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Portland nonprofit launching professional development program for immigrant women

Ari Snider
Maine Public
Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center executive director Reza Jalali (right) speaks at a World Refugee Day celebration in Portland in June. Jalali said the new Women Lead program is an investment in the success of immigrant women and in the future workforce of the state.

The Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center is launching an entrepreneurship and professional development program to give immigrant women a foothold in the business world.

Welcome Center Executive Director Reza Jalali said the goal of the Women Lead program is remove barriers for immigrant women seeking to start a business or advance their careers.

He said support will be tailored to each participant, and could include career mentorship, English classes, and funding for continuing education.

"It's a comprehensive plan to ensure that women who come from other countries are not stuck in dead-end jobs, or jobs that really don't reflect [their] background or the talent or level of education," Jalali said.

The federal budget passed by Congress last week included a $619,000 earmark to get the program off the ground.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine's 1st District, who helped secure the funding, said in a statement that she sees the program as one way to support immigrant women and girls, and "as an investment in future economic development that will benefit all Mainers."

Jalali said the plan is to begin mentoring participants by late spring or early summer.