For Immediate Release
AUGUSTA - House Republican Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) visited the United Somali Women of Maine (USWM) on Lisbon Street in Lewiston Friday. After spending about two hours meeting with community leaders, Fatuma Hussein, Director of USWM, gave Fredette a tour of several refugee-owned businesses along Lisbon Street.
Present at Friday morning's meeting, in addition to Hussein, were six members of the refugee community, Sue Sharon, social services director for the City of Lewiston, and Joan Churchill of Community Concepts, a local nonprofit agency. The community leaders said that employment was the primary goal of the refugees, and that the most significant barriers for most include language skills and education or training.
"It was clear to me that recent immigrants from Somalia and elsewhere simply want what any other immigrant group in American history has wanted: the American Dream," said Fredette. "That means rewarding employment, the ability to start a business, and the embracing of America's highest ideals."
The USWM representatives conveyed that refugee children are learning English in the school system, but the language barrier is still high for many adult refugees. One solution discussed was a tailoring of English language programs to give refugees immediate language skills that relate directly to the world of work.
Rep. Fredette asked about the availability of job training programs and how the state could best prioritize education and training initiatives to help close the skills gap between refugee workers and Maine businesses. Hussein noted that many refugees come to America with trades, but face difficulty obtaining recertification here in America.
"One of the biggest problems we face in Maine is our extremely low population growth and exodus of young people," said Fredette. "The growing Somali community in Lewiston is an asset to our state because it offsets that demographic winter. We must find a way to help them achieve gainful employment and transition to American culture. We must ensure that our education system is all that it can be and that Maine has a healthy business climate that allows recent immigrants to be successful entrepreneurs."
After meeting with USWM, Hussein took Fredette for a walk down Lisbon Street, where they visited local Somali-owned stores and restaurants.
"The downtown is really alive compared to the last time I was here," remarked Fredette. "I look forward to working with the refugee community in the future; my door is always open to them."
Maine House Republicans
Tel: (207) 205-7793