In an effort to better integrate immigrants into the community and boost the region’s workforce, Bangor may spend $100,000 to help pay for staff at the city’s new multicultural center.
At a city council meeting on Monday evening, councilors Sean Faircloth and Joe Baldacci proposed the city help fund two positions at the city’s Maine Multicultural Center.
The city would only kick in the money if the multicultural center, which opened in November and is funded through the Bangor-based Eastern Maine Development Corporation’s nonprofit status, is able to raise the same amount from other sources, said Faircloth, who also serves on the center’s executive committee that oversees its day to day operations. The councilors did not propose a specific year for the funding.
Economists estimate the number of people retiring in Maine will surpass the number of younger people available to replace them over the next couple of decades. During Monday night’s meeting, a number of immigrants and representatives from several hospitals, universities and businesses told the more than 60 people in attendance that the community needs the multicultural center in order to attract and retain immigrants, so the region’s economy can grow.
“I think Bangor has untapped potential to move into the 21st century. And it’s not an issue of political correctness, it’s an issue of basic economics,” said Baldacci. “I believe we can find the money. I think the money is well worth the investment.”
The money would allow the center to hire an executive director and an administrative assistant, and fund the creation of detailed business and marketing plans, said Pamela Proulx-Curry, who is also dean of UMA’s Bangor campus, where the center is based.
The center was created to host cultural events throughout the city and provide a range of services that help immigrants get acclimated to the area — from helping people connect with immigration lawyers and housing to getting their kids into school or teaching them how to do everyday activities like shopping.
The executive committee — which includes representatives from local non-profits, medical centers, and universities, and meets monthly at the University of Maine in Augusta’s Bangor campus — has been focusing mainly on fundraising and applying for grants.
The city council did not vote to commit the funds on Monday and it is unclear when it will discuss it next. Councilor David Nealley said he wanted leaders of the center to raise the money through other means first, but several other councilors said they plan to approve the funds.
If eventually approved, the $100,000 would be the city’s first financial commitment.
The city council had previously pledged its support for the multicultural center. It also added Tanya Emery, the city’s community and economic development director, to the center’s steering committee — the volunteer body that oversees its larger vision.
Cintia Miranda, a Brazilian immigrant who spoke at Monday’s meeting with her daughter at her side, said growing up she did not speak any English, was hungry, and lacked basic necessities. Since moving to Bangor in 2009, her daughter has thrived in the schools, she has volunteered her time helping the community, and has started a business that created jobs.
A multicultural center could make Bangor a better place for immigrants to live, work and raise a family as well, she said.
“I would like to live in a community and work in a community where people from far away are welcome. Diversity has always been America’s finest strength. We should not be afraid of each other’s differences,” said Miranda. “The Multicultural Center would help make Bangor an even better place, to live, work and grow strong citizens.”
Officials in Portland are currently pushing a similar immigration support network called the Office of New Americans.