First lady Jill Biden speaks during a “Girls Leading Change” event to honor International Day of the Girl, in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday in Washington. Among those honored was Leela Marie Hidier of Yarmouth. Evan Vucci/Associated Press

A Yarmouth High School graduate was among 15 young women from around the country who were honored at the White House on Wednesday for their advocacy on a range of issues in their communities, from lobbying for tighter gun laws and against banning books to encouraging civic engagement among Latinos and ensuring that everyone has access to menstrual supplies.

Leela Marie Hidier, 18, is a climate social justice advocate and published her debut novel last year as part of the Young Emerging Authors program at The Telling Room, a nonprofit writing and literary arts center in Portland. “Changes in the Weather” tells the story of four teenagers who have been displaced by climate change in the United States.

“The process of writing (the book) has helped me find a place in the social justice conversation,” Hidier told the Portland Press Herald last year. “It has shown me how my words can help change the world. How I can use art as activism. How I can be part of the solution.”

The issues that earned these 15 teenagers a trip to the White House also are priorities for the Biden administration, including first lady Jill Biden, who was convening the first Girls Leading Change event to celebrate Wednesday’s designation by President Biden as International Day of the Girl.

Leela Marie Hidier wrote “Changes in the Weather,” published last year as part of the Young Emerging Authors program at The Telling Room in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The honorees, including a pair of twins, ranged in age from 15-18 and represented 13 states.

“These young women are protecting and preserving the earth, writing and sharing stories that change minds and turning their pain into purpose,” Jill Biden said in a written statement before the ceremony. “Together, they represent the potential of young people across the country, and it is my hope that others can learn from the power of their innovation, strength and hope.”


Hidier said Wednesday that the visit to the White House inspired her to continue on her path. She plans to start at Bates College in 2024 to study environmental studies, creative writing and education. She is interested in becoming a teacher.

“It’s really shown me that what I’m doing is actually making a positive change,” Hidier said in a phone interview. “It has reinforced that and given me even more confidence as I go forward.”

She said the day began with tours of the White House, and then the first lady surprised the group when she rounded a corner on the grounds. They visited her flower garden and made bouquets while they talked with her about their work. They also met other staff, including the head of the Gender Policy Council, and attended a ceremony and reception in their honor.

“It’s just been so surreal and just truly inspiring to be part of a cohort of such incredible young girls doing such incredible work across the nation,” Hidier said. “For me to be there too and have my work represented is amazing.”

The White House Gender Policy Council selected the 15 young women after receiving approximately 600 nominations in response to a call for information about girls leading change in their communities, the White House said.

Hidier was nominated by Charlotte Agell, her mentor and former teacher. Agell, who just retired from the Yarmouth School Department after 20 years there, met Hidier when she was in eighth grade and joined the staff of the literary magazine.



“She just became one of those voices in the room that I always trusted,” Agell said. “She was quiet. She was thorough. She’s not flashy, but she has a powerful light that she shines on difficult places.”

Hidier served as a representative for Cumberland County on Maine’s first student cabinet, which meets with the state Department of Education monthly to discuss how to improve the education system. She approached Agell when she heard about this opportunity to visit the White House, and Agell said she quickly agreed to nominate her former student.

Hidier has shared her writing across the state, including reading an excerpt from “Changes in the Weather” at the State House in Augusta during the Youth Day of Action with Maine Youth Climate Justice this spring. “Changes in the Weather” was a silver finalist for Hindi Libraries Females of Fiction Award, and a Gold Key winner for novel writing from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Agell described Hidier as “a poet who writes novels,” someone who notices and captures small details. Hidier is introverted and modest, Agell said, but she is also unafraid to consider difficult topics in her art.

“She is just such a ‘go there’ person, and we clearly need to go there in so many places in modern life,” she said.


The other honorees were:

Breanna and Brooke Bennett, 16, of Montgomery, Alabama, have given away thousands of kits with sanitary pads and toiletries through their organization, Women in Training.

Jazmin Cazares, 18, of Uvalde, Texas, became an activist against gun violence at the state and national level after her sister Jackie was killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School.

Mono Cho, 15, of Redondo Beach, California, works to combat online harassment and abuse through her service on the Beach Cities Health District’s Youth Advisory Council.

Julia Garnett, 17, of Hendersonville, Tennessee, advocated in her school district for student representation on book review committees and served on her high school’s committee. She also has testified to Congress on book bans.

Logan Hennes, 16, of New York, has taken a leadership role through the American Jewish Committee to support like-minded students who want to address antisemitism in their schools and communities.


Anja Herrman, 17, of River Forest, Illinois, is a disability rights activist and advocate for equity and inclusion. She has served since 2021 as the youngest appointed member of her community’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group.

Elisa Martinez, 17, of Las Vegas, encourages civic engagement, particularly within the Latino community. She founded her school’s Latino Student Union and organizes students on issues like climate justice and preventing gun violence.

Gabriella Nakai, 17, of Phoenix, is a Navajo and Choctaw leader who works on improving food security and sustainability. She works to address youth homelessness and mental health in Phoenix.

Zahra Rahimi, 17, of Alexandria, Virginia, arrived in the U.S. from Afghanistan four years ago and has become dedicated to helping other refugees resettle in her community, including through access to English language services in the public schools.

Gitanjali Rao, 17, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is a first-year scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has won awards for developing a tool to detect lead contamination.

Avery Turner, 17, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, supports military children like herself through her role of director of programs at Bloom, an organization started by military teenagers. She moved 10 times before her father recently retired from the Air Force.

Sandra Ukah, 18, of Lake Mary, Florida, is a first-year student at the University of Florida who was a co-founder and co-president of Seminole High School’s Black Student Union, the first one in the country. She also helped create chapters in all of the county’s high schools.

Rania Zuri, 18, of Morgantown, West Virginia, is CEO of The LiTEArary Society, a nonprofit she founded when she was 13 to end “book deserts” for disadvantaged preschool children in federal Head Start programs in all 50 states.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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