LEWISTON — Mayor Shane Bouchard had planned to simply observe a community-building discussion Monday at the Lewiston Public Library, but it was hard not to jump in. 

Bouchard, along with a few dozen other participants, sat at tables covered in markers, blank paper, magazines, scissors and glue, and thought about the future of the Lewiston-Auburn community following the divisive merger campaign last year. 

Along with thousands of others in November, Bouchard did not support the merger referendum.

On Monday, when the group talked about how to build the community following the debate, he had plenty to say.

“We have to be ourselves,” he said. “That’s one thing I said during the merger campaign. We are not Portland. Let’s identify something new and different. Something fresh.” 

The discussion Monday was organized by Project Tipping Point, a Lewiston-Auburn based consultant and community-building organization. Monday’s event was part of the organization’s “TIP L/A Leader” paid professional development program, but was open to the public. 

Last year, the organization held a series of discussions just after the proposed Lewiston-Auburn merger was shot down by voters. They heard a range of opinions, but saw that a lot of the dialogue wasn’t positive. 

“They were kind of divisive, and for most of the people we talked to, it kind of got away from all of us,” Shanna Cox, founder and principal consultant at Project Tipping Point, said. “We said, how can we have a different conversation?” 

Cox said they wanted to take the focus away from “municipal lines” and elected officials, and ask what average citizens can do to create a better community. Monday’s discussion was planned as a way “to move us beyond” the November referendum, she said. 

A description of the event said, “We are offering a night to dream aloud about the future of our community; setting aside the boundaries that resources, politics and municipal lines can create.”

Local elected officials and Lewiston staff members were also on hand, but the discussion was led by members of the TIP L/A program.

Asked to name collaborations that are working in Lewiston-Auburn, participants named everything from small recreation programs to the Lewiston-Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. They named the Art Walk LA, local farmers’ markets and health care organizations.

There was agreement when it came to how the cities can better work together moving forward. Participants said they had high hopes for workforce development, transportation, regional land-use planning, and continued activity on the river.

Asked how individuals can build community on their own, without government, Bouchard said volunteer.

“We’re a service center, and every organization is looking for extra sets of hands,” he said. 

Jennifer Hogan, chairwoman of the chamber board of directors, said part of moving the community forward will be more focus on the positives. She said many people have an outdated view of Lewiston-Auburn. 

“Sometimes I think we’re our own worst enemies,” she said, referring to not highlighting that Lewiston-Auburn is a community on the rise. 

After each table rounded out a series of ideas, they were placed on a large block of paper on the library wall. By the end, it was covered in a mix of colorful drawings and phrases. One drawing was a rainbow-colored balloon. 

While he didn’t attend, Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, who also didn’t support the merger, said Monday that conversations on building community, especially following the merger vote, “absolutely should happen.”

He said city officials in Lewiston-Auburn should be looking outward as much as looking at each other. 

“We should be talking about our regional cooperation, our regional community,” Levesque said. “It’s time to increase the level of cooperation with the entire region, not just Lewiston.” 

Nearing the end of Monday’s discussion, Cox said she’s hoping the TIP L/A leaders continue similar conversations in their respective jobs throughout Lewiston-Auburn. 

Sam Boss, a TIP L/A member who works at the Harward Center for Community Partnerships at Bates College, said when he moved back to Maine, he chose the Lewiston-Auburn area because it was regaining its footing. 

Boss connects students to projects in the community for coursework, and he said community-building will help broaden his network in the area.

He said creating change, however, starts with the individual. 

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Participants at a community-building meeting Monday attach ideas to a wall at the Lewiston Public Library. (Andrew Rice/Sun Journal)

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