By David Voegele
Executive director of Essex CHIPS

David Voegele

A couple weeks ago, I offered a more detailed overview of the QYD Project, which provides communities the opportunity to be certified as a Quality Youth Development Community. This is a new credential, which I anticipate many communities in Vermont (and beyond) will seek to attain over the next few years. Essex has the potential to become the first certified QYD Community.

In order to become QYD certified, a community must seek to achieve 10 specific benchmarks. One of the benchmarks is that a certain percentage of local organizations serving youth actively recruit and mentor teens as members of their Board of Directors. Why is youth participation on a non-profit Board of Directors an important goal to achieve? I asked Hillary Danis her thoughts. Hillary joined the Essex CHIPS Board at the age of 15, when she was a sophomore at Essex High School.

“Being on the CHIPS Board of Directors was and continues to be a formative experience in my life. The skills I have learned and the relationships I have formed…have been invaluable, from things as complex as leading hiring efforts and fundraising campaigns to things as simple as facilitating a meeting and working as part of a team.

Hillary Danis

I am most proud to have been part of the teams that navigated CHIPS through two leadership transitions during my tenure…I am also proud to have helped CHIPS establish a donor management database to make our fundraising efforts as successful as possible and to have participated in a number of strategic planning processes. Learning about strategic planning at CHIPS enabled me to help another organization at which I volunteer establish their first strategic vision.

At CHIPS, the youth and adult Board members are complete equals…I have yet to find such a symbiotic relationship between youth and adults anywhere in my life…I felt lucky to have the opportunity to learn so much about nonprofit operations…I believe that every nonprofit that serves youth should have youth on their Board of Directors. How better to engage youth and inspire them to lead then to have them as the directors of our organization?”

It has been nine years since Hillary Danis became a Board member at CHIPS. During that time she served as the Youth Co-Chair for more than two years, and then as the Adult Co-Chair/Board President for more than 3 years. She is about to enter her third year at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine. “Outside of medical school, I am a proud volunteer member of Essex Rescue, where I am an AEMT and serve on its Board of Directors. I work locally in EMS as well.

I asked Hillary what comes after medical school. “I have a scholarship from the Army…so I will have to spend some time away from VT. But…I can definitely see myself back in VT!” In so many ways, Hillary is the perfect example of how a community’s investment in youth not only helps youth thrive, but also strengthens the community. This is why youth should be serving on local Boards of Directors.