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March 21, 2018

Immigrant Welcome Center to double its space

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
The Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, a hub for immigrant resources created by Executive Director Alain Nahimana, pictured, and Damas Rugaba, is doubling in size.

PORTLAND — The Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center is doubling in size, expanding to the fourth floor of 24 Preble St.

The center, which includes coworking, meeting space, offices for several nonprofits that offer immigrant support and other resources for immigrants, opened in July on the third floor of the 118-year-old building.

The Arcadia National Bar, on the first floor, closed for renovations at the end of February and will reopen in April as it, too, expands. The bar, which has a variety of video games, has been in the building since 2014. Plans are to add table space, a kitchen and more.

As welcome center Executive Director Alain Nahimana, talks about plans for the fourth floor, he weaves between the bar's pinball games, which are temporarily stored there.

But they'll be gone, walls will come down and the space opened up for a digital language lab, coworking space and a business hub after renovation work starts in May.

Nahimana said the language lab, in particular, is important, so skilled immigrants can get jobs.

The center is home to a variety of nonprofit organizations that support immigrants — for instance, the third-floor office of Women United Around the World has half a dozen tidy tables topped by sewing machines.

The center is 75% supported by the organizations that operate out of it. Outside organizations and individuals can use meeting rooms and coworking space for free.

The funding for the expansion is coming directly from members of the board, Nahimana said. "It's very important to have board members who are committed to what we're doing and support us."

The contractor for the expansion is Rob Barrett, of Barrett Made, who is also doing the Arcadia renovation and work on, Shift Portland, on the second floor. Jeanne Handy Designs of Portland is helping with design work, pro bono, Nahimana said.

Professional and modern

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center occupies the third floor of 24 Preble St., and will soon expand to the fourth.

He and Damas Rugaba came up with the idea for the center — a place where startups, individuals and organizations working on immigrant-related issues could work together and be a hub for immigrants seeking resources and support.

Rugaba, who is chairman of the board, also runs Good Cause Property Management. Nahimana is originally from Burundi, while Rugaba is from Rwanda.

Both floors are 3,960 square feet, giving the center 7,920 square feet. Nahimana said the space will be designed similarly to the third floor — comfortable and cheerful, but also professional.

"People don't expect it," he said Tuesday, of the business-like atmosphere. "But it's what's intended. We wanted to look professional, modern."

He said the look of the space sends a message. 'It actually tells the story of where we want to be as immigrants," he said.

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