Olivia Loisel youngest member of any town board
By Greg Elias
Close your eyes as Olivia Loisel speaks and it’s possible to imagine she is a grown woman. Her words are measured and mature. Only a girlish voice betrays her age.
The 12-year-old is the newest member of the Williston Recreation Committee and likely the youngest member, ever, of any Williston town board or committee. The Selectboard appointed her to the position last week.
A brief interview preceded her appointment. Olivia’s answers and the way she handled herself wowed board members.
“She’s one of the most precocious grade-schoolers I’ve seen,” said board member Ted Kenney.
When he asked Olivia if she could stand up to adults, Kenney, who is a lawyer, said her smooth answer “was better than most law students in their first moot court.”
She also seemed unflappable in a lengthy interview last week at her home. But Olivia said the Selectboard experience was scary.
“It was extremely nerve-wracking for me,” she said. “When I saw the television camera, I said ‘Oh my God.’ I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself.”
Olivia lives in the Brennan Woods subdivision with her parents, Steve and Sandy Loisel, and her sister, Emily, a junior at Champlain Valley Union High School.
Sandy Loisel said Olivia has been raised to speak her mind in a civil way, even with adults.
“She tells us her opinions, sometimes respectfully, sometimes not so respectfully,” Sandy Loisel said with a rueful smile.
A seventh-grader at Williston Central School, Olivia is heavily involved with sports, playing on both the school and town youth league basketball teams. She has also played softball.
While acknowledging she is something of a jock, Loisel said she has other interests. She plays violin in the Vermont Youth Orchestra and drums in the school band. She also enjoys hanging out with her friends, watching movies and playing video games.
Now she’ll add Recreation Committee meetings to her busy life. The seven-member group advises Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan on facilities and programs.
The committee’s work is mostly low-key, but it has occasionally found itself in the middle of controversial issues. The most recent debate involved the town’s youth basketball program, which had been coed but moved this year to separate teams for older girls and boys.
That includes Loisel’s team. She said she can see both sides of the issue. She liked playing on coed teams, but noted that other girls feel left out when boys won’t pass the ball to them.
WANTING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Loisel has a more clear-cut opinion on another issue facing Williston. She said the town needs more youth activities – and a new facility to host them.
“I think we need a recreation center,” she said. “A building where people could go play sports and hang our with their friends would be really beneficial for the community.”
Loisel said the facility could serve the numerous latchkey kids her age who wind up hanging out in the library or elsewhere when school lets out. And she echoed an oft-heard complaint that youths often run out of things to do in a suburban town like Williston.
A community center serving youths and perhaps seniors has long been discussed in Williston. But town officials say funding for what would likely be a multi-million dollar project remains problematic.
“It’s a great goal, but I don’t see how we can afford it in the near future,” Kenney said, pointing to bond debt the town has for new fire and police stations, as well as ever-present pressure to hold down property taxes.
Recreation Committee member Tim O’Brien agreed the town needs the facility.
“A teen center is the most pressing unmet need in the community,” he said, noting that many neighboring towns offer one.
But O’Brien also doesn’t think the town can afford a new building. Instead, he hopes Loisel can help the committee find space in an existing facility in Williston.
Loisel fills a seat on the Recreation Committee designated for a youth representative that was formerly held by Tianna Tomasi, who was 16 when she was appointed in 2005. It’s been about a year since she stepped down, O’Brien said, and the committee has missed having a younger person’s viewpoint.
“It’s invaluable to have a youth perspective as we try to improve recreational offerings for the community,” he said.
Loisel said she would have no problem debating issues with committee members old enough to be her parents. Though she enjoys talking with kids her age, she said she feels more comfortable discussing weighty issues with adults.
“I’d actually be more hesitant with kids,” she said. “Adults are just more mature and intelligent.”