Welcoming the Stranger views mentoring as an informal cross-cultural friendship and partnership. Mentors partner with a mentee/mentee family to help them navigate their new community and learn about available resources. The relationship may be as fluid and open-ended as works for everyone involved and may encompass a broad array of interactions. Mentors might help with such things as:
- locating resources for food, clothing and household goods
- providing occasional transportation to appointments
- facilitating connections with schools
- practicing English
- writing resumes and applying for jobs
- prepping for a driver’s license
- locating and participating in fun outings
One newly arrived individual or family might quickly settle in an apartment and make their own connections, only asking for an occasional ride or cooking tip; another might seek hands-on help with negotiating the Metro system or bureaucratic red tape while others may just want to practice English. However, mentors may also need to be proactive in figuring out how to best assist their mentees. Most fundamentally, a mentor’s job is to be a friend and support at a time of need.
Mentor/mentee relationship are determined by both parties. Starting out, we ask mentors to meet with their mentees at least once a week to help establish a relationship. Then you can decide how much time everyone wants to spend together. During the beginning it is important to respect the privacy of your mentee(s) who often come from traumatic experiences, and not press them for personal information. As the relationship develops and grows more comfortable, it will be up to mentees to decide if they want to share more information.Mentors are not expected to be legal advocates, social workers, case managers or experts at anything; their primary task is simply to be a dependable, trusted friend for newcomers who would otherwise feel alone in a strange new world.
If questions or issues arise, mentors have access to support from our Mentor Google group and this website’s Resources section.
If being a mentor doesn’t work out for any reason, we hope you will work with the WTS coordinator to figure out a smooth transition to end the relationship.
Welcome! We are thrilled that you have decided to mentor. Below you’ll find links to our resources, history, an outline of the mentor role and a few other things to help you get started. Please feel free to contact us directly with any questions or concerns that come up as you begin. Thank you for helping to make Portland a welcoming community for those seeking asylum.
- Resources and Support
- Google Group – our network of mentors for posting needs, resources, articles
Use this forum as much or as little as you’d like, but please remember that unless it is something with more general application, hit “reply” rather than “reply all” when responding to an inquiry.
- Resources an abundance of information to support your mentee: GA, child care, social services, housing, etc.
- Google Group – our network of mentors for posting needs, resources, articles
- History of the WTS Program
- Mentor’s Role
- Understanding the Asylum Process
- Working with New Mainers
- Managing expectations and boundaries – yours and theirs. See the document on “Mentor Self Care” referenced here.
- Expect some miscommunication- don’t assume it is personal. Give time for the relationship to develop.
- It is not expected that you provide monetary support or gifts of any kind, but if you choose to please be aware of General Assistance (GA) rules so you do not jeopardize your mentee’s eligibility. The GA recipients sign a contract that they need to follow. You should read and understand that contract. Use the google group if you have specific questions.
- Be careful of setting up ongoing expectations. It is important to set reasonable limits to avoid burnout.
- Note that our goal is to empower not rescue.
- Working with English Language Learners
- Cultural Sensitivity
- Respecting privacy
- Asylum seekers have often experienced significant trauma and are in a legal limbo that may be scary and unsettling especially in our current political climate. Don’t ask them for their ‘story’ or why they’re here. Instead, allow them tell their stories to you at their own pace (or not at all).
- Don’t share photos of your mentees on social media etc. without explicit consent.
- Managing Crises
- If there is a situation that you are unsure how to handle please let us know and we will work with you to find a solution.
- Accessing the Critical Needs Fund
Critical Needs Fund
The Steering Committee of Welcoming the Stranger, with the generous support of Temple Beth El (TBE), has established a separate, segregated project fund at TBE to allow tax-deductible donations to be made by individuals and foundations who would like to support our work. For now, we have decided to use currently available funds to meet “critical” mentee needs that cannot otherwise be met by existing funding sources. We have established guidelines for making up to $1000 stipends available to your mentees, which can increase if there are sufficient monies available in the Fund. We encourage you to seek a stipend if and when the need arises. Requests will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis.
To fill out the following funds request form, see the Guidelines for Disbursements form.
We also urge you to tell your friends, family, and colleagues about this newly created fund and its tax-deductible status. Apart from the very real needs it helps meet, contributing to it can be an effective way for those unable to serve as mentors to nonetheless support the work of Welcoming the Stranger. The Guidelines for Donation Form provides more information. And thank you!
What do I need to know about the person’s home country, personal history or situation?
You don’t really need to know much in order to be a friend to your mentee, although Welcoming the Stranger will provide you with very basic information (e.g., country of origin) gathered from an application form completed at the outset. Most likely, as the relationship develops, your mentee may want to share personal history and stories about their past. However, some asylum seekers (like many immigrants and refugees) have experienced violence or seen family members hurt or killed. Be sensitive to this and let your mentee decide how much he or she wants to share.
What do I do if the person has housing, food, legal, mental health or other needs or questions?
We have a list of available community resources that we expect to be updated on an ongoing basis, and a contact person. In addition, you will be connected to other mentors participating in Welcoming the Stranger who can offer advice and support.
What if the relationship doesn’t develop in a comfortable way?
You are under no obligation to continue the relationship, but we hope that you will give it some time to develop; some New Mainers lack confidence in their English or may be feeling overwhelmed by their situation. If you’ve given the effort ample time and feel there’s no ‘connection’ or the relationship is not a comfortable or useful one, we ask that you discuss the matter with the mentor organizer.
Will there be any supervision or connections with others who are also mentoring?
We have no formal plans for supervision; however, we do plan to arrange get-togethers for mentors, and for mentors and mentees.
What if the person’s English isn’t very good?
You have a great opportunity to help someone improve their English! In the meantime, be patient and speak slowly. You could also bring books, newspapers or magazines to look at, or share.
How much money, if any, am I expected to either give to the person or spend on him or her?
There is no expectation to financially support your mentee, either by giving him/her money or purchasing things on for him/her. Down the road, we hope to raise funds to have available for mentee’s needs. For now, it’s entirely up to you if you want to do nothing financially, or buy lunch occasionally, or something more substantial to help your mentee out.
What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum-seeker?
An immigrant seeking political asylum in Maine must feel “fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, social group, or political opinion.” Under U.S. law, an asylum seeker differs from a “refugee” in that a refugee has applied for and been granted the legal right to stay in this country, often after spending significant time in a refugee camp. Asylum seekers arrive without having been granted that right; most have been forced to flee war and turmoil in their native countries. Most asylum seekers enter the US on some type of valid visa, and must then apply for legal residence to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) within a year of arrival. The application process typically takes 2 -5 years before the person is finally interviewed and either granted or denied asylum. Most asylum seekers arrive with very little, and are initially dependent on General Assistance. Under the current law, asylum seekers cannot even apply for work authorization until 150 days after they submit their asylum application; that authorization can then take 30-60 days to receive.
Am I expected to invite the person to my home?
No, you are not. Once you get to know the person, you may want to, but that is totally up to you.
How are the asylum-seekers being identified for this program?
We are working with Portland Adult Education, Opportunity Alliance, churches and other organizations already working with refugees to identify asylum-seekers who might like a mentor.
I keep hearing that these folks are here illegally. Is that true?
No. Asylum-seekers are here legally and are following U.S. law (see above). Unfortunately, some politicians like to equate asylum-seekers with ‘undocumented workers’ or ‘illegal aliens’, but asylum-seekers are following the difficult and lengthy process enumerated in U.S. law.