Members of the 2021 Lewiston Youth Advisory Council pose this month after introductions to the City Council. From left are Ryleigh Emmert, Hannah Arsenault, Elissa Nadeau, Emily Fournier, Keira Potvin, Brea Mathieu, Anzal Isaak, Jeanne Raymond, Abas Shidad, and Omar Osman. Also serving this year but not pictured are Cadence Nadeau, Nafisa Tasnia and Sharmarke Khalid. City of Lewiston photo

LEWISTON — When he was elected to the City Council in 2019, Luke Jensen was among a crop of millennials in their 20s changing the historically older makeup of local politics.

But, for Jensen, who’d been involved in city government since high school, it wasn’t all that new.

In 2006, Jensen joined the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council, which at the time was still a relatively new endeavor for the city. Now, the initiative that was meant to encourage young people to participate in the civic and political process is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“Without a doubt, I am a better public servant because of my time on the youth council,” Jensen said this week. “I became a better leader, I understood the committee process more, and I realized the importance of building relationships in order to get things done for the community.”

Jensen was 28 when elected and now serves as a city councilor liaison for the group, and along with city staff, helps the youth council narrow down projects to focus on. During his time, the council raised funds for an electric message board for Lewiston High School, created an anti-drunk driving video aimed at teens, and worked on Lewiston’s 2007 “All-America City” designation effort.

Since then, the council has led countless campaigns, from pushing the city to increase recycling efforts to mental health awareness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The fact that the youth council is still going strong is a testament to the youth who take their roles on the council very seriously and to the elected officials, staff, and community members who truly want to hear their voice and appreciate their input,” Dottie Perham-Whittier, community relations coordinator and youth council adviser, said.

Perham-Whittier has been with LYAC since day one and helped with the original research. Several youth council alumni told the Sun Journal that she was an important piece of the experience for them.

The 2008-09 Lewiston Youth Advisory Council includes Luke Jenson, third from left, who was elected a city councilor in 2019. Submitted photo

The Lewiston Youth Advisory Council was established by the City Council in 2001, following a review of similar youth councils in Portland; Boston and Torrance, California.

According to Perham-Whittier, the idea for a youth council was originally suggested by Mayor Kaileigh Tara, and since then, the Lewiston Firefighters Association union has been its longtime financial sponsor. The association also provides a $1,000 college scholarship annually for an LYAC senior.

“I am so proud of the Lewiston youth who have served on the youth council,” she said. “From application and interview to when their tenure ends — whether it’s one, two, three, or all four years of high school — it is a privilege to see them develop leadership skills and interact with their peers and members of the community.”

Jordy Dushime, who is at Bowdoin College, said his time on the council was inspiring.

“I had the opportunity to meet current leaders of Lewiston, was exposed to the different infrastructures and resources of our city and collaborated with the next generation of leaders to improve our city,” he said.

Dushime, who while a Lewiston high school student also founded the African Youth Alliance, said the youth council “gave me a seat at a table where not a lot of people of my background usually sit.”

“I urge the (Black, indigenous, and people of color) youth to participate in this program and hope the city administration can find ways to market LYAC to every Lewiston resident,” he said.

Marcus Talarico, who served on the council from 2011-2012, said the youth council is, “a great asset to our community.”

“It makes you understand why staying involved in your community is so important, and that you can really make a difference in your community even at such a young age,” he said.

Talarico’s class, like most iterations of the council, put a focus on positivity in Lewiston.

The council did a video series highlighting a resurgence of businesses along Lisbon Street, interviewing business owners about why they chose the historic downtown area as their location.

“It’s amazing to see how far it has come today,” he said.

His group also spoke with visitors of the former Pierce Street Park to brainstorm much-needed improvements. He said a couple years later, the park was renovated, “using some of the very ideas we came up with,” and was dedicated as Mark W. Paradis Park.

Several other councils have focused on Lewiston’s image, attempting to dispel common misconceptions about the city.

Shirts printed with a crossed-out “Dirty Lew” were part of the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council’s “Do You Do Lew?” campaign in 2016. The council has continued its efforts to boost the city’s image. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

In 2018, the council conducted a large survey of students throughout the school district and reported the results to the City Council. That same year, the council created “Shine on Lewiston,” featuring business profiles, and an online form for sharing positive news.

Former City Councilor Nate Libby, who is a state senator, said he has fond memories of working with the youth council, including its work in spreading good news.

“Lewiston has plenty of naysayers but not enough cheerleaders,” he said. “Each class of the youth council has figured out a way to meaningfully promote our city’s many success stories without ignoring some of our challenges.”

Libby worked with the council during campaigns to promote awareness around the community’s long history of immigration and launched the “Do You Do Lewiston” promotional campaign.

He said youth council members, “to a person, go on to successful post-secondary educational opportunities and the workforce, many of them returning to Lewiston to be productive members of the community.”

In 2003, the Lewiston Advisory Youth Council helped raise awareness and funds to restore and site Lewiston’s historic City Hall clock. Submitted photo

Jensen said there has often been overlap between the youth council and the Lewiston High School mock trial team. A few summers ago, he attended a mock trial reunion of all students since the early 2000s and ended up catching up with several former LYAC members.

“Some of their stories are simply amazing,” he said. “What they are doing with their lives, the projects they’re working on, the way they’re impacting the world. The LYAC influenced who they became, and many of Lewiston’s best and brightest young people have served on the group.”

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