LEWISTON — It’s been five years since Rilwan Osman, a Somali Bantu immigrant, co-founded the Somali Bantu Youth Association of Maine, a nonprofit organization that helps immigrant children and families succeed in school and in the community.

To celebrate its accomplishments, the association is inviting people to an end-of-the-year celebration and fundraising from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18.

Osman and other staffers, volunteer students and their parents will illustrate their work. The association provides classes for adults to learn English and to become U.S. citizens. It offers tutoring for students, as well as soccer leagues, summer enrichment programs and an annual juvenile justice workshop, in which judges and police officers explain the legal system.

Osman used to work as a translator at Longley Elementary School. Former Longley Principal Linda St. Andre called Osman a great role model and said the association helps students and families adjust to a new culture.

“He goes about things so quietly, but he’s doing such big things,” St. Andre said.

One of the first Sun Journal stories on Osman was published in 2008. It was about how he and his mother were reunited in Lewiston with Colby College professor Catherine Besteman, who 20 years before had done research in their East African village.

The last time Osman saw his father was in 1996. Osman, then 12, was running with his mother to escape rebels who captured their Somali Bantu village. The rebel soldiers ordered his father and other men into a river, where a crocodile had a woman in its teeth. The soldiers used the villagers as bait, hoping they’d distract the crocodile so it would release the woman, who was one of their own.

Osman said his father was killed. He’s not sure how.

Life in their village was primitive. Many weren’t literate. There was no electricity, no schools. People lived by farming. After escaping to Kenya and living in a refugee camp for 10 years, Osman came to the United States in 2005.

Since then, he has graduated from college, held a number of jobs, including school interpreter, and has volunteered to help others in his ethnic community.

In 2008, he and Jama Mohamed founded the Somali Bantu Youth Association from their van after noticing that too many youths had started smoking and were getting into fights and committing crimes. Having arrived with little education, some youths were discouraged and dropped out of school.

The organization grew. It began offering classes for adults, including money management.

Earlier this year. the association went from being a volunteer community group to a professional nonprofit, offering case management for mental health services.

Contracted through MaineCare, the association employs Osman, four case managers and several part-time workers.

The Somali Bantu Youth Association and Family Center is at 57 Birch St.

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For more information: http://sbyam.org/

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