LEWISTON – A better than expected grant package will keep a joint Lewiston and Portland refugee services program afloat for another 17 months.

The $600,000 grant will pay for eight people who help secondary migrants get settled in the two cities. The grant was approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on July 21.

That program, the Portland and Lewiston Refugee Collaborative, helps new immigrants find jobs, housing and education and secure public assistance. The program currently has eight employees split between the two cities.

“Having two cities work together helped our effort, I think,” said Cheryl Hamilton, cultural skills trainer for the program.

The two cities began the program in the fall of 2000 after receiving a $250,000 grant from the health and human service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. The program received another $216,000 grant in the fall of 2002. The staff has worked with 1,149 people since it started, including Somalis, Sudanese, Congolese, Iraqis, Cambodians, Togolese, Afghans and Bosnians.

Hamilton said the office had requested a $750,000 grant from the Health and Human Service’s office this year, even though the grant application said the award limit was $500,000.

“But we knew that the final amount was left to the discretion of the director,” Hamilton said. “We hoped that would turn out in our favor.”

Lewiston General Assistance Administrator Sue Charron said the results were unexpected.

“We were quite surprised by what we received,” Charron said. “Not only did they see what we are doing as valuable, I think they recognized that we still have more work to do.”

Part of the grant will also go to the University of Southern Maine Center for Workplace Learning to help fund English for Speakers of Other Language classes. In Lewiston, those classes are offered in collaboration with Lewiston Adult Education.

The money will also pay to keep collaborative office employment councilors in the state-run CareerCenters in both cities.

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