This time last year, an announcement over the Colchester High School intercom caught 18-year-old Morgan Eaton’s attention: Town officials were looking for youngsters to fill non-voting seats on local municipal boards as part of their new “Get Engaged” program.
Then a CHS junior, Eaton headed to the meeting with curiosity. He picked the development review board out of an available lineup, citing an interest in the home-buying process.
Soon enough, he was trekking to the third floor of the Blakely Rd. offices and taking a seat at the table among the adult board members as they sorted through often-complicated subdivision applications, zoning appeals and commercial site plans.
One year (and an important birthday celebration) later, Eaton has been promoted to a full voting member on the DRB. He adopted the title for the first time during the board’s meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
“I feel kind of a sense of pride, because I’m not only looking out for myself and the people that immediately come before the board, but also the town of Colchester which I think is pretty cool,” Eaton said last month.
In a memo to town manager Dawn Francis, planning and zoning director Sarah Hadd said Eaton was “perhaps the most qualified applicant” for the long-vacant DRB seat because of his yearlong training period and pointed to his regular attendance and engaging questions.
Hadd acknowledged the promotion might be short-lived because Eaton likely will attend college out of state before his board stint is up next fall, but she argued the opportunity would provide a “gateway for life long service and further attachment to our community.”
“As Vermont continues to struggle with exporting youth, it is worthwhile to find opportunities for youth to grow into government,” Hadd wrote.
The selectboard ultimately agreed, unanimously approving Eaton’s nomination during an October meeting.
Before he became a youth member, Eaton said he’d stepped into the town offices just once or twice in his lifetime — maybe for a discounted Great Escape pass or passport photo, he remarked with a laugh.
And while he’s now far more comfortable walking the halls and thumbing through applications, Eaton said he experienced a pretty steep learning curve at the start of his term. In some ways, the challenges were exacerbated by Eaton’s age: He had no experience buying a home.
Along with dogged determination – Eaton worked through DRB materials as a break from regular homework – he picked up the pace thanks to mentorship from other board members, including many who are exponentially older than the high school student.
Colchester zoning administrator Lisa Riddle said many residents volunteer to join boards after they’ve retired and have more time to dedicate. Lately though, the average age is skewing younger.
That’s important for several reasons, Hadd said, nodding toward the varied perspectives offered by residents from different walks of life. Congruently, a vast number of residents all along the age spectrum also have little to no experience coming to town hall, just like Eaton did.
“It’s great if we can catch some folks right off the bat and get them comfortable with the process,” Hadd said.
Armed with Eaton’s success story, Hadd said town officials are actively planning another round of recruiting at the high school in the near future, a continuance of the “Get Engaged” program.
Eaton has encouraged his peers to give the initiative a shot. He already credits it with impacting his personal growth and community awareness — he’s developed a keen interest in expansion projects like the one at Severance Corners, for example.
“I absolutely love Colchester, and I can totally see myself coming back here in 25 years and living here and having kids here and sending my kids to Colchester High School,” Eaton said, noting involvement with local government is now on his radar.
“I definitely feel like this is such a welcoming place that I can come back and continue where I left off,” he said.