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Asylum seeker scholarship program expanding to reach more Maine students

A brick and granite sign reads "Southern Maine Community College"
Ari Snider
Maine Public
ProsperityME executive director Claude Rwaganje says his organization works closely with Southern Maine Community College, where many scholarship recipients attend school.

ProsperityME, an economic empowerment organization that also provides scholarships to asylum seekers in Maine, is expanding the number of students it will be able to support. That's partly thanks to a recent donation from a former candidate for US Senate.

ProsperityME's scholarship program supports asylum seekers pursuing post-secondary education, primarily at community colleges.

Executive director Claude Rwaganje said directing financial aid toward asylum seekers is important, because many do not qualify for federal financial aid while their asylum cases are still being processed.

Rwaganje also said helping asylum seekers get degrees and technical certificates bolsters the state’s workforce.

"The businesses need them," he said. "And what we are doing is actually helping that part of the workforce through this scholarship and education."

The organization typically offers five to ten scholarships each year, but is aiming to support up to 20 students next year, thanks to a $2 million capital campaign.

That campaign got a boost this week when former senate candidate Sara Gideon donated $250,000 in unspent campaign funds.

In addition to sending more students to college, Rwaganje said the funds could also be used to help create new services, such as helping asylum seekers transfer educational and professional credentials from other countries.

"Many asylum seeker who come here have a higher [level of] education," Rwaganje said. "But because their diploma is not recognized, they can’t really go further."

Rwaganje said the scholarship program has supported 29 asylum-seeking students since it launched in 2018.

Gideon, who challenged Republican Sen. Susan Collins two years ago, has donated millions in unspent campaign funds to nonprofit organizations in Maine.