PORTLAND — In building his own life, Abdullahi Ali has worked to help others build theirs.
Born in Somalia, Ali was raised in Kenyan refugee camps before arriving in Lewiston in 2009. Now the chief executive officer of Gateway Community Services, he provides outreach, counseling and companionship in offices at 501 Forest Ave. as well as in Lewiston and Augusta.
Ali is now looking for help in a drive to raise $40,000 for youth services and counseling. Among other things, the money will pay for case management, preparing students for college, a soccer team and leadership training.
Ali estimates he has worked with 1,400 clients since 2015, most of whom have moved on after receiving needed services or reaching goals for settling into a new life.
Iman Mohamed, a native of Djibouti, has stayed at Gateway to become its youth coordinator.
“There is a shortage of spaces like this; a lot of us when we are done at school, we just come here,” Mohamed said.
A Portland High School graduate who was unable to consider college until being granted asylum, Mohamed said bringing together schools, students and parents at Gateway to illuminate the path to higher education is critical.
Now at the University of Southern Maine, Mohamed said she had to advocate for herself in high school to push beyond the elemental classes she took, telling guidance counselors “I’m doing good at this; I need to be at the next level.”
Mohamed said she plans to focus on art to help bring Gateway youth together.
“This is kind of like a mental health facility, I see a painting party as art therapy,” she said, while also adding storytelling and poetry to activities.
For the five men playing on the soccer team that started last summer, unity is more than just a game.
“When I came into Gateway, Abdullahi said ‘start something.’ We never had that in the community,” Somalian Yahye Hussein said.
The team raised half its first registration fee; Ali paid the rest. More than 20 players from seven countries now play.
“We make sure everyone brings their own ball,” said Somalia-born Dawood Jimale.
Mazin Ahmed, born in Sudan, plays at USM, and said the Gateway team has a different purpose for him.
“I saw this as an opportunity not to get better, but to meet people,” he said. “All of us have gotten better, not just in a soccer way.”
Team members also bonded watching World Cup matches at Gateway last summer. They live in an area that is not always welcoming, but feel their lives are improving.
“You learn how to hold your tongue and be patient, and you do that playing soccer. too,” Ahmed said.
Gateway also offers the Maine Leadership Institute SEALSfit training, which sisters Doaa and Maryam Albayati said have provided them with both mental and physical development.
“When I first signed up, I thought it was about applying to college, then I found out it was about leadership and fitness,” Doaa said.
Born in Baghdad, both arrived in Maine with their families in 2016. Both are Deering High School students.
Maryam said SEALSfit bolstered her confidence.
“Be confident about yourself,” she said, “and do not be scared to share ideas.”
Doaa and Maryam Albayati credit SEALSfit training at Gateway Community Services on Forest Avenue for their mental and physical growth.
Iman Mohamed is now the Youth Coordinator at Gateway Community Services, with a desire to better incorporate the arts into youth activities.
Yahye Hussein, left, Dawood Jimale, Mazin Ahmed, Abdikarim Jimale and Musa Abdi play for the Gateway soccer team. “All of us have gotten better, not just in a soccer way,” Ahmed said.