October 1, 2014

ON BOARD: Youths lead in town involvement

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By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Three teenaged applicants for town posts are the latest in a string of civic minded young people to get involved in the town’s inner workings.

The Selectboard appointed two Champlain Valley Union High School students to town positions on May 6, with one more slated to be interviewed next week.

“I know the Selectboard definitely appreciated these young individuals stepping forward and agreeing to serve their communities at such a young age,” McGuire said. “We all think it’s great.”

Though Richmond has a recent college graduate on its Selectboard as of this year, Shelburne and Hinesburg town managers said they could not think of any young people on town boards.

“I’d love to see that (in Hinesburg),” Hinesburg Town Administrator Joe Colangelo said. “If that’s a trend in Williston, I think that’s outstanding.”

Colangelo noted that most Hinesburg boards don’t require members to be Hinesburg residents, and said he would love to see some youth interest.

McGuire said a Shelburne town staff member called him recently, asking if Williston had young members involved in town organizations. He told her Williston has several.

“She was very impressed,” McGuire said. “She said ‘how did you do that?’”

McGuire admits that the town can’t take the credit for its young board members, but noted that it has always encouraged diversity within its town groups—including differences in ages.

“Diversity is important,” McGuire said. “Anytime you have someone who has a little bit different background or age or whatever, they’re going to bring a little bit different perspective.”

Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig said each board or committee member brings his or her own perspective to the table.

“Young persons may bring experience through their own good times or difficult times to improve the program or discussion,” he wrote in an email to the Observer. “What a great way to gather experience in town government and to perhaps continue serving later in life.”

CVU freshman Tommy Watson—who made headlines over the past year for his efforts to promote hands-only CPR, resulting in a Vermont law that gives every high school student the opportunity to learn the life-saving practice—was appointed to the Williston Recreation Committee on May 6.

Watson told the Selectboard, as recorded by CCTV, that he took part in the town’s recreational activities while growing up, and the programs sparked his interested in several sports.

“I’d like to be part of that and have some of my input on what we do in the future,” he said, noting that he sees a gap in offerings for high school aged residents.

The seven-member group advises Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan on facilities and programs.

“If Tommy works as hard on the recreation committee as he did getting the bill passed on CPR, he will be an outstanding committee member,” Macaig told his fellow Selectboard members.

Watson will briefly serve with another young committee member, Olivia Loisel, who joined the committee as an eighth-grader at the tender age of 12. Loisel, now a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School, is heading to the University of Connecticut in the fall and ending her tenure on the Williston Recreation Committee after seven years.

Loisel said that, besides a love of recreational sports, she joined the committee to help address an issue she had noticed, most significantly in the town’s recreational basketball program.

“I saw that there was a disparity between the skill level and development of boys and girls,” she said.

Loisel helped guide the transition from coed basketball teams to separate boys and girls teams, which she said helps both genders develop their skills more effectively.

Along with that accomplishment, Loisel said she is proud of her role in helping expand the Williston Community Park fields.

“The whole experience in general was extremely valuable,” she said. “I think giving back in any sense is always important and valuable for a student.”

A community has a role in raising its young people, she added, and she wanted to help fulfill that role.

Also on May 6, high school junior Catherine Mara was appointed to the Community Justice Board for a term ending in 2014. Her fellow CVU student Lindsay Lozell is set to appear before the Selectboard May 22 for a slot on the board, alternating case hearings with Mara.

The Community Justice Board works with the Williston Police Department and Vermont Department of Corrections to help “assess the impacts of specific crimes on victims” and recommend ways for offenders to repair damage and “increase the sense … of belonging to a community so that the chance of repeat criminal acts is less,” according to the town’s website.

Two other CVU students—Sam Fontaine and Grace Usher—have served on the board since 2011.

“I say this a little tongue and cheek, but it gives some of us old geezers a young perspective again,” said Stephan LaTulippe, Community Justice Board coordinator.

While LaTulippe noted that the older members of the board are not unenthusiastic, he said the students provide a refreshing dose of eagerness.

“It invigorates the rest of us,” he said. “It’s nice to see that enthusiasm.”

He also said it gives him hope to see the “other side of the coin”—young people helping on the outside of the reparative justice system, rather than coming through it.

“It’s really good to give them the kudos they deserve,” he said. “They’re trying to make a difference in their world and in their communities.”

While Fontaine and Usher joined the board as part of their Graduation Challenges, as Lozell plans to do, Mara joined the board outside of school activities.

“Since eighth grade I’ve known what I want to do is go into government,” she told the Selectboard on May 6, adding that she has an ultimate goal of joining the CIA.

The position would be “a great experience to help me further my education and it would be great to learn and benefit from all the tools that Mr. LaTulippe and the board can give me,” she said.

Mara said that as a member of a younger generation, she could bring a “fresh perspective” to the board and relate to some of the people she would serve, especially teenagers.

“I’m not intimidated by dealing with the cases that could be a little tough to go to,” she said.

Emily Morton, a recent college graduate with a degree in historic preservation, in October joined the Williston Historic and Architectural Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the Development Review Board and offers preservation guidance to owners of historic structures.

“(I) was interested in sharing my knowledge with the town I have seen change and grow over the last two decades,” she wrote in an email to the Observer.

Morton, 24, is studying abroad in Scotland and weighing in on HAAC matters via email.

“I think adult residents forget that young people in Vermont have lived in the same town or area for decades,” she wrote. “Living in Williston I have seen the town grow and change in a timeframe many adult residents haven’t experienced. Yes, I was not involved in the politics of the town as a child, but I have been involved in and shaped by the community for 24 years. Young people are excited and energetic about what they believe in, and should absolutely take advantage of every opportunity they have to share it!”

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