WATERVILLE — The city’s got great art and culture, a fantastic quality of life and friendly people of all ages who work together to help those less fortunate.

Those are some of the reasons three young community leaders live or work in Waterville, volunteer in the city and plan to stay.

“It’s home,” Dana Hernandez told those who on Friday attended a KV Connect Leadership Luncheon Series event at the REM Forum. “It’s a place that I trust, it’s a place that I feel I’ve put so much heart into that I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Hernandez, 37, Nicole Desjardins, 34, and Patrick Michaud, 31, were panelists at the event, attended by about 25 people.

KV Connect is a networking group for people ages 21to 40 who live in the greater Waterville area. Members seek to have a positive impact on the community through economic, social, political and community service.

Mayor Karen Heck spoke briefly before the panelists, saying her vision of what is going to save Waterville involves young people. She said her staff of 20- to 30-year-olds helped her win the mayor’s seat in November.

Heck said her goal is to make Waterville a vibrant and prosperous city and doing that means having to connect with people around the world through social networking. Those best to help do that are people younger than 40, she said.

Young people are helping to revitalize downtown, serving on committees, working hard and using their energy to create new ideas, according to Heck.

“The whole idea is to really capitalize on what already is one of the best downtowns in Maine,” she said.

Hernandez, a Planning Board member, founder of Mainely Moms and Dads, Heck’s mayoral campaign manager, and a candidate for Senate District 25, said she had never been in Maine before moving here from California when her husband got a job at Colby College a few years ago. She was pregnant with her first child at the time.

“It was a life-changing moment for us,” she said. “It was the best decision we’ve ever made. We bought a house a couple of years ago. (Living in Waterville) was exactly what we wanted and it keeps giving back to me. It feels right.”

Michaud, a partner at Nicholson & Michaud, CPAs, also is president of the Board of Directors for Waterville Main Street and treasurer for the Board of Directors for Inland Hospital.

Michaud said it is important to give back to the community, which is a requirement of working in his office.

“The experience you get when you volunteer your time or lend a hand or write a check or whatever you do — it’s amazing,” he said.

Desjardins, director of sales at Hampton Inn, chairman of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and a member of the Board of Directors for United Way of Mid-Maine, Inc., said she lives in Augusta but loves Waterville and can see herself buying a house here. She has been offered jobs that pay more money, but she turned them down.

“I’ve declined them all because I want to stay here. It’s not about money anymore,” she said.

The panelists recommended that young people set aside any fears they may have of getting involved and get to know people, volunteer and do what you are passionate about.

“(Don’t be) afraid to just put yourself out there and try to be a voice for the community,” Desjardins said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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