By David Voegele
Executive Director, Essex CHIPS
Welcome to the first column of Youth on Board! I am delighted that the Essex Reporter has partnered with Essex CHIPS to highlight youth in our community who are making us proud, and to examine the issues that concern them. Our intent is to let you directly hear youth voices from the community, thus their comments will be woven in throughout the column. Our youth, after all, are the future workers, tax-payers, and leaders of Essex, Chittenden County, and the state – if we can only keep them here!
I asked Dominque Sweat, a recent Essex High School graduate (and a member of the Essex CHIPS Board of Directors) about how can we “fight youth flight.” She had this to say:
“The first step would be to create a welcoming community for youth. Particularly, creating more unique spaces for high schoolers to interact would be amazing. Teenagers are very busy, but it’s much easier to get involved in high school than it is in the community. High school involvement is only for four years, but community involvement can last a lifetime.”
Vermont is an aging state, so the loss of our youth to “greener pastures” (an ironic concept for this very green state) is an ongoing concern for our economic vitality.
Perhaps by celebrating our youth now, as they approach the time when they will be making decisions about college and their futures, we can demonstrate our appreciation for their contribution to the fabric of our local society.
By embracing our youth now, and the issues they are concerned about, perhaps they will be less likely to leave the community after graduation, or more likely to return after college (or other worldly adventures). I asked Dominque, who has chosen to stay in the community for the time being, what issues does she believe are most concerning to youth.
“As a young person, I am definitely concerned about our environment. All throughout school and my life, I have seen and heard about so many negative environmental issues. I also think young people are starting to understand the negative impacts of social media on mental health. Youth are aware of how important mental and physical health are. These topics are concerning to some young people, but they should be concerning to everyone”.
To conclude for today, I would like to explain the column’s title – Youth on Board – which reflects CHIPS’s approach to youth empowerment, and perhaps will inspire other organizations. You see, up to 50% of the Essex CHIPS Board of Directors members are in fact youth under the age of 19. Currently our five more youthful Board members are Averi Preston (Co-Chair), Nathan Wu, Liam Redmond, and Sadie Hoffman – in addition to Dominque Sweat (Vice President).
These young adults are literally “on board” to serve, engage, inspire, and empower youth. They are active, thoughtful, contributing, and decision-making members of the board of directors. Their collective voice is as important, and often more important, than that of the other board members in the room.
Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a new weekly column by Essex CHIPS executive director David Voegele focused on the organization’s work in the community and issues facing today’s youth.