Najmo Osman leans back in her brother’s seat as Faysal Osman works on his homework in the computer lab at the Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services in Lewiston on Monday. Students Montello and Farwell elementary schools get help with their homework and play games. 

LEWISTON — A nonprofit organization that provides citizenship classes, English lessons and after-school tutoring for immigrants is moving to a former mosque at 256 Bartlett St.

The Maine Immigration and Refugee Services, operating from the B Street Community Center on Birch Street, bought the property for $25,000, said Rilwan Osman, executive director of the nonprofit.

The future headquarters is 4,000 square feet to better meet the need for providing services, he said.

“It’s going to be bigger,” Osman said. “One of the problems we have is there’s a clinic downstairs.” When MIRS holds youth events and school programs, it can get too noisy for their neighbors, he said.

The former mosque is old and half of the building doesn’t have heat so the organization has launched a fundraising campaign to address the issue. The goal is $500,000 to meet Platz Associates’ architectural designs.

“We cannot do this without your support, and we are counting on you to help us grow by supporting our new capital campaign,” the campaign’s message reads.

If not enough money is raised, the organization will make do with what’s available, Osman said.

MIRS serves 100 children and adults per day. The new location will be next to future walking paths leading to the new elementary school, which is expected to open in 2019.

“We are so excited,” Osman said. “The new school will be right up the hill.”

The Bartlett Street building will offer individual offices for case management, a community meeting room, space for parenting classes, juvenile justice workshops, tutoring and English lessons and other youth and adult activities.

Hopes are the building will allow a fitness room for women, and space for Somali seniors to mingle, both high needs in the community, Osman said.

Most of the Somali seniors don’t speak English and lack a community setting.

“They’re all sitting (at) home,” Osman said. “They have no place to socialize. They only time they socialize is weddings.”

A fitness space is also needed for women.

“A lot of moms have weight problems,” Osman said. “They cannot go to the gym” and exercise with men and women because of the need to wear head scarfs and long skirts in mixed company.

Lincoln Jeffers, director of Economic and Community Development for the city, said it’s good to see new investment in the neighborhood, “and it’s spreading.”

In addition to the nearby Tree Street Youth, which will have an addition, the city has made investments such as partnering with housing projects in the area, “along with demolition of some of the worst housing stock,” Jeffers said. “It’s nice to see more commercial and educational enterprises in the neighborhood.”

The future MIRS building is next to Mailhot’s Sausage, near Hudson Bus Lines. It’s been used for a variety of purposes through the years, including a motorcycle shop, print shop and most recently, a mosque. In the 1980s, the building was Beverage World, according to a do-you-remember this Facebook page by Dave Gudas.

MIRS was founded as the Somali Bantu Youth Association of Maine by Somali natives Osman and Jama Mohamed, who, after arriving in Lewiston, worked out of their cars organizing soccer and tutoring programs to help youth.

Initially, the association served Somali families and children. It has since changed its name and has offices in Portland and Lewiston, and serves immigrants from 14 countries.

Contracted through MaineCare, MIRS employs Osman, case managers and others to provide services for children and adults. The organization, which operates with grants and donations, also offers community programs staffed by volunteers.

 

Rilwan Osman, right, executive director of Maine Immigration and Refugee Services in Lewiston, and board member Farah Osman hope to have the work done on the new MIRS building on Bartlett Street in time to hold summer programs for children. 

Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services bought the former mosque at 256 Bartlett St. in Lewiston and is hoping to raise $500,000 to renovate it.

Platz Associates of Auburn produced a sketch of the renovated former mosque at 256 Bartlett St. in Lewiston. Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services bought the building and hopes to renovate it for its headquarters.

Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services has purchased the former mosque at 256 Bartlett St. in Lewiston. The mosque moved next door to 254 Bartlett St. 

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