Leia Lowery will be the new executive director of The Climate Initiative, an organization she helped found in 2020. Eloise Goldsmith photo

KENNEBUNPORT — Come Jan. 1, the Kennebunkport-based youth environmental education and empowerment organization The Climate Initiative (TCI) will have a new executive director, Leia Lowery.

Lowery will replace Jono Anzalone, who has served as executive director since November 2020 and helped oversee a period of high growth for the organization. Lowery, who is one of the organization’s co-founders, hopes to continue Analzone’s work and expand the organization’s international reach. Anzalone will join the organization’s board.

Lowery is no stranger to climate education. In 2010 she began working at the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust where she created climate education materials for students.

“Environmental education was so doom and gloom,” she said, recalling feedback she heard about environmental science courses while at the Kennebunkport Conversation Trust. The kids she was working with “were dropping out of environmental science classes and talking about how depressing it was, and were really frustrated and angry.”

She said climate change is often framed as a global, far reaching problem which is overwhelming for students. “A high schooler in Kennebunk doesn’t feel like they have (the tools) to stop the plastic pollution issue, (or) help Bangladesh or Sub Saharan Africa or places where climate disasters were already starting to be seen,” said Lowery.

In 2017, she and a local educator, Melissa Luetje, and Dr. Pam Morgan of the University of New England, began talking about how they could change students’ attitudes toward environmental courses, including through shifting the focus to how students could make change in their own communities.


“We’ve got be able to do this better,” she recalled the three of them thinking.

Together, they developed an environmental course called the Gulf of Maine Field Studies, a dual enrolment class at the University of New England and Kennebunk High School. Thanks to a generous donor, Lowery and her fellow co-founders secured seed money to start a separate organization to expand the reach of Gulf of Maine Field Studies to a wider student body. TCI was born in early 2020.

Today the TCI offers  “learning labs” — shortened modules originally based on the Gulf of Maine Field Studies course — to teachers and students around the country and abroad.

Today TCI’s learning labs are used in all 50 states and 19 different counties, and over 125,000 students have gone through them, according to Lowery.

A learning lab includes six lessons. Early lessons look at science, data, and case studies pertaining to one particular climate issue, such as sea level rise. The later lessons focus on community engagement and an “action project” focused on that same climate issue. The course also brings an equity and justice lens by teaching students about the economic and socio-cultural dynamics of that particular aspect of the climate emergency.

TCI also has an ambassador program, where they recruit people who are passionate about combatting climate change and offer them opportunities to take action through an online platform called Mobilize. Today, they have over 1,000 ambassadors in Mobilize, according to TCI’s website.


Lowery hopes to continue Anzalone’s legacy as executive director, though she’s also interested in moving further into the international space and expanding TCI’s reach to help “create a movement,” particularly through its ambassador program. Anzalone worked for the American Red cross for 29 years, including as its vice president of international services. He is also a lecturer at the University of Southern Maine and board chairman at the Craft Emergency Relief Fund.

There are many climate organizations in the United States, including a number that focus on youth and some that place greater emphasis on direct action. Lowery sees TCI as part of a wider movement that aims to reduce the barrier to entry for any young person fired up about climate change. “If students are not ready to be a protesters, or that’s just not … something they ever want to do, that’s okay. There’s enough space for them in this movement,” she said.

Through their programming and collaboration with others, they want to broaden the movement to “reach as many people as possible, wherever they are at.”


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