Welcoming New Mainers…

The Role of THE EMERGENCY ACTION NETWORK and its Allies in Supporting New Mainers: 

BACKGROUND:

In an era where politics have decimated safety nets for children and families and childhood poverty is rising in our state, it has become increasingly critical for communities to organize and support their most vulnerable members.  Formed in 2016, TEAM is dedicated to alleviating the aggravations of poverty for children and families. At TEAN we call our supporters “allies” and our allies have shown up in record numbers to help welcome and support the new Mainers. This work is done thanks to a dedicated group of allies and close ties with the Brunswick School Department, the community, and many service providers, churches and agencies in town. 

There are many programs in Brunswick  supporting our new Mainers: these include Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, WIC, Brunswick Town General Assistance, Oasis Health, Maine State Housing Authority, Midcoast Hospital & Affiliates, Midcoast Literacy, Merrymeeting Adult Ed, Midcoast New Mainers Group, the Brunswick School Department, the Town of Brunswick as well as multiple churches, faith-based groups, individuals and community health practitioners, dentists and optometrists. In addition, over the summer and in an ongoing capacity, we have worked closely with the staff at Brunswick Landing Ventures and the Portland Family Shelter to prepare for and support the arrival of about two dozen new families.

However, in spite of all the aforementioned resources, we have identified many short and long term specific needs that regularly fall through the cracks. These needs have been revealed to the many TEAN volunteers and “host” families who regularly visit and assist with essentials like laundry costs, grocery store trips, after school events, athletics, school conferences and open houses, recreational sports teams, trips to church, trips to Portland, immigration appointments, medical appointments, technology needs, accessing volunteer opportunities and more. 

TEAN’S INITIAL ENGAGEMENT:

On July 12 of this year, TEAN stepped in at a critical moment in Brunswick to manage the unexpected arrival of three African families who had come to Brunswick via the Portland Expo and before that had only recently crossed the Southern border. TEAN was the first community organization to assist the new families and our allies have been involved every day since. 

In those initial days TEAN board members and allies immediately came to understand that the new families were in urgent need of food, clothing and medical attention.  With the guidance of Mufalo Chittam from Maine Immigrants Rights Coalition and other cultural experts, TEAN located and deployed drivers, donors, French, Spanish, and Portuguese speakers, thousands of dollars of gift cards, and transformed people’s private homes into drop off locations and distribution centers to receive the outpouring of help offered by our community.  Within 24-48 hours, families had food on the shelves, some new, clean clothes, blankets and linens, and several had visited the walk-in urgent care clinic run by Midcoast Hospital. TEAN has since acquired storage space thanks to Crystal Spring Farm in addition to ongoing space granted to us via the Brunswick School Department. In the intervening months, a total of 80 new Mainers seeking asylum have arrived, each one welcomed and supplied with the same food and material goods organized, collected and/or paid for by TEAN. 

TEAN’S CURRENT & ONGOING ROLE:

Working in partnership with the town’s cultural broker Nsiona Nguizani and Midcoast New Mainers, a volunteer organization dedicated to supporting New Mainers settling into smaller Mid Coast communities, TEAN has been working in the following areas: 

  1. Address & resolve material needs, urgent and ongoing

Over the course of three different days in August, September and October TEAN completely furnished 14 previously empty apartments thanks to donations and allies quickly rallying around a need. This included collecting material donations as well as cash in the form of gift cards – which is now totaling several thousand dollars – spent on additional linens, toiletries, furniture, cribs, car seats, clothing, emergency groceries, warm blankets and winter gear.  

Since then, TEAN allies have been busy collecting and delivering clothes, coats, shoes, winter boots, school supplies, backpacks, home essentials, food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, (35+) bicycles, helmets & bike locks; eyeglasses, prescriptions, car seats, and most recently 18 cell phones (and paying the ongoing monthly cell phone bills) and as well as the purchase and professional installation of 14 washer/dryers.  These are tasks happening on a daily basis. Just this week winter boots were delivered to all of the adults. Shoe sizes were collected by TEAN volunteers and a boot drive at the First Parish Church collected all of the boots. A similar drive has been organized by TEAN in concert with the McKeen Center at Bowdoin.

Needs are largely being met through TEAN resources – donations made by faith groups, community allies and businesses. With winter coming, we anticipate new challenges related to the weather, illnesses, and lack of transportation options via foot or bike. While these families are extremely eager to work, due to myriad delays in the asylum/ immigration process we are unclear on when they will be able to receive work permits and so we anticipate these needs will be ongoing.

      2.  Supporting Medical Needs

Midcoast Hospital and its partners as well as OASIS Health are the primary medical providers to the new Mainers. Both are treating the families regularly. However, appointments often generate follow up events with associated costs. Currently, TEAN is covering many of those costs in the form of prescription and over-the-counter medicines as well as prescription eyeglasses, and our volunteers are closely involved with transportation related to medical appointments. Allies regularly respond to emergency requests for rides to urgent care or the ER. TEAN allies have arranged pro-bono services donated by a private dentist in Brunswick, brought teenagers to specialist appointments, and continually field calls urgent medical issues. TEAN most recently assisted with organizing a weekend flu clinic at Seeds of Independence that families could walk to. However,  prescriptions, eye glasses, and over the counter medicine, and incidental medical costs will not abate and TEAN’s support of these costs cannot be long term.  

      3.  Transportation 

TEAN in partnership with MNMSG regularly convenes meetings to discuss systems related to access, transport, and communication regarding the healthcare system.

Community members have donated dozens of bicycles, allowing TEAN to repair, refurbish and distribute over 35 bicycles, along with purchasing locks, helmets, parts, repair kits, and offering instructions on  bike maintenance and the rules of the road. While many of the young children are enjoying biking around the neighborhood, the teenagers use them to get to sports practices and school, and for some of the adults, are a key link  in transportation around town; to the bus, appointments, errands and grocery store. TEAN has coordinated collection, repairs, pro-bono parts and repairs from local businesses, and ongoing maintenance. TEAN has also purchased several tool/repair kits for the newcomers. 

TEAN and allies continue to advocate for expanded bus service from the Explorer that includes a regular non-request required stop at SMA on Brunswick Landing, and the possibility of more frequent Explorer runs or later day runs, as well as better coordination between the Breez and Explorer. These services would better serve all of the people in our community. Flight Deck, the YMCA, SMCC, Seeds of Independence, Parks & Rec, UMA, Real School, Senior College, Wild Oats (2020), BLV Tenants and many other businesses and organizations would benefit from improved public transportation to the Landing. 

ANTICIPATED UPCOMING NEEDS:

  • Development of programming and space at the Welcome Center being created by the town in the Parks and Rec building on Neptune Drive;
  • Engagement of new volunteers to support families;
  • We have enrolled several families with preschool aged children in HeadStart. This is a great program and a great benefit to kids and families. However, again transportation as weather worsens, will become a critical issue;
  • Transportation to immigration hearings in Boston will require bus and train tickets;
  • Costs associated with preparing immigration documents;
  • Increases transportation in winter when families unfamiliar with Maine winters struggle to use buses, walk or bike;
  • Increased transportation to MCHPP for winter;
  • Additional access to food;
  • Ongoing clothing needs.