LEWISTON — Jason Michael Thompson, 29, of Lewiston said Saturday he had no idea there were three established 5K routes in town.

Zac Gayton, 23, of Sabattus said he learned there’s more going on in Lewiston-Auburn than he thought. He was impressed by the caring“let’s-make-it-happen” spirit among organizations, officials and businesses.

Angie Snow, 33, of Auburn said she was surprised by how much there is to do. “There are so many opportunities to get involved than I was ever aware of before.”

They and 52 other members of the Young Professionals of the Lewiston-Auburn Area (YPLAA), just completed a two-week civic engagement challenge called “Y-Not?”

The challenge to young professionals was to go where they had never gone before: attend a city council or school board meeting, tour a fire station, talk to nonprofits, hike Mount Apatite or Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary or volunteer at the Good Shepherd Food-Bank.

“Find out what the (Androscoggin) Land Trust does,” said YPLAA Chairman Michael Malloy, who came up with the contest idea.

“We had 55 people compete in a scavenger-hunt-style, attending a series of events,” Malloy said Saturday during a closing ceremony of the event at CrossFit on Cedar Street. “Instead of gathering objects, they gathered ideas and connections.”

The highlight of the two-week competition was a tour of Bates Mill No. 5, the downtown, saw-tooth-roofed building that some insist should be torn down; others want to preserve it.

Bates Mill No. 5 is an important community issue, Malloy said. “What should we do? People should be informed.”

The young professionals who took the Y-Not Challenge received the Sun Journal on their doorsteps every day. “We want them reading a daily newspaper, writing letters to the editor, being thoughtful about the issues,” Malloy said.

The overall hope was that the challenge would prod more young professionals to get involved by showing them what, why, who and how.

It worked, said several who participated.

Snow and her ‘Y-Not’ teammates, Heidi Sawyer, 34, and Joni Fredericks, 31, hiked Thorncrag, went to Community Little Theatre, sat through a School Committee meeting, went to a job fair at the Lewiston Public Library. They shot basketball hoops with kids in Kennedy Park, ate at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand and talked to Somali merchants in downtown stores. The women tried sambusa, a Somali dish. “It was awesome,” Fredericks said.

Sawyer said she plans to start a parent-teacher organization at Lewiston Middle School, which her child attends. The middle school has no PTO, and parents need to be involved with at that stage, Sawyer said. “I see myself getting more involved in the school system.”

What started as a contest became much more, the three said. Even with a busy job and family demands, everyone can do a little something, they said, sharing plans to get involved in a food bank or neighborhood park.

“What I learned is we can’t do it all, but we can all do something,” Sawyer said. “If we can find one way to give back to the community, then everybody else is better for it.”

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