By David Voegele
Executive Director, Essex CHIPS

Over the past few weeks, many people have told me they enjoyed “hearing” Essex youth voices through the Essex CHIPS Youth on Board column. What surprised me, however, was that many readers knew little about CHIPS itself. A broader overview of CHIPS programs seems to be in order. So, allow me to introduce Molly Fay, an EHS student who has participated in two key CHIPS projects.

The first was FriendCHIPS, the school-based mentoring program discussed in an earlier column. When she was younger, Molly met weekly at school with her mentor. I asked Molly about this experience. “The mentoring program was a really fun opportunity. I got to meet so many amazing people and a lot of them are really inspiring to me.”

Molly also participated in the Adventure Orientation Program (AOP). It is a 3-4 night backpacking journey into the Green Mountain wilderness that offers new challenges and experiences for youth.

Molly said this about her AOP involvement. “The summer before freshman year, I ended up joining the AOP trip. It was truly an interesting and new adventure to me. I’m glad I got the chance to come back as a trip leader. I had trouble the first day because it was my first time being a role model for younger high schoolers. But the second trip really taught me about communication; it really did impact me”. Molly’s last statement – “it really did impact me” – is one that we hear, time and time again, from participants in AOP, FriendCHIPS, and other CHIPS programs, such as the Above the Influence (ATI).

The ATI group is comprised of high school students who gather weekly at CHIPS. It is an opportunity for teens to discuss issues of concern to them, in a safe space. ATI is also a place where they identify ways they can have a positive impact on the community.

Possibly readers most often associate CHIPS with the Teen/Tween Centers – but probably not with the first Safe Place program in Vermont. Less than a year ago, the Brownell Library became the first Safe Place site in Vermont through its partnership with CHIPS. There are now four Safe Place sites that can assist distressed youth by contacting Safe Place staff at Essex CHIPS.

Last week I ended the column by introducing the QYD Project, an initiative designed to recognize a community’s commitment to Quality Youth Development (QYD). Essex is a community that deserves such recognition. One impact of a supportive community is that youth feel valued. They have reason to be hopeful. They are more likely to return to the community after college and other adventures. Molly’s last comments to me for our interview were “In the future I plan to be a hiker… As a career, I’d really enjoy becoming a Physical Therapist.”

Would it not be great if Molly chose to fulfill her future goals here? I happen to think so.