LEWISTON — For Zam Zam Mohamud, it is the memory of that day — 15 years ago exactly — when 4,000 people turned out at Bates College to let the newly arriving immigrants know that they were welcome in Lewiston.
“That welcoming really touched me,” Mohamud said Thursday night. “I will never forget it.”
For former Lewiston Mayor Paul Dionne, it’s the familiarity of the city and the embracing nature of its people.
“When you’re away from Lewiston, you miss it,” Dionne said. “When you get back, you feel at home.”
Michelle Crowley, a social studies teacher at Lewiston High School for 15 years, is awed by how deftly the schools — and the city as a whole — adapted to the diversity that came with waves of immigrants.
“We have come so far,” Crowley said. “It really makes my heart happy.”
There were a lot of happy hearts Thursday night in the City Council Chamber as the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council presented a panel of eight men and women who had made successes of themselves within the city.
The title of the forum? “Lewiston is a Place Where People Can Reach Their Dreams.”
“People in Lewiston,” said LYAC Vice President Hunter Steele, “do amazing things, even though some people who are not in Lewiston think it’s a ghetto.”
For an hour, a panel of eight talked about their personal journeys.
Nate Libby, a state senator, said that after moving to Lewiston, he fell in love with the character of the community.
Former high school athlete Jared Turcotte said that after going away to college, it eventually became clear to him that Lewiston is where he wants to raise his family.
“Lewiston,” the father of four said, “will always be home to me.”
Emily Fournier, who graduated from Lewiston High School three years ago, told the group why she decided to stay in Lewiston and open the popular E. Claire and Pastries on Chestnut Street.
She cited the familiarity with people in the community.
“No matter where you go, you always know someone,” she said. “I’m here to stay.”
Fireman Richard Paradis explained that it was a series of arson fires in 2013 that made him realize he wanted to be a firefighter, like his dad — and that Lewiston is where he wanted to do it.
Briley Bell, a 16-year-old who was named Maine’s Most Outstanding Teen in 2017, talked about the restaurants, the sports, the people who make up the community.
And while those on the panel were singing Lewiston’s praises, 81-year-old Jeanne Raymond was extolling the many good works of the Youth Advisory Council itself.
“I just love these kids,” Raymond said. “They are the faces of hope for all of us. They are role models for every age group. I feel honored to be with them.”
LYAC, established in 2001 to serve as liaison between the city and the youth who live and go to school here, have hosted events to help showcase Lewiston. The idea is to convince as many young people as possible to return here to launch their careers and start their families.
As far as Raymond is concerned, the same applies to the young men and women of LYAC, who will soon be off to start careers and families of their own.
“We need them to want to come back here,” she said. “We need them to come back and run for city council and mayor.”
A few rows back, 74-year-old Gerry Raymond heard that.
“I’m proud of this city and I’m proud of its history,” he said. “And I’m proud of these kids.”
The success story forum was well attended, as is the case with most LYAC events. Roughly two dozen people came to hear the panel talk about their favorite Lewiston restaurants, their best childhood memories, their thoughts on the future.
In the opinion of Zam Zam Mohamud, former School Committee member who so remembers the welcoming in 2003, Lewiston isn’t just a great place to be; it’s getting greater all the time.
“There are a lot of good things now,” she said, “and a lot of good things to come.”
Michelle Crowley, a Lewiston high school teacher, and her father, former Lewiston Mayor Paul Dionne, pose with signs about what they think about Lewiston. They were among eight panelists at the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council’s forum titled “Lewiston is a Place Where People Can Reach Their Dreams” at City Hall on Thursday evening. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)