By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
After a couple of weeks of touching on a controversial subject, I thought I’d keep it light this week and talk about a lighter, but very important, subject for the City of Lewiston. I write this week about the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) and the contributions these students have delivered to our community and the state in general, as they have had a positive impact statewide.
LYAC was first established by the City Council in 2001. Prior to it being established, municipal staff looked to other cities in New England and nationwide for models of such youth councils. They also sought input from the community, both youth and adults, as well as elected officials.
With youth input it was decided to use an application process, rather than an election process, to become members. That way, it didn’t become a popularity contest. With community support evident, a St. Dominic’s Regional High School student and a Bates College intern developed by-laws to launch the concept, with the understanding that the charter group could modify them.
After passage by the Lewiston City Council, the first meeting of LYAC was held in September 2002.
The adult advisors to LYAC are Recreation Director Maggie Chisholm and Community Relations Coordinator Dottie Perham-Whittier. Currently serving as the City Council Representative is Ward 1 City Councilor John Butler. Prior city council representatives have been Ward 1 Councilor Roger Philippon, Ward 7 Councilor Norm Rousseau and Ward 4 Councilor Denis Theriault.
Much of the success of the LYAC program has been because of the dedication beyond the call to duty by Chisholm, Perham-Whittier and truly dedicated city councilors serving in an advisory/liaison capacity.
With a very limited budget from the city, LYAC has also been supported the last two years by the Lewiston Firefighters Association, who are giving back to their community through our youth.
My first contact with the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council was shortly after my election in 2007, when I served on an interview panel to interview candidates for membership to LYAC. I was very much impressed by the high caliber of students applying for membership.
My very first impression was the fact that LYAC members had participated in the All-America City Competition in Anaheim, California with then Mayor Lionel Guay and City Councilor Norm Rousseau and others in 2006. They came within a whisker of being selected as an All-America City by the National Civic League. It was truly hurtful and disappointing to come as close as they had been informed.
Although the adult participants were reluctant to try it again in 2007, it was the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council who pushed to proceed again. I was fortunate enough as mayor to participate this time with City Councilor Norm Rousseau, LYAC, city staff and community members. We competed again and we were selected as an All-America City in 2007. Had it not been for the perseverance of our youth, we would not be enjoying that distinction as a city today. It simply goes to show the power of our youth and the determination to get up and try again.
LYAC’s mission is to serve as an advisory council to the Lewiston City Council in regards to community issues affecting youth and serve as a liaison between the youth of the community and the city. The LYAC also enables youth to work toward goals that empower all of the community’s youth and to undertake service projects that enhance the community.
Wouldn’t you think that following the principles of its mission that these youth will no doubt become exemplary adult citizens as they certainly are as high school students? I certainly am a firm believer.
I now wish to share with you some of the projects LYAC has developed and implemented:
LYAC launched “MOTIVATE ME” in early 2011, an outreach to local seventh and eighth graders in an effort to enhance attitudes towards school and hopefully raise their aspirations.
They developed a production of “SMASHED,” an underage-drinking-awareness video that they wrote, produced and debuted at a local theatre to a standing room only. The video has now been approved as part of Maine’s driver education curriculum.
On November 17, 2010, the youth council held a World Peace Day candlelight walk across the local Bernard Lown Peace Bridge in recognition of World Peace Day. The post-walk festivities took place in Lewiston’s Franco-American Heritage Center, which was decorated with submitted peace-focused artwork from local elementary students.
New in 2010, LYAC members started sitting with the City Council during regular meetings. They are encouraged to share their thoughts as agenda items are being discussed.
In 2010, LYAC hosted its first-ever youth summit, sponsored by the Lewiston Firefighters Association. The summit was a huge success with five schools attending. In addition to a keynote speaker with a message of “Inspired to be Great,” and a physical fitness routine known as “Zumba,” educational interactive breakout sessions were held with summit goals such as bringing youth together to share and implement different ideas/experiences; to help youth to be better prepared for handling finances, staying healthy and physically fit; preparing for college; being an effective communicator.
They showed Lewiston from LYAC’s point of view in a DVD they produced to hopefully enhance other youth’s perception of Lewiston.
They have also attended the Maine Youth Action Network Peer Leadership Conference, covering many subjects on issues of the day from climate change to healthy nutrition.
They produced a “Keep Lewiston Clean–Recycle” DVD for use within neighborhoods and community groups. To that end, they also acted out at Montello Elementary Schools, the characters in their new Charlie’s Big Recycling Adventure” story/coloring booklet, which they wrote/illustrated. They also showed their video to first, second and third graders.
They painted a great many 55-gallon drums to be used in the community and city parks for collection of trash in an “Adopt-A-Can” for community members to become involved with and offering landlord incentives.
LYAC partnered with Nick Knowlton, who designed a drinking “U BOOZE U LOOZE” logo. Northeast Bank sponsored pens and key chains with the logo. The program received interest calls from The Montel Williams New York-based talk show and a number of other organizations. The video “SMASHED” is an offspring of this program.
Another program was “Lessons Through Expressions,” an art event for community children in grades K-4 in 2008. It encouraged children to try their hand at artwork mimicking well-known artists and also focused on recycling. An LYAC exhibit of local youth art was also held in the Lewiston Library’s Callahan Hall in 2006.
LYAC participated in the Lewiston Police Ride-Along Program. One youth, Holly Lavorgna, was instrumental in solving a crime during her ride-along.
The electronic message board at the entrance to Lewiston High School is the result of LYAC’s fundraising effort with community organizations.
They also raised funds to display the 1891 E. Howard timepiece at City Hall, which was formerly in the building’s tower. City Councilor Norm Rousseau along with LYAC members worked to raise funds for this great piece that we all view at City Hall with a 12-hour “Rock for the Clock” fundraiser. The narrating of the clock’s history on an audio podium accompanying the display was donated by Five County Credit Union.
The list of accomplishments from the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council continues back to its inception. I could go on with a number of other programs this group has developed. I think you get the gist of their contributions to our community.
Another plus I have witnessed with LYAC is the diversity we are seeing with Somali and Sudanese youth joining the group, a true testament that assimilation is happening with contributions to our community by our new young immigrants. There is great hope for the future of our community with contributions emulative of our past generations. This is another example that our youth serve as an example for the adults of our community that there is strength in diversity.
Seeing our youth involved in their community at this level gives me great hope to our future as a community, state and country. These youth are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. The investment we make in them will be to our benefit as we grow older. They will sustain our community because they will have had a stake in its continued development.
As mayor of the All-America City of Lewiston, I wish to express our city’s sincere appreciation to the former and current members of the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council for their exemplary contributions to their community. I sincerely hope that upon the completion of their education that they will return to our community to continue to contribute as adults as they have in their teen years.
If they do, Lewiston and surrounding communities can look forward to a great and vibrant future. To LYAC members present and past as well as their adult advisors, a sincere thank you!
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.