Strimling, a former Democratic state lawmaker, said he was pleased that LePage, a Republican, was willing to check all politics at the door when it came to helping Maine's growing immigrant population.

Learning Works announced the new program in October. It is funded in part by Wal-Mart and the Hudson Foundation and is a partnership between the private nonprofit and the Lewiston Housing Authority.

The program also helps bridge the gap between English learning in public schools for children by making sure the adults in their life are also acquiring English, Strimling said.

Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald was also in attendance Monday. He said he and Strimling first started working on an English program for immigrants several months ago. Macdonald said he was pleased LePage came to the city.

Macdonald also said LePage and the state government seemed to be willing to help, but he couldn't say the same thing about the federal government.

"We asked them nine months ago to do something like this to help out," Macdonald said. "We haven't even heard back from them. They've just kind of left the immigrants here, the refugees here, they've left them out in the cold."

Macdonald said he was also glad to hear LePage say he was interested in helping immigrants as they look to develop their own small businesses.

He echoed LePage's comments that immigrants want to work. "But they can't work if they aren't speaking English," Macdonald said. He also said there needs to be a faster way to get immigrants with higher training and education into the professional workforce. 

Macdonald also said he was working outside of the state and federal governments to find the resources to help immigrants launch businesses or improve the businesses they have. 

"I'm not going to say we want to do it," Macdonald said. "We are going to do it. We all work in partnership; it's all one community."

LePage said he needs more specifics on the types of businesses immigrants want to create, but that he would work within the state agencies in his control to help in that effort as well.

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Ron Hubbard's picture


People are worried about how they are going to heat their houses this winter and they give 10,000 to people who should already know English...It is not like they just got here or something...

MARK GRAVEL's picture

The government should not be

The government should not be giving money to either group.

 's picture

This is money well spent.

This is money well spent. It's very difficult to gain employment in Maine without speaking English, and very difficult for employers to communicate with (train) employees who are not reasonably proficient. This grant will pay off in a big way.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Why should the taxpayer be on

Why should the taxpayer be on the hook for this? If you want to migrate to American and be productive, learning english is a prerequisite executed on their own accord.

 's picture

The quicker these non-English

The quicker these non-English speaking immigrants learn to speak English, the faster they'll be employed and the quicker they'll be able to support themselves, which will relieve a burden off of all taxpayers. Their children benefit from learning our language in school and I'm sure the parents are picking it up as quickly as they can. This is a boost that will speed things along. I wouldn't want to move to Somalia to find out how long it would take to learn their language without any help at all, mostly because I don't think I'd live long enough to learn much of anything. I was very lucky to have been born in the USA.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Gov. LePage awards $10,000 grant to Lewiston language program

Mainers , Monday afternoon in Hawai'i •
. . This is a joke, correct ?
The guy can barely ' speaka the english ' without inserting his foot squarely in his mouth • 
Aloha & †yvm ,
hth, Steve , former ESL teacher in Loystone , Bates '78
" US$10k is chump change " <- this IS a joke <-

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Thanks, Steve! is wicked funny! I went there and had a good laugh. Needed that.


Big thank you for the governor

This is something that will really help the city of Lewiston. Not only will it help the parents to find work but will also inspire the children to do better in school. An excellent idea.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

What is the difference

What is the difference between the French immigrants of a hundred or so years ago and the Somali's. When the french invasion of Lewiston began there were already a lot of english french speaking people in the area. People the newcomers could turn to for language help.

Both of my grandmothers prefered to speak french 99% of the time. Though somewhat broken both grandfathers could get by in english. They learned from others who were friends or bosses at the mills. When i was a child there was a french radio station (WCOU), a french newspaper (Le Messanger) if I remember, there was Pharmacie Nationale Plus dozens of other stores with french peoples names on them.

Now come the Somalis. Hardly anyone here speaks their language through no fault of their own. There was never a need for anyone here to use it. Cut the somalis some slack it will take a few years but they will become fluent in english just as so many others from so many other countries have.

 's picture

Kudos to you, Earnest

French was my first language too,so I can relate to what you're saying. I can remember having to learn English in a hurry so I could start school. However it was much easier for me since my friends and relatives were mostly bilingual and could help me pick up English. There was a lot of, "How do you say that in English?" (in french, of course).

Marcus Talarico's picture

Well said, Ernest, well said.

Well said, Ernest, well said.

Bravo Governor! Re-Elect

Bravo Governor! Re-Elect Governor LePage for Maine


I'm sure it didn't come out

I'm sure it didn't come out of his wallet.


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