Community services

On the Record: Gateway Community Services’ Abdullahi Ali Opens Door to Help New Masters

Abdullahi Ali is the Founder and CEO of Gateway Community Services, a nonprofit organization with offices in Portland, Biddeford, Lewiston and Augusta dedicated to supporting immigrants and refugees through services ranging from mental health to programs for young people.

Mainebiz: What is the mission of Gateway Community Services?

Abdallahi Ali: Gateway Community Services was founded to help improve the lives of everyone in Maine, especially New Mainers. Beyond that, we are deeply committed to helping all those experiencing trauma or other emotional distress gain independence in their community so that they can realize their potential and find increased peace and happiness.

Mo: How did your own experience as a refugee in Kenya, and later as a New Main, influence the creation of Gateway Community Services?

AA: My experience as a refugee played a big part in my decision to create Gateway Community Services. Growing up in a refugee camp, I depended on humanitarian aid and support from international organizations that provided us with food, water, health care, education and other basic needs. In the camps, I later became involved in these organizations – I worked with them to set up programs for conflict resolution, peacemaking and self-reliance.

Later, when I arrived in the United States, getting support from social service organizations as I adjusted to being a new master helped me understand my journey and life experience, and how the support. other people helped shape me and was essential to my progress. All of this prepared me to approach things the way I did. I saw the need for mental health services and other supports in the community, and I asked, “How do I respond to this? What is my role as an individual and what can I do to meet this need? “

Mo: Can you share any examples where Gateway Community Services has made a difference in the life of an immigrant or refugee family?

AA: There are clients who were afraid to leave their apartments years ago, who now join us at community events and proudly share that they have become citizens, while others are homeless and are now living. comfortably in their own apartment. Still other clients make small but life-changing gains in counseling, understanding that they are resilient survivors, not victims.

Mo: What do you think are the main barriers for immigrants to access mental health services, and how do you help them overcome these challenges?

AA: A huge barrier is the lack of funding for mental health support. Another barrier is that so many clients come from countries where mental health was strongly stigmatized. We work to make mental health easier for people by talking about it in terms of the stresses of everyday life and using universal terms for feelings, such as “being worried” instead of “having anxiety” or “feeling sad” instead of “having depression.

Mo: Given Gateway’s presence in Portland, Biddeford, Lewiston, and Augusta, how do immigrant needs differ in each of these communities?

AA: We observed a higher concentration of asylum-seeking clients in and around the Portland and Biddeford sites, and a greater number of homeless families. In Augusta there are fewer other social service agencies, so we may have to work harder to connect clients to resources than in Portland or Lewiston.

Mo: How has the pandemic affected your budget and fundraising?

AA: We had to change our priorities, but we got more in terms of fundraising during COVID than before. Part of what we had to do with our budget was change our programming, like going in person to online. In some cases, we have used the budget for purposes more related to COVID.

Mo: What are your goals or priorities for 2021?

AA: (1) Continuous and sustainable growth of the agency; (2) To raise funds and support efforts to provide mental health services to asylum seekers and those who are not eligible for MaineCare; and (3) Create training opportunities for certifications and other experiences or credentials, so people can be job-ready, especially in supporting individuals in the communities we serve.