Lewiston recognized as 'All-America City'

This summer, Lewiston has received national recognition by becoming one of 10 municipalities designated an “All-America City” in an annual competition sponsored by the National Civic League.

Lewiston is the first Maine city to garner the coveted honor in 40 years. The last winner was Auburn, in 1967. The other nine 2007 winners named in a two-day event held in Anaheim, Calif. are: Flowing Wells, Ariz.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; Sierra Madre, Calif; Hollywood, Fla; Polk County, Fla; Dubuque, Iowa; Barnstable, Mass.; Clinton, N.C.; and Hickory, N.C.

Lewiston’s “innovative thinking and contagious enthusiasm contributed to the success of its efforts,” wrote Gloria Rubio-Cortes of Denver, Colo., president of the National Civic League, in a July 16 letter to the Lewiston Sun Journal. Rubio-Cortes cited the community’s “collaborative problem solving” as the distinguish feature in making it a “‘stand-out’ city in which to live, work, play and raise a family.”

The “All-America City” selection process requires cities to feature three key initiatives that dramatize civic engagement and opportunity. Named a finalist in 2006, Lewiston narrowly missed winning the award last year, but returned with a streamlined presentation to garner the highly coveted designation in 2007.

This year, Lewiston’s team of civic activists featured the work of Lots to Gardens, a Lewiston-based nonprofit founded by Kirsten Walter, Bates Class of 2000, as her senior thesis. Walter now serves as director of Lots to Gardens. In addition, Ari Rosenberg ’06 works as a Lots to Gardens employee, and Bates students continue to staff the youth development and community gardening activities every year.

Also featured in Lewiston’s award-winning presentation were the Lewiston Youth Council’s efforts against teen drinking and Empower Lewiston’s advocacy of the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income residents.

“The college is proud of maintaining a rich and ongoing partnership with Lots to Gardens,” says David Scobey, the Donald W. and Ann M. Harward Professor of Community Partnerships and director of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships. “Lewiston is a valuable resource and educational laboratory for Bates, given the college’s community engagement,” Scobey said. “Bates both contributes to and benefits from Lewiston’s community energy and creativity.”

Lots to Gardens maintains organic vegetable beds in two downtown Lewiston neighborhoods. Although one evening a week residents work together in the gardens in exchange for produce, the Lots to Gardens youth crew directs and performs most of the gardening, from designing the beds to site prep, from planting to harvest.

Field trips to local farms are also part of the program that bases its summer focus on youth leadership and development. All of the rules and standards for the workplace are developed by the crew to strengthen self-esteem, responsibility and an appreciation for teamwork, in addition to providing practical experience and a summer income. Lots to Gardens looks for participants at the Lewiston and Auburn high schools, in local transitional-living programs and among people fulfilling community service commitments.

This summer, Lots to Gardens joins hands with Green Horizons, the Bates College Museum of Art exhibition that explores the concept of environmental sustainability. Prominent artists from Maine and the world join in an adventurous attempt to provoke conversations around the questions: What is green? What is sustainable?

The project transcends traditional exhibition practices by reaching outside the museum walls to site-specific works that include two collaborations with Lots to Gardens, including a fruit orchard to be planted in the former Franklin Pasture in downtown Lewiston. Andrea Bisceglia ’09 of Durham, Conn., and Molly Ladd ’09 of Somerville, Maine, will produce a project designed to raise awareness of the importance of trees on campus and in the community.

Associate Professor of English Kimberly N. Ruffin, joined by artist Seitu Kenneth Jones and park ranger Bruce Barnes, will work with Lots to Garden director Walter ’00 and community groups associated with the Lewiston nonprofit to create Sighting and Sounding Sustainability, an exploration of culturally relevant crops that will be planted in a garden by community members. The group will also create a Shrine to the Collard Green in and around the museum.