Six young environmental changemakers, selected from 50 nominated candidates statewide, were honored July 14 at the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s  Brookie Awards at O’Maine Studios in Portland.

These half dozen Mainers, ages 16-26, have made progress in securing safe drinking water, protecting amphibian species and boosting curriculum on sustainability, among other initiatives.

“Our goal is to help support these young leaders as they continue to channel their love for this place and love for our planet toward action that makes a difference,” said Senior Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “We want them to make a splash, to cause ripples, just like the young trout, or brookie, for which this award is named.”

Each Brookie received $2,000, a promotional video and six weeks of training in public speaking. After the awards night, the Brookies spent three days at a skill-building retreat on Cow Island in Casco Bay.

The youngest 2022 Brookie awardee, Waynflete student Anna Siegel, was a freshman when she chose to do something about the state investing in fossil fuels through $1.3 billion in public employee retirement pensions. She co-founded Maine Youth Action, which lobbied for L.D. 99, An Act to Divest the State of Maine from Assets in the Fossil Fuel Industry. When the bill passed last summer, it was the first of its kind in the nation to become law.

“It passed because of an intergenerational effort,” said Siegel, who at 16 is assisting with similar divestment lobbying efforts in other states.

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Didisheim commented on a significant uptick in the number of teens testifying at the State House in support of legislation having to do with “climate, clean energy and protecting our woods, our wildlife and our waters.” In fact, two other Brookie Awards recipients testified on bills that are now law.

For three years, Noela Altvater of Passamaquoddy Reservation at Sipayik has been sharing the story of the community’s struggle with unsafe drinking water. She spoke at the State House, at rallies and at press conferences, mobilizing support for the passage of L.D. 906, a new law that will secure a new water source for Sipayik and Eastport.

“I’ve feel like I’ve found my calling, my purpose,” Altvater said. “I am an advocate for clean water.”

Kosis Ifeji, who recently graduated from Bangor High School, worked with the Nature-Based Education Consortium to lead a grassroots campaign to pass L.D. 1902 to provide $2 million in grant funding for climate change education in Maine’s public schools.

“It’s important that young people in Maine have the knowledge needed to combat climate change, especially sea level change,” she said.

Greg LeClair, a doctoral student at the University of Maine, founded and organizes Maine Big Night, a citizen science project focused on collecting data on amphibians. This past spring, over 400 volunteers recorded data on more than 8,500 amphibians statewide. LeClair uses the information to collaborate with the Maine Department of Transportation to secure funding for infrastructure solutions to protect amphibians.

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“Amphibians do a lot for us, from telling us if the environment is healthy, to sequestering carbon,” LeClair said. “These amphibians are migrating because they need to get to their locations to breed. We’re helping them cross the road and collecting data on these road crossings so that we know where the important sites are to protect in the future.”

Lucas Healy, a recent graduate from Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, did a non-credit internship focused on offshore wind, then advocated for renewable energy courses to be taught on campus. For a senior capstone project, Healy was on a team that built an operational wind turbine and testing facility for the school.

“At Maine Maritime Academy, I want to be remembered as one of the people who helped start a renewables program,” said Healy, an at-sea engineer who wants to install wind turbines off New England. “The solutions to our problems aren’t out of reach. They just take a little bit of practical imagination.”

Recent University of New England graduate Kiara Frischkorn grew up in Los Angeles, where she had to prepared to evacuate in case of wildfires. And when she visited relatives in the Philippines, there was a devastating typhoon.

“These should not be normal experiences,” Frischkorn said, describing climate emergencies as a major reason for mass migration. “The normal we’re so blessed to experience here and now is fleeting if we don’t make effective and wide-scale change.”

While earning a degree in marine affairs with a minor in climate change studies, Frischkorn served as a member of student government, led a sustainability club and organized dozens of beach cleanups in southern Maine.

The Brookie Awards were made possible by the Quimby Family Foundation, the Louise H. and David S. Ingalls Foundation and dozens of other donors. For the full list, go to brookieawards.org.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected].


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