By David Voegele
Executive Director, Essex CHIPS

Liam Redmond is 16 years old. He is a student at Essex High School, where he plays on the soccer and lacrosse teams. He also participates in the Global Leadership Program, and other clubs. Sounds typical for a typical high school student. Perhaps, but he also plays an unusual role for a high school student – as a voting member of the Essex CHIPS Board of Directors.

As I mentioned in previous columns, Liam is one of several youth under the age of 19 who shape the vision and policies of Essex CHIPS. I asked him to reflect upon the factors that motivate him to serve his community. He immediately referred to key adult role models in his life –his mom and dad.

“My parents are very involved in helping vulnerable populations and putting their lives on the line for other people. I’ve looked up to them…volunteering for Essex Chips was a good opportunity to follow in their footsteps.”

What satisfaction does he gain from his involvement on a non-profit Board of Directors? Liam responded, “CHIPS has allowed me to see that poverty and impoverishment exist – even in our hometown of Essex. This has opened my eyes to my fellow peers at Essex High School and made me aware of some of the challenges they might be facing. I realize how lucky I am to have two loving parents, lots of opportunities, and a chance to continue my education past high school.”

Participation on a non-profit Board of Directors has increased Liam’s sensitivity to the plight of others. That is a common result for adults that serve on Boards, but very few high school students in Vermont (and in the nation) are on non-profit Boards (or municipal committees). Thus, they do not have the opportunity to gain the types of insights Liam described.

I asked Liam to elaborate on why it is important for youth to serve on a Board of Directors. He said, “This gives young people a chance to vocalize their opinions and have a voice in important matters that affect them and the community.” It does cause me to wonder how different communities across America might be if 16- and 17-year-old youths were encouraged and empowered to actively participate in community decision-making.

In closing, I asked Liam to name one issue that was on the minds of his fellow high school students. “Due to the recent number of school shootings, some young people are concerned about the availability of high capacity guns in schools and their safety there.” A very reasonable, yet unfortunate, concern to be on the minds of students.

Are 16 and 17 year olds capable of thoughtful consideration and responsible action (such as voting) regarding complicated community issues? A movement across the country to empower 16 and 17 year-old youth to vote in local elections is convinced they are. From my experience, with teens such as Liam and Averi (who was profiled here a couple weeks ago), I certainly agree.