By Aaron Retherford
On Friday, Maleia Darling of Spaulding High School and Erika Dow of Maple Hill School in Plainfield received Deborah Lisi-Baker Youth Leader Awards from the Vermont Center for Independent Living for their work advocating for disability rights.
Both Darling and Dow were nominated for the award and chosen due to their work within their respective communities.
“We always thought it was really important as a disability rights organization to bring up the next generation and honor young people who are leaders today,” VCIL Executive Director Sarah Launderville said. “A lot of times leaders are honored as time goes on as opposed to when they’re doing real life leadership work. That’s what we work on here.
“Each of them are young women in their communities, and have risen to the occasion and shown their leadership skills in different ways.”
During the awards ceremony, Deborah Lisi-Baker the former executive director at VCIL and namesake for the award, expressed her happiness that Darling and Dow have taken up the torch of fighting for disability rights.
“It brings me great joy to come and recognize these two young leaders,” Lisi-Baker said. “Their voices are transforming the way we approach independent living in our community…They’re the people making transformative changes.”
Darling helped create the Imagination Station in Barre. The Imagination Station, a space that helps people on the autism spectrum, was a gift from the Autism Puzzle Foundation. She’s also testified against state budget cuts to mental health programs and is an active blogger.
“I really want people to have patience and be kind to us,” she said. “We are really smart and funny if you are positive with us.”
Dow has become increasingly more active in her local self-advocacy group, Lamoille County Mental Health Services — Getting Acquainted Through Self Advocacy. She volunteers at North Country Animal League and hopes to continue her education through the College Steps Program once she graduates from Maple Hill. She’s interested in attending Lyndon State or Johnson State College.
To nominate someone for next year’s Deborah Lisi-Baker Youth Leader Award, contact Stefanie Monte at email@example.com or 802-224-1820. Nominees must be 22 years old or younger. Include an explanation why he or she deserves the honor.