LEWISTON – It has been more than six months since a group of local Somalis decided to start an organization to help immigrants in Lewiston.

The group, called African Immigrants Association, had hoped to have its own office by now – a place where it could offer day care, tutoring, translation and other services to members of the Somali and Togolese communities.

Things haven’t gone as planned.

The group hasn’t been able to come up with the $50,000 that it needs to get started. Some members blame the city for not doing enough to help them.

“They are treating us like a game of Ping-Pong,” said Said Mohamed. “They have given us thousands and thousands of words, but no action.”

City officials recognize the value in what the group wants to do. But, they said, coming up with $50,000 for every person who wants to start an organization is impossible.

“It is not a question of whether there is a need,” said City Administrator Jim Bennett. “Unfortunately, our job is to do the impossible for nothing. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Members of African Immigrants Association want their organization to serve as a bridge between immigrants and the local, state and federal agencies that help them.

They eventually would like to set up a large multicultural center for all African immigrants. For now, however, they simply want a small space to use as a day care and tutoring center during the day and a place to hold cultural events on nights and weekends.

“We want a place where we can come together and do cultural things,” said Kader Said, president of the group.

Said and Mohamed met with city officials earlier this year to discuss their ideas. Bennett suggested they apply for a community development block grant.

They took Bennett’s advice and applied for the federal grant. They learned last month it is unlikely they will get any money. The committee in charge of giving advice to the City Council on how to spend the federal money has recommended that the grants not go to any new agencies.

According to Jim Andrews, the city’s director of economic and community development, the city has $135,000 to give to public service agencies, and the committee believes it would be best to spend that money on organizations with proven track records.

The local agencies that regularly receive the federal grants include Head Start, Abused Women’s Advocacy Project, Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice and Trinity Jubilee Center.

“And they all don’t get as much funding as they want,” Andrews said.

The committee plans to present its recommendations to the City Council on April 20, and the councilors are scheduled to take a final vote on May 4.

Said plans to attend the meeting later this month to argue his case. But he isn’t hopeful.

“I know they don’t have a lot of money,” he said. “But it’s very hard. I don’t know what we will do.”


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