Meet Two Alums Building a Movement to Empower Young Mainers

When Phoebe Dolan ‘16 and Sylvie Fenderson ‘17 met at Maine Coast Waldorf School when they were in elementary school it was the start of a connection that, many years down the road, would lead them to form an organization that is building a social justice movement for young people in Maine.

The two grew close in High School, developing a friendship thanks to the many hours they spent together running cross-country. After falling out of touch for a bit during their college years, Phoebe reached out to her old friend to see if she would be interested in doing some political organizing work for the organization she had recently launched in the runup to the 2020 election.

Fast forward a year and a half later, and the two are still working together, focused on building and growing the organization Maine Youth Power, which is a grassroots movement for young, rural Mainers. The goal of the non-profit is to bring organizing skills and community to rural people across the state that other movements have left out. Dolan describes the organization as an “inclusive movement of young Mainers building power to win equity, human dignity, and access to a livable future in Maine.” Now as a movement of almost 150 rural, young Mainers ranging from ages 15-24 the organization has a core team of six people. 

Maine Youth Power helps rural young Mainers run campaigns around issues that matter to them. There’s no single issue or movement that they are based around, which means they are frequently pivoting from issue to issue, addressing the needs of rural Maine youth in real-time.

This has led to several successful and varied campaigns over the past year. They’ve led organizing efforts for students at Bangor High School to make voting more accessible. They’ve worked with queer identifying students in Blue Hill, Ellsworth, and Cape Elizabeth to push for gender neutral bathrooms. And they’ve worked with students in Presque Isle to push school administrators there to apply safer covid practices during the school day.

The group has found legislative success as well. Last year the state legislature passed a bill that Maine Youth Power helped write. The bill (LD1497) established the Youth Impact Commission, which created a space inside the government for young people and legislators to be able to collaborate on legislation. This year, they are working on something called the Maine Youth Pledge: the goal is to survey young Mainers across the state to get an idea of the issues most pressing to them, using the results to push for legislation and campaign pledges in the 2022 election.

While these efforts have had a transformative impact on local communities, Fenderson and Dolan have a much longer-term goal as well.

“We have a lot of emphasis on building meaningful relationships rather than surface level relationships,” explains Fenderson. “There’s this culture of commitment in a long term vision rather than mobilizing for one election.”

The core six person team of Maine Youth Power, including founder Phoebe Dolan ’16 and Sylvie Fenderson ’17

Sometimes the work is as simple as showing up and having a long conversation. “It’s really exciting building a space where young people can come learn and be a community beyond just taking action. That comes from just actually caring about each other.”

Building these deep connections is a value that both Dolan and Fenderson say came out of their Maine Coast education.

“Maine Coast is such a relational community–it all works because of thoughtful relationships. I like to think that’s what we’re building as well. It’s a culture of checking in deeply with how people are doing honestly, rather than trying to breeze past things that are difficult,” Fenderson explained.

Dolan agreed, and added that her wide-ranging education gave her a “fearless resilience” necessary to run a grassroots movement like this. “In my opinion, if everyone was organizing and making the community better where they lived, we wouldn’t have three quarters of the problems we have.”

Ultimately, the pair hope to continue to grow the organization and continue to make a meaningful impact on Maine youth.

“I’m from Maine and I love Maine, and I really genuinely believe Maine is the answer to so many problems, whether it’s the refugee crisis, the climate migration crisis—so many things,” explains Dolan. “We have so much land and so much potential. And to me, I really want there to be young people working here who have grown up in a place with movement culture in rural Maine so that they are prepared to lead and govern in Maine’s future. It just feels very clear that this is the answer to me.”

Young people— Want to get involved with Maine Youth Power?

    • Send Phoebe an email @ [email protected] and they’ll plug you in! 

    • If you have social media, follow them on instagram and twitter @maineyouthpower 

    • Join a community call coming up! Check out their social media or reach out to Phoebe to learn more.

    • Adults— Join the movement and get involved by going to maineyouthpower.org