As she braided Alice Umulisa’s hair, Nana Batumike talked about running her new business.

“I wanted to start because I wanted to feel at home and make my living,” Batumike said. “It was my dream since I was little.”

She is the owner of NanuSka Style, where she braids hair and sells cosmetics and African clothing. Batumike is also one of the first tenants of Fikiria, a cluster of spaces for entrepreneurs inside Catholic Charities Maine’s Threads of Hope thrift store at 1041 Brighton Ave. in Portland.

Fikiria is Swahili for “imagine.”

With two of 12 spaces rented, Tae Chong, Catholic Charities Maine’s social enterprise and workforce development manager, said the organization is recruiting young people, seniors, refugees and immigrants, among others, to create an economic ecosystem.

Spaces are rented below market value, starting at $325 per month, and Chong is among those who provide free business counseling, guidance with marketing and customer service, and display and point of sale areas within the store.

“How do I help the single mom, the entrepreneur, the student without resources?” Chong asked while standing next door to NanuSka Style, in Anaam Jabbir’s Chiffon Alterations.

Jabbir was visiting family in her native Iraq, but in a phone call said collaborative efforts to start her business also made her dream a reality.

“This is a good opportunity for me and for all community,” she said. “It would be hard for me to start alone.”

Chong, formerly with Coastal Enterprises Inc., has long worked to help immigrants utilize their skills and prosper in the state economy. He said Fikiria takes a wider approach.

“I’m trying to push for art students and university students to use this shop to test out ideas,” Chong said.

Also supporting Fikiria are cPort Credit Union, Maine Technology Institute, Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation, Rocking Moon Foundation and Lee International. Individual donations included sewing machines from Dory Waxman of American Roots, where Jabbir is head forewoman.

The day-to-day work at Fikiria shops still requires some coaching, but Chong wants business owners to be able to focus on what they like as they grow.

Batumike, a mother of six children, is learning to balance home and work.

“It is challenging, but when you love what you are doing, you usually find a way,” she said.

Read this story in The Forecaster.

David Harry can be contacted at 780-9092 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @DavidHarry8.


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