Hawa Haji cuts Japanese Knotweed on Tuesday on the banks of the Androscoggin River at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. Knotweed is an invasive plant that needs to be cut back every year. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Established earlier this year as a way to help clean up the Lewiston area, while also giving opportunities to local teens, the Sprout Lewiston program has reached the end of its five-week program.

Welcoming up to 16 teenagers from the area, the group has focused on planting and habitat restoration to help clean up Lewiston’s public parks.

“Sprout Lewiston is designed as multi-purpose youth empowerment and native plant restoration program, that has overlapping and intersecting goals of improving natural spaces in Lewiston and specifically focusing on native habitat restoration,” said Catherine Griset, youth programs manager at Maine Audubon.

The program was inspired by The Portland Youth Corps, which was established in 2021. Like the Portland Youth Corps, Sprout Lewiston gives the teen participants a stipend of $500 for their work in the community.

The program is made possible by Maine Community Integration (MCI), Maine Audubon and Healthy Homeworks. MCI in Lewiston provided office space and a van for the new youth program. MCI staff Koos Mohamed, Fowsia Musse and Abdi Abdalla have handled everything from youth recruitment to daily support.

Experts from Maine Audubon offered special lectures on a range of topics from wildlife habitats to native plant species. Healthy Homeworks, a Lewiston non-profit, provided educational resources.


“Lewiston is really beautiful, and the city has a lot of stunning natural features,” Allie Smith, director of education at Healthy Homeworks, said. “We have so many beautiful spaces in our community, and they’re worth tending to, and they’re worth appreciating. I think people know that, and sometimes maybe people don’t feel empowered to make it better, but you can. I want to show people, specifically the youth, that you can be a part of your community and improve it all at once.”

Hamda Mohsin, a 17-year old program member, said the program “involves looking at public parks and how [they can], culturally be used for humans, but at the same time be beneficial to animals. Like, some of these invasive species aren’t useful, they’re just there, and pushing out other plants that can benefit our natural environment.”

Hands-on work and education by enthusiastic program leaders teach the teenagers about ways to protect the environment.

Shurki Said, front, and Mariam Andoniades get ready to launch their canoe Friday from the docks at Simard Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston into the Androscoggin River. The two are part of a five-week service program called Sprout Lewiston, in which they work on outdoor projects. Fridays are for recreation activities. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“At first, I just thought it was going to be a gardening program, in the summer heat,” said Mohsin. “But, as I got to know it more, I started noticing plants and birds outside that I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t join this program. I started learning about invasive species and how our parks are really important to us as humans but they’re also really important to animals, and how we all live together.”

With the incentive of a stipend, some joined to get a fun summer job.

Moby Abdulahi, 14, one of only two boys in the program, said, “At first, it was kind of just like a summer job, but as I got more involved in the program, the more I was interested in restoring the city’s parks.”


“We learned about (the relationship between a community and its environment) the first day, but ‘social’ and ‘cultural’ deals with building something for the society and the people who live in that area versus ‘nature,’ where you build stuff for animals,” said Adryanna Viles, 15. “We’ve learned about making a middle ground, a place where people can chill and interact, but where they can also experience nature and be opened up to these ideas.”

“Sprout Lewiston’s motto is ‘bringing nature home.’ We’re trying to make the city of Lewiston look pretty again. In the past two years we’ve gone through a lot as a community, so just doing this garden work helps to make this city look beautiful again,” said Maleka Hassan, 14. “We’ve removed a lot of invasive species, and we’ve worked to replace them with native plants to restore the natural landscape of the city.”

Hassan said her favorite experience in the program was a trip to the Maine Botanical Gardens.

“It was just beautiful to look at,” she said. “There were so many different butterflies and flowers that I’ve never seen before, it was really beautiful.”

She added that she would love to see something like that brought to the city of Lewiston. “When I look at Lewiston I see a lot of different parts of the city, some parts can be changed and restored into some beautiful gardens.”

When it comes to the subject of community involvement to improve the city’s public parks and the importance of youth programs to spur change, the group of teens had much to say.


“The work we’ve done so far has slightly improved the city of Lewiston, but to really improve the city, we have to focus on cleaning up the trash and litter, but that’s something that everyone in the city has to work towards,” said Abdulahi.

“(Programs like Sprout Lewiston) make the community better because (they) encourage the youth to get up and give back to their community,” Viles said. “Maybe it will even inspire other people in the community to help.”

Griset, the youth programs manager at Maine Audubon, explained that the connections teens make during the program can be useful in the future for school projects, personal goals and jobs when they become adults.

“My hope … is that these connections that they’ve made at either Maine Audubon or MCI are resources for them,” she said.

Smith, from Healthy Homeworks, followed by saying, “I hope in the future we’ll be able to take on bigger projects, and maybe teens that participate in this program for a few years will be able to be hired on the staff of the program.”

Diane Nyiranduhura of Lewiston drags branches of Japanese Knotweed away from the banks of the Androscoggin River in Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston on Tuesday. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Comments are no longer available on this story