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Over the past several years, we’ve been collaborating with local nonprofit organizations, that help recent immigrants to Maine, to help build pathways for employment in the brewing industry. In 2021, our partnerships led us to something new and exciting: paid internships at Allagash.

To create these internships, we worked with two organizations in particular: In Her Presence and Portland Adult Education. In Her Presence connects and empowers immigrant women and their families to acquire English language skills and build supportive relationships as they settle into a new way of life in Maine. Portland Adult Education’s ESOL program serves over 1,800 immigrants from over 60 countries, with courses from basic English to advanced job readiness classes. Both organizations are key resources in helping to prepare new Mainers with skills they’ll need to thrive. Working together with each organization, we were able to bring two talented new employees into our organization: Ken Gatore in our tasting room, and Langaba Antonio in our warehouse.

Our HR department made certain that the internship would be as productive and enriching as possible, so that our interns truly learned the ins and outs of the positions for which they were training. For each internship, our team created a comprehensive plan, detailing scheduled check-ins with department managers, curriculum, expectations, scope, and more. We also created mentor roles to help answer questions and help the interns feel at home in their respective departments.

To help our employees better understand the challenges of communicating in a different language, we had the Tasting Room, Warehouse and many other employees (65 in total) complete a Cross-Cultural Dialogue training to hear directly from immigrants about the challenges of moving to a place where everything is different and to practice conversations. Some of our sales team recently described this opportunity as “one of the best- if not the best- trainings I have ever done in my life.” The training is designed and delivered by In Her Presence.

Ken Gatore, Tasting Room Associate

Ken Gatore, one of the two first members of the Allagash paid internship program

Originally from Kigali, Rwanda, Ken now lives in South Portland. Ken graduated high school in 2018, and moved to South Portland from Rwanda in 2019. Ken learned about the internship program from Claudette Ndayininahaze, co-founder of In Her Presence.

“It was truly like no other job, or other experience, I had ever had before,” said Ken. As a speaker of three languages—Kinyarwanda, French, and English—Ken had never spoken solely English, all day, especially not in a professional setting. At first, in his words, the internship was almost overwhelming: there were a huge number of beers to memorize, the layout and flow of our tasting room to become familiar with, all on top of questions from guests. To help, Ken had the dedicated support of Zoe, an experienced tasting room employee, to guide Ken throughout his internship. In Zoe’s words: “This internship was my first experience working as a mentor. I am confident when I say that not only did Ken get the most out of this experience, so did I.”

Based on his assigned responsibilities, Ken started by bussing tables, to help familiarize him with the space and get to know our tasting room team. Next, he worked in our beer cooler, which showed Ken how inventory comes and goes, and is reordered from our warehouse if we’re getting low. Next came merchandise, where Ken was working the register and interacting with guests for the first time. “The final challenge, in my mind,” said Ken “was when I started to work at the taps, pouring beer for guests.” With a Certified Beer Server Cicerone level under his belt (Ken studied for and passed this exam during his internship), Ken felt that he was totally prepared by the time he stepped up to the taps. 

Now, “no matter a guest’s craft beer knowledge,” said Zoe, “Ken is able to meet them where they are, to help them find a beer that they will enjoy.” An additional skill that Ken brought to the team was his ability to speak multiple languages. On several occasions, he had great interactions with guests who spoke French, just like him.

Langaba Antonio, Warehouse Associate

Langaba was one of the two first members of the Allagash paid internship program

Meanwhile Langaba was getting to work in the warehouse. Prior to his internship, Langaba had worked for 12 years in telecommunications, fixing cables across the world. Originally from Angola, Langaba lived in various places across Europe and Asia. After a visit to the U.S. in 2018, he moved here for good in 2019. “I am a lifelong learner,” said Langaba, and when he arrived in the U.S., he began taking classes with Portland Adult Education. And it was through PAE that he was referred by a teacher, Jean Pierre Akeyezu, to our internship posting. “I looked at my experience at Allagash as a second school.”

Like Ken, Langaba was assigned an Allagash mentor that he could come to with any questions. That person was Dave Perry, one of our warehouse associates and now a friend of Langaba’s. 

The best advice Dave received in his mentorship role was from Claudette, the director of In her Presence. “She reminded me that Langaba would be nervous about his communication skills, but if I were to build a relationship with him, he would be a lot more comfortable and confident approaching me with questions and concerns.” Not surprisingly, that was extremely helpful advice. Dave and Langaba’s working relationship, and friendship, has helped both of them get more fulfillment at their jobs. 

To start, Langaba shadowed Dave and other members of the warehouse team in all of the various disciplines he’d need: working a forklift; organizing significant numbers of bottles, cans, and raw brewing materials; putting together specific orders; and loading up trucks, to name a few. As Langaba puts it, “the forklift is now the biggest tool in my toolbelt.” Additionally, Dave noted that Langaba’s “dedication to safety and teamwork… have made him an awesome fit for all of us.” According to Langaba, “I wanted to be part of the team and work hard. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.” And that mindset made a big impact. Over the three months of his paid internship, Langaba impressed our warehouse team with his expertise, hard work, and perspective, coming from a different industry.

Friends at Allagash company party

Langaba with his mentor (and friend) Dave, at a company Harvest Party.

Both Ken and Langaba completed their internship over three months during the summer of 2021. And as you might have inferred, they did very well. We offered Langaba a full-time position in our warehouse in September of 2021. We also offered Ken a year-round, part-time position in our tasting room. We feel lucky to have them both on our team. They bring perspectives that we did not have before.

Our internship program would not have been possible without the support and collaboration of our nonprofit partners In her Presence and Portland Adult Education. We’re thrilled to have them continue as collaborators on this program next year, and are enjoying two new interns from In Her Presence this summer in our tasting room: Diora Ndagano, an engineering student at U Maine Orono and Celeste Nubahe, student at SMCC.

While our internship program is still in its early stages, we’re excited by its prospects.

Brett has been a part of the Allagash Marketing Team since 2016. He's a big fan of sharing the many stories Allagash has to offer through blogs, newsletters, as the host of their podcast, and in intermittent appearances on social media.