Some say leadership skipped a generation in L-A. The next wave has arrived.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Posing on West Pitch Park in Auburn are publisher Joshua Shea, 36; Hillary Dow, 33, of Austin Associates; Michael Dostie, 29, of J. Dostie Jewelers (holding a large cut crystal); Jonathan LaBonte, 31, Auburn mayor and executive director of the Androscoggin Land Trust; and Craig Saddlemire, 29, a Lewiston city councilor and filmmaker (with video camera).

LEWISTON — As a Portlander, Joshua Shea failed.

What will the community be like when your kids are grown?

Josh Shea: "I hope this community will offer my children what they want on all levels, be it vocational, recreational, leisure or whatever. If my children choose to leave, I don't want it to be because we're lacking in something. And if they do leave, I want them to leave a place where they feel like those in the community care about their surroundings. Growing up here, I felt like people cared 50 years ago. The mills closed, and people stopped caring. Even if my kids leave, I want them to be proud of where they came from. And if they bring my grandkids here to visit, I want my grandkids to think it would be a cool place to move to."

Hillary Dow: "I think our urban-rural balance is here for the long haul. But I think it will be the urban opportunities that are magnified for the generations to come. There's more energy behind it now."

Jonathan LaBonte: "I think it'll be a community that is not only proud of its heritage but is continuously ranking among some of the best communities to raise a family or to start a small business. It will also be one of the most active and healthy communities in New England. My kids, hopefully, will not understand when they hear the phrases 'Dirty Lew' or 'Armpit of Maine' or any of the stereotypes of Lewiston-Auburn. Those will just be memories of my generation."

Craig Saddlemire: "Lewiston-Auburn will have fully embraced its identity as a modern city and our community will once again be developed around a vibrant, urban core. As a history class assignment, my kids will be producing ethnographic videos about the extinct culture of the suburbanite."

Michael Dostie: "It will be better than it is today. If things continue as they have been trending, it will be one of the most spectacular places in New England."

What's the best first step to becoming involved in the community?

Joshua Shea: "The best first step is simple: Show up and ask how you can help. Get off your butt and go do something. If you're interested in government, there are dozens of boards that are constantly looking for people to sit on them. If you're into the arts, show up at any event and ask the coordinator how you can help in the future. The key is just being available and letting people know you're ready to help."

Hillary Dow: "Find a committee that interests you and volunteer. Most committees are eager to have volunteers show up and contribute."

Jonathan LaBonte: "Ask. Find an area you're interested in. Find out who's involved and ask. This is the easiest community to get involved in. And it's people being involved and volunteering that makes things spin and happen. All it takes is asking. There's plenty to do."

Craig Saddlemire: "To be an active community member, it's important that much of your life actually takes place in that community. It needs to be a place where you live, work, play and have social connections. If you don't spend a majority of your time in the community, it's hard to be effectively involved. Once you have formed this relationship with your community, then you can begin to understand what you have to contribute. Once you form social connections, other people will figure out what you have to contribute and invite you to do it."

Michael Dostie: "The best way to start is just go out and participate. Try new things. See what you like. Find something you love and expand on that."

Craig Saddlemire

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Michael Dostie

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Jonathan LaBonte

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Joshua Shea

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Hillary Dow

Metro, the magazine he created for Casco Bay readers in 2003, went belly-up after nine months. The rookie publisher hadn't figured out how to sell ads or run a small company. And he says the city seemed to care little for a 20-something entrepreneur.

"I wasn't welcomed by the chamber of commerce," Shea said. "I couldn't have gotten anybody from City Hall on the phone. It was one of those places where everybody looked at you suspiciously. It didn't feel like anybody was rooting for us."

But in Lewiston-Auburn, Shea is a success.

In April 2010, he published his first issue of Lewiston Auburn Magazine. The following April, he kicked off the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival. Seven months later, the Lewiston native was elected to the Auburn City Council.

Shea, 36, is part of a wave of young leaders in the community that has suddenly emerged in government and business.

Among them are 31-year-old Jonathan LaBonte, executive director of the Androscoggin Land Trust and Auburn's youngest mayor; Michael Dostie, 29, manager of J. Dostie Jewelers and the architect of Art Walk Lewiston Auburn; Hillary Dow, 33, director of marketing and business development at an Auburn accounting firm and a leader within a half-dozen local nonprofit groups; and Craig Saddlemire, 29, a local activist and filmmaker who serves on the Lewiston City Council.

In a community where so many of the faces in business and civic life are in their 40s, 50s and 60s, these young people and others are signaling a changing of the guard.

"I don't think it was anything that was planned," Shea said. "I think that there was a whole bunch of us who, just by coincidence, ended up in positions of influence."

That so many emerged at the same time — and all are acquainted — is perhaps more interesting.

"You'd almost think we have secret meetings from some Bat Cave-like complex," Shea joked.

But while Shea and the others say coincidence had a hand, the cities had a role too. Property in L-A costs less to buy or rent than in other urban areas in Maine, they say. And inclusion in government and civic groups is relatively easy.

"Here in Lewiston-Auburn, you can be somebody sitting at the table right away," Shea said.

Guiding young professionals

That's what Dow found.

"I think that there is tons and tons and tons of opportunity," said Dow, who came here in 2008. "You just need to be willing to step forward and say, 'Yes, I want to be involved.'"

She, like LaBonte, Shea and Dostie, found help in YPLAA, Young Professionals of the Lewiston-Auburn Area.

The chamber of commerce program was created in 2007 by some folks in their 20s and 30s who wanted to share their stories along with their business cards.

Dow soon became the group's chairwoman.

"I think that it's a great way for young professionals to have a peer group that they can reach out to," said Dow, who grew up in Kingfield. The free-to-join group runs fundraisers and contests, such as an annual video game competition and cleanup days at Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary in Lewiston. They have annual awards and dinners.

But more importantly, they talk.

Much of it is informal. Though she is no longer its chairwoman, Dow often gives new members a call. They talk about where to shop or hike. They may talk about the inaccuracies in the community's reputation ("Yes, there is a lot to do here!" Dow insists).

They also have chances to wade into weighty matters.

At LaBonte's insistence, YPLAA created a Policy Committee.

"Now, once a month, a group of young professionals get together and talk about the issues of the day," LaBonte said. "It's been really exciting. To have half a dozen or a dozen young professionals who are interested in the future of the community, that's powerful stuff.

"It can be challenging," said LaBonte, who grew up in New Auburn. "Local government isn't as accessible as people think it could or should be. And people are often afraid to weigh in. They don't understand the mechanics. So being able to engage young people through those issues is great."

Learning about community

Not everyone's path has been the same.

Saddlemire, who grew up in Albany, N.Y, was a Bates College student who had no desire to venture off campus.

"I was very comfortable in the bubble," said the film studies and psychology major. "From freshman to junior year, I was quite happy to focus on books and class discussion and theory as the primary source of my education."

In his senior year, that changed.

A friend drew the soft-spoken Saddlemire into a project that recycled bicycles off campus. That work introduced him to the downtown neighborhood and the "Visible Community" initiative, which was working to be noticed by city leaders. People there became subjects in Saddlemire's student films and, eventually, became friends and neighbors.

"For the first year, I was really the guy who videotapes," he said. "Eventually, I became a member like everyone else."

He reluctantly ran for City Council, in part to pay a debt. When Visible Community member Tina O'Connell was nearing the end of her first term on the Lewiston City Council, Saddlemire made her a deal: Serve another term and he'd run in her place.

"I spent two years trying to think of a good excuse to not run," he said. "I was intimidated by the idea. I thought Tina overcame a lot of barriers to perform a public service. I will embarrass myself at times, say something stupid or make a mistake that everyone's going to remember. But if I can represent my constituents well or bring ideas to the table that are valuable to the community, then it's worth those other things."

Saddlemire, who doesn't own a car, has become a particularly strong voice for making the downtown friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.

He might never enjoy the attention, though.

"I'm not necessarily someone who enjoys the spotlight," he said. "I make movies and enjoy putting those in the spotlight."

A cycnic's view

Dostie is also a reluctant leader. He vows never to enter politics. Rather, he became involved in the community out of a feeling of responsibility.

At 24, he took over management of his family business — J. Dostie Jewelers — and moved into the third floor of his downtown building.

"I was hearing a lot of people saying, 'Oh, this was a great place for young people to come. This is a great place for young people to start a family,'" he said. "And I couldn't disagree more when I came here. Yes, we've got a beautiful river. And yes, we've got beautiful trails."

But there were few places that a young professional wanted to hang out after work, he said. The restaurants Fish Bones and Fuel had yet to open. Gritty McDuff's had opened in Auburn, but it was alone.

"When I first moved back to Lewiston, I moved here because of family business," Dostie said. As a kid, he split his time between Harpswell and Lewiston. "There was no other reason for me to ever even visit Lewiston, let alone live here."

He joined YPLAA and began plotting his contribution. And he did it from a realist's perspective.

"I'm constantly tying to find balance," he said. "The people who say, 'Lewiston sucks' and 'It's the armpit of Maine' are wrong. At the same time, so are the people who say, 'I don't understand what people are complaining about. Lewiston has everything you could possible want.'"

That's particularly true when compared to Portland.

"Stand in the middle of our downtown and list all of the businesses you can walk to in five minutes," he said. "Do the same thing in the Old Port in Portland. And then, tell me we even hold a candle to them."

It was the starting place for Art Walk Lewiston Auburn.

Once a month from May through September, the downtowns are turned into arts districts for a night, with businesses and vacant buildings acting as galleries and exhibit spaces. The next one is scheduled for June 29.

In dealing with the walk, the cynic becomes an optimist.

"When we started a year ago, I was the only one who was surprised that we didn't get more people," said Dostie, who co-chairs the effort. "People were hoping for 75 to 100."

Instead, they drew a crowd of 402.

"I was expecting 500," Dostie said.

Finally, they're here

It's the kind of optimism that a former young leader loves.

"I am so excited about the change of guard that's happening," said Rachel Desgrosseilliers, 67. "I think it's wonderful."

And it's about time.

When she was 29 — the same age as Dostie and Saddlemire — she was the top administrator at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center.

"I was the youngest CEO of a hospital in the state, which was a black mark against me," said Desgrosseilliers, now the executive director of Museum L-A. "I was one of two women that were in charge of a major health institution in the state, another black mark. And I was a nun. Most people had the idea of a nun being mild, meek and timid, you know?" she said. "And that wasn't me."

She and a group of young people found themselves in leadership roles just as Lewiston-Auburn's identity as a mill community was being shaken with layoffs and closures.

"It was not an easy time," she said. But she forged ahead. "I was young, so I had the impatience of youth."

She sees some of herself in the new group of young leaders.

"I tell them, 'Hey, go for it,'" Desgrosseilliers said. "I don't like the words 'never' or 'can't'. I look at them and say, 'I'm looking forward to having someone to take over.'"

Following others

Former Auburn Mayor Lee Young figures part of the reason the new class of leaders seems so extraordinary is that a generation of people seemed to have sneaked past.

"There's this intense group of people from my era, who grew up from families that believed you needed to participate in your community," said Young, 72. "Then, there's another group — those people who are 45 to 60 years old — I don't know where they went."

Few seem to be involved.

"Now, you've got this young crowd that's 20 to 35 that's popping up that's really strong and they've got really strong ideas about how things ought to be," she said. "And I think that's wonderful."

She even played a small role in LaBonte's rise.

When he was still in college, he asked to meet with the then-mayor.

"I'm not sure what I told him," she said. "I probably applauded his desire to be involved and informed. It was more of a motherly conversation."

To LaBonte, the fact that the meeting could happen at all seemed to make his own participation more possible.

"I sat with Lee Young, just to pick her brain about how things came together," he said. "I was just curious, from her perspective, how she made it happen."

So far, it's worked.

"I just love making a difference," LaBonte said. "You get involved, and you see good things happen."

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Richard Begin's picture

the Next Wave of Leedership

I have a question why was Jen Hogan of Comminity Credit union not mentioned in this Ground Breaking Expose?

Jen Hogan who seems to get more attention than larry Gilbert recieved from the Twin City Times?

It really seems that Jen Hogan is about the only frequent Flyer in the twin City times that is excepting the Ulitmate Grand Stander 'Chip Morrisson'

I recall when Jen Hogan was employed by the Master Ad Man himself Dick Gleason Mogul of Gleason Media.

Yep Jen back then was a green employee, Dick gave her a shot and next you knew Jen was on her way to Big and Bigger events with the Credit Union ,if that's what Big and Bigger are really all about?
I guess in this new digital Age being the Number Two person at a Local twin City Credit Union really takes Center Stage>

Oh how things have Changed?? or Have they????

SOOOOOOOOOO Mr Dan Hartill Waz up Wid That ?? Why no Jen Hogan Mention???

Richard Begin's picture

Young Leadership? Oh Contrare

Mike Lachance. I have not been formally introduced to you and yet you feel as though you have the Licenseto accuse my Posting as a Rant. Mike I detest the Term Rant. It reminds me of My younger Days hearing Judge Isrel Alpren always complaining about Louis Jalbert AkA Mr Democrat as 'Ranting & Raving'

I was thinking after my initial Posting and I was reminded that when Joghs Shea ran for City Council he out spent Belinda Gerry almost three to one and he barely finished in front of Belinda.I would also go on record to say that "Belinda Gerry" will teach Mr Shea a few things about local Politics like Humility and down to earth connections to the Little people.

Up to Now Mr Shea like his counterpart Mayor Labonte have accomplished nothing of any Signicance.I have met Mayor Labonte and He is one full of Himself Guy.

But Mr Lachance I was reminded of the accomplishments of Former Lewiston Councilor Joyce Bilodeaualso Kaleigh Tara and her Brother Mike,Recall Jim Howaniec ? What about the Endless Achievements from "Stavros Mendros' who is more than likely the Text book Example of what a Fluid engaged Politician should be about.

Oh also Mike how about the accomplishments of former Lewiston "Robert Bob Couturier" who in 1965 & 1966 was elected As the Youngest Mayor in the Nation.

Louis Jalbert and the likes of Peggy Rotundo and Chic Pouliot were about thier personaliy and if it were based upon their Accomplishments for the Greater Welfare of the twin Cities the Citiens have contineaued to come up Short.

I would expect that success is still Based upon how much these Folks have grown the local Economy.But some like you Mr Lachance may think growing the Economy is old hat. But it is such a notion tht will send our Current President Packing back to Hawaii

Of Course such news will please Fellow Poster Stev Dosh

However what really is in Play is how Mr Dostie,and Mr labonte and Mr Saddlemire and Ms Dow and Mr Shea are percieved based upon their face Book Appeal.

Mr Lachance you seemed to be so willing to attack My Remarks with a Vitrolic Attitude. Perhaps you should Exercise a bit more Caution when squaring off against a stranger like myself.

Imagine Mr lachance you actually suggested that my Remarks were Incoherrent? Imagine that apparently you are not very Familar with Me.

Mr Lachance if the intent to leave the reader with the false impression that the above mentioned Visionaries are the Answere to Lewiston and Auburns Prayers. Well some one is in for a Big Let Down.

But in Closing Mike Lachance thanks for the input

R Begin

Richard Begin's picture

Don't Worry about these Young

Reverebd Thomas,

I was someone a bit disappointed in your Cynical statement. I guess that is the difference between a Yale Divinity Graduate minisertial Minister as opposed to a gradute of a Christian School that nobody has ever hear of.

It seems to me if you Wear the Cloth. Well you should be Expected to behave like one who wears the Cloth.As far as being thrown under the Bus I doubt that will happen yet for these Eyes wide open young Visionarys.

Richard Begin's picture

Young turks find a home in L&A

Please enough of such Patronizing, can't we find something better to write about.?

It looks like a appreaciation survey resulting in the Coronation of Chip Morrison, it goes along with all of the foolish Junk stories that show up in the Twin City Times. it fit's the Medium of Out and About or Look Who's Talking.

I espicially find it enteraining to see who really attends the Fundraisers that these New Social Engineers attend and created in order to attract the Useful Idiots required to do the leg work in order for them to contineau on their MerryRoad Trip Through Lewiston & Auburn. A trip I am so relieved that I opted not to sign up for.

But you may rest assure that these Folks who really when you think about it would cease to Exist if it were not for the Digital innovations

.Now the 'Proof in the Puddin' as the Brits like to utter so often in those overly Predictable ,Boring Monty Python Epics that have finnaly found a true reason to exist by becoming a real revenue Raiser for Public Broad casting. The Proof will be what Exzactly sensible or Meaning full by product will this Special Interest Kool Aid Drinking Sect Accomplish?

Oh Yeah about that Slick Lewiston magazine that Josh Shea produced, yes it is well done, I would say for that type of Magazine it is the better that I have seen in a long time.

I really enjoy seeing in in all of the Doctors office waiting rooms that I from time to time frequent. But I have yet to see one person ever having a Copy at home that was not free... Back During the Lewiston Bicentenial Celebration hosted by Rick Lachapel now Exclusive Owner of the Lewiston Pawn Shop. A Young Thirsty Joshua Shea was writing some really good Articles about Ali.

He had Talent way before venturing to the Land of The Risin Sun.

As Far as good Writers are concerned I would rate Mr Shea up there with Jonathan Van Fleet and Scott Taylor. Now let's not confuse that statement Tony Ronzio is totally in a World Class by Hisself

Mike Lachance's picture

Richard, you are nearing

Richard, you are nearing critical mass in incoherent ranting... but nonetheless, there are a few nuggets of truth buried within your "Arlington of babble".... For that, I appreciate your post.... But the gist of the article, i believe, can be parallelled in a harmony between the oppositional rantings of Brother Doug (geez Rev. is it raining in your house?) and your peppering of tangibles in a sea of Daliesque brush strokes.....

ahhh the rain.. Yes, I blame it on the rain. (What rain)

my basement is flooding, but with that I will say there is a glimmer of hope that these clearly naive young wet-behind-the-ears pups will accomplish something great in 10 years... so long as they stay naive and unjaded.... us (slightly) older types know the system and are aware of the many knives that metaphorically await the backs of the wanna-be movers and shakers.... its a local L-A system that has a long and sordid history behind the scenes.... from city managers to mayors, from philanthropists to property moguls....

ahh yess.... the paranoids have good reason to act a bit squirrelly when seeing the young children at the wheel....

But still..... i'll remain optimistic. Josh Shea DOES crank out one very fine glossy rag... And Labonte has rehersed his Colgate smile enough to schmooze enough establishment people who have actual power and influence to actually get things done.

Here's to the future folks!

DOUGLAS TAYLOR's picture

Don't worrie these young

Don't worrie these young people will grow older and be thrown under the bus by other young people some day. Most of everything I have ever learned has come from older people. Most teachers are older then the student and for a good reason. lol

Tony Morin's picture

Wow

Somebody woke up on the glass half empty side of the bed today. Must be the rain.

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