Christian Allyn, a 23 year old selectman from Canaan, CT, visited The Cobb School in Simsbury on Election Day to talk with the elementary students about his path to public service, the role of local government, and the importance of voting. Allyn, a 2017 graduate of the University of Connecticut with degrees in horticulture and resource economics, has a passion for public service, and his message of “getting involved” was powerful.
After Head of School Mary Lou Cobb introduced the young selectman, Allyn comfortably dived into the conversation with his young audience. It was obvious — if government work lost its charm for Allyn, he could one day be a stellar teacher. Allyn opened the discussion with questions. He asked his listeners if anyone knew what horticulture was, and when their furrowed brows didn’t offer up answers, Allyn chuckled and said, “That explains the name change. We now call it plant science.”
Allyn explained how he came to be a selectman in Canaan, starting with plant study in high school. When Allyn was 19, he was asked to join the Housatonic River Commission, and here his seeds of public service were sown. Allyn said to the students, “There are many ways to get involved. You can get involved in all kinds of committees when you’re older.” Allyn referenced many different types of local commissions, such as conservation, wetlands, zoning, and others, and he encouraged the students to find ways to participate in their local government. He began with the river commission and beautification committee, and these were great beginnings.
Becoming a Selectman
Another pivotal step in Allyn’s journey to selectman followed his rewriting of the town’s conservation plan. Canaan’s town plan for conservation needed updating, and Allyn volunteered to tackle the project, saving the town approximately $500,000. He smiled, “And that’s why people asked me to run for selectman.”
Allyn told his audience that saving money is important, but he also said spending money is necessary. He gave the example of changing Canaan’s street lamps from incandescent to LED bulbs, which, in the long run, will be more cost efficient. “Sometimes you need to spend money to make life better for everyone.” In the same lesson, he taught about the value of collaboration. He said, “In Canaan we’re working together to change the street lamps. We’re working together to make things better.”
Allyn invited his audience to participate in the conversation by asking them about their understanding of everything from solar panels to drones to transfer stations and more. Students called on their previous knowledge referencing a bike trip to Flaming Farm where they studied solar energy to their varied experiences with drones. As Allyn walked through the steps of making a landfill usable space, the students offered all sorts of guesses to his questions. Working out answers with Allyn’s guidance, the children were able to see how obstacles can be overcome, technology can be used for good, and collaboration leads to solutions.
Allyn also spent time on Tuesday giving a lesson on government processes. He spoke briefly of the branches and how bills become laws, and he helped the students see the importance of local government. Allyn said that the U.S. presidential election gets the spotlight every four years, but he helped his listeners understand the power of municipal government and how this midterm election was about leadership at the town level.
When asked about his inspiration to work in government, he answered, after 9/11, when he was only six years old, he decided to serve. He also said when an arsonist burned down an historic train station in Canaan, he knew he wanted to be part of preserving town history and land.
Christian Allyn is the youngest selectman to serve in Canaan. He also runs his own company, Invasive Plant Solutions. When Mary Lou Cobb heard of Christian Allyn’s accomplishments, all the more extraordinary because of his age, she convinced him to speak with her elementary students. Montessori schools are the birthplaces of change makers, and Mary Lou Cobb knew this young man, who, admittedly must have seemed old to his audience, was doing great work and following his passions. These are the messages young Montessori students are getting every day. Allyn didn’t disappoint — get involved, work for the good, and follow your dreams. Are you sure you’re not a Montessori teacher, Mr. Christian Allyn? Well, not yet.