Home Outdoor education Sprout Lewiston cultivates a love for ecology and education

Sprout Lewiston cultivates a love for ecology and education


Hawa Haji cuts Japanese knotweed Tuesday on the banks of the Androscoggin River at Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston. Knotweed is an invasive plant that must be pruned annually. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

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

Accommodating up to 16 local teenagers, the group focused on planting and restoring habitat to help clean up Lewiston’s public parks.

“Sprout Lewiston is designed as a multi-faceted youth empowerment and native plant restoration program, which has overlapping and intersecting goals to enhance natural spaces in Lewiston and focus specifically on restoring native habitat. “, said Catherine Griset, head of youth programs at Maine Audubon.

The program was inspired by the Portland Youth Corps, which was established in 2021. Like the Portland Youth Corps, Sprout Lewiston pays participating teens a $500 stipend 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 handled everything from youth recruitment to day-to-day support.

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

“Lewiston is truly beautiful and the town has many amazing natural features,” said Allie Smith, director of education at Healthy Homeworks. “We have so many beautiful spaces in our community, and they are worth nurturing, and they are worth enjoying. I think people know that, and sometimes maybe people don’t feel empowered to improve it, but you can. I want to show people, especially young people, that you can be part of your community and make it better 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 for animals. For example, some of these invasive species are not useful, they are just there and push out other plants that can benefit our natural environment.

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

Shurki Said, front, and Mariam Andoniades prepare 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 outside projects. Fridays are reserved for leisure. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

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

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

Moby Abdulahi, 14, one of only two boys in the programme, said: “At first it was a bit like a summer job, but the more I got involved in the programme, the more interested I became. to the restoration of city parks. .”

“We learned (the relationship between a community and its environment) on day one, but ‘social’ and ‘cultural’ are about building something for society and the people who live in that area as opposed to ‘nature’. ‘, where you build things for the animals,” said Adryanna Viles, 15. “We learned to create a common ground, a place where people can relax and interact, but where they can also discover the nature and open up to these ideas.

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

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

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

She added that she would love to see something like this brought to the town 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 beautiful gardens.”

When it comes to community involvement in improving the city’s public parks and the importance of youth programs in driving change, the group of teenagers had a lot to say.

“The work we’ve done so far has made the town of Lewiston a little bit better, but to really make the town better, we have to focus on cleaning up the trash and litter, but that’s something everyone in the city must work,” said Abdallahi.

“(Programs like Sprout Lewiston) improve the community because they encourage young people to rise up and give back to their community,” Viles said. “Maybe it will even inspire others in the community to help out.”

Griset, head of youth programs 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 those relationships that they’ve made at Maine Audubon or at MCI are resources for them,” she said.

Smith from Healthy Homeworks went on to say, “I hope in the future we can do bigger projects, and maybe the teenagers who are in this program for a few years can get hired into the program staff.”

Lewiston’s Diane Nyiranduhura clears branches of Japanese knotweed from the banks of the Androscoggin River in Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston on Tuesday. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

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