Chase Weaver (far left), Kylie Thibodeau (center left), Ollie Castallo (center right) and Nova Genest (far right) spoke at a recent youth activism forum. Amy Larkin (center) of the Democrats of the Kennebunks and Arundel moderated the discussion. Eloise Goldsmith photo

ARUNDEL — Four civic-minded high school students shared the challenges they face as youth activists and their hopes for the future during an event put on by the Democrats of the Kennebunks and Arundel on Saturday.

Attendees heard from Ollie Castallo, a student at The New School in Kennebunk, Kylie Thibodeau, a student at Gray-New Gloucester High School, Chase Weaver, a student at Belfast Area High School, and Nova Genest, a student at Kennebunk High School. Castallo, Thibodeau and Weaver are 17, Genest is 16.

Each speaker brought a unique perspective to their activism. Thibodeau shared that they are passionate about immigration and countering xenophobia, while Castallo spoke about her commitment to women’s rights and the experience of attending the Women’s March in New York City when they were 9 years old.

Genest, who is involved in their school’s Gay Straight Trans Alliance Club, cares deeply about LGBTQ+ issues. They credited a specific event with inspiring them to be a change maker: “What really motivated me (to be more involved in activism) was when I legally changed my name to Nova … the judge told me that I was an inspiration and paving the way for younger generations. That made me feel really amazing.”

When asked about what they hope for the future, Genest said they want “the LGBTQ community to be able to rise up and show themselves for who they are without judgment being passed, or the fear of leaving their house and being beaten and killed,” referencing anti-LGBTQ+ extremism in the United States.

The discussion was moderated by Amy Larkin, secretary of the Democrats of the Kennebunks and Arundel, which is the municipal committee of the Maine Democratic Party for Arundel, Kennebunk, and Kennebunkport. The group conducts voter engagement and works to elect Democratic representatives.


They have convened a number of forums this year, including one focused on education and another that covered community inclusion.

Maine state legislators, including Dan Sayre, who represents most of Kennebunk in the House and Henry Ingwersen, who represents Biddeford and Arundel in the Senate, attended the event. In an interview before the forum, Sayre highlighted the importance of a youth-led conversation, saying “[young people] have more at stake than those of us who have less time to live, so this is an opportunity to give them voice.”

When asked how about some of the challenges that young activists face, Kylie Thibodeau shared that they believe youth are hampered by “underestimation and lack of trust … from leaders of organizations, politicians, and people in government.” Thibodeau, who is active with the youth group Global Maine, gave the example that the group has had a hard time finding libraries that will allow middle schoolers to lead a story time in their local library. Global Maine aims to increase global engagement among young Mainers, in part through themed story time events at local libraries that are lead by youth, according to their website.

In this same vein, Thibodeau urged attendees to consider the assumptions implicit in the common question: what do you want to be when you grow up?

“[This question] shows that youth are not expected to have power and influence as youth … it shows that we don’t always have the social structures and expectations in place that make youth change making acceptable,” Thibodeau said.

The speakers also had more policy-related suggestions. Castallo highlighted the need to improve public transportation in Maine so that youth activists have better access to their state and federal government. “I would love to be able to go to Capitol Hill in Washington, or even just Augusta,” she said.


“Many youth activists don’t have access to a car even if they are of age, thanks to poverty, that is a real boundary to activism,” she added.

On a more basic level, the speakers urged attendees to listen to young people. They suggested asking youth to speak at rallies, connecting with local schools, and hiring younger workers as ways to listen and engage.

“I feel heard … when I voice something and an adult uses their resources to help me,” shared Weaver, the high schooler from Belfast. Weaver gave the example of when he told a teacher he wanted to intern at the state house, and the teacher went out of his way to introduce Weaver to the Speaker of the House during a tour of the state house building.

“I’m very moved by your participation here today,” said Marie Louise St. Onge, membership coordinator of the Democrats of the Kennebunks and Arundel. “I’m very grateful, and I’m happy to see the leaders of right now.”

Eloise Goldsmith photo

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