Imagine what it must feel like for a refugee or immigrant to arrive in a new country. They are alone in a strange land. They don’t know the language or the culture. They may not even know how to read or write in their own language, much less in English. Perhaps they have fled everything familiar to them because home isn’t safe anymore. Perhaps they have experienced incredible trauma in their home country or in a refugee camp. Perhaps they’ve had to leave behind a spouse or parents or children — or maybe they have lost them to war. Everything is confusing and overwhelming for them.
Coming to a new country has it challenges, challenges that are hard to overcome for people who don’t speak the language or understand the culture. The way of life here in the United States is different than it is in other countries and in refugee camps. Immigrants and refugees need a support system — a place where they can go to get help, a place where their language and culture are understood and respected, a place where they see familiar faces, and, most importantly, a place where children and parents can gain the education that will help them become successful and contributing members of their new communities. That’s where Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services steps in.
Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services (MEIRS) educates, assists, and empowers immigrant and refugee youth and their families toward a goal of social and economic self-sufficiency and mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. MEIRS promotes a pathway toward citizenship and community engagement, creating opportunities for inclusion and meaningful participation for immigrants and refugees.
Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services (MEIRS) began in 2008 as a dream shared by a group of young Somalis who were living and working in Lewiston, Maine. They saw a desperate need to help refugee youth become educated and empowered members of their new community.
Starting out of a van holding athletic equipment, they began the Somali Bantu Youth Association of Maine (SBYAM), which attained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2009. Building upon their vision, and the hard work that they and many other members of the Lewiston Somali community provided, they saw incredible success. Lewiston High School had no immigrant or refugee youth graduating in 2008, but through SBYAM efforts, more and more of them began graduating. As of 2016, that rate has risen to more than 97% — which is much higher than both Maine and national averages.
After its inception, SBYAM saw a need to help not only young people, but also their family members. The organization began offering classes to help new Mainers learn English, financial literacy, and parenting and job skills.
They provided help with naturalization and interpretation, as well as assistance with understanding legal rights and the justice system. Always responsive to their community, SBYAM began to offer case management and behavioral health services in 2013, and soon thereafter changed its name to reflect its broader goals. In 2015, SBYAM officially became Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services (MEIRS) and expanded its services to Portland. Its programs have grown over the years to include members of all of Maine’s immigrant, refugee, and asylum-seeker populations.
MEIRS chief concern is the successful integration, self-sufficiency, and stability of the immigrant and refugee population of Maine. MEIRS believes in immigrant and refugee community self-help and the provision of linguistically and culturally appropriate services. It was created and is led by members of the community it serves. Most staff members are bi- or multi-lingual and come from within the immigrant and refugee community.
Administration and Behavioral Health
Youth and Family Programs
Portland Office Behavioral Health
© 2017 Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services