Leela Marie Hidier of Yarmouth speaks at a Girls Leading Change ceremony hosted by first lady Jill Biden, right, at the White House last week. Contributed / Leela Marie Hidier

Yarmouth High School graduate Leela Marie Hidier was honored last week at the White House as one of 15 young women working to create change in their communities, an experience she could only describe as “surreal.”

“I still can’t believe that actually happened,” Hidier, 18, told The Forecaster this week. “The other girls and I kept talking about how we felt like we were dreaming.”


Hidier, a climate social justice advocate and published novelist, was recognized by first lady Jill Biden at the first annual Girls Leading Change event.

During her time in the nation’s capital, Hidier formed friendships with the other recipients, who come from all over the country. They shared ideas for inspiring social change, created bouquets with flowers they and Biden picked from the first lady’s garden, and bowled at the White House bowling alley.

The group plans to stay in touch, Hidier said. They created a collaborative Instagram account to keep up to date with each other’s social justice projects, which range from tackling food insecurity and preventing gun violence to literacy campaigns and diversity and inclusion efforts.

“They’re incredible people and they’re doing incredible work,” Hidier said. “It was really inspiring.”


Hidier’s novel, “Changes in Weather,” published last year through The Telling Room in Portland as part of the Young Emerging Authors program, is about four teenagers who are climate refugees in the United States, displaced because of climate change.

Her book has won several awards, and Hidier has done readings from it throughout the state, including at the State House in Augusta. The readings have created a space for her to encourage empathy in conversations about climate change, she said.

“Statistics go to the brain, but stories go to the heart,” Hidier said.

It is important to build a sense of urgency around the climate crisis and encourage people to act, but also to have a sense of hope, she said.

“These climate issues are not a distant thing,” she said. “They’re happening right now, and they could be happening to you and me.”

Hidier plans to pursue environmental studies and creative writing at Bates College, and hopes to become an educator.


“It’s crucial for me, as a young woman of color, to stand my ground, but also to make space for other people in these conversations,” she said.

The White House Gender Policy Council received 600 nominations for the inaugural Girls Leading Change awards. Hidier was nominated by her former teacher Charlotte Agell, who calls Hidier “a light.”

“Leela is soft-spoken but her words on the written page are loud,” Agell said.

Born and raised in London, England, Hidier’s experience as an immigrant often inspires her writing. She has grown up in a family that lives in an intergenerational household, with three generations all under the same roof.

Hidier’s upbringing is her “superpower,” Agell said.

“Art shines light on hard places. Leela’s writing does just that,” she said. “She notices injustice, she notices beauty, and she writes about it all.”

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