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VCIL Honors Youth Leaders

November 2, 2016

On Nov. 4, the Vermont Center for Independent Living will honor two young people who are striving to make the world a better place. Erika Dow of Plainfield and Maleia Darling of Barre will each receive a Deborah Lisi-Baker Youth Leader Award.

The VCIL Board of Directors created the Deborah Lisi-Baker Youth Leader Award in 2006 in honor of the disability rights organization’s then-executive director and in honor of emerging leaders who are moving forward the promise of disability rights and the independent living movement. Lisi-Baker has spent much of her life advocating for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities and continues to do so. She served as VCIL’s executive director for many years until retiring in 2009.

VCIL Executive Director Sarah Launderville said, “We are so looking forward to honoring two young women who share Deborah’s vision of a better and more inclusive world. We could not think of more worthy recipients for the Youth Leader Award than Erika and Maleia.”

Erika attends Maplehill School in Plainfield and is very committed to her community as well as to her local self-advocacy group of Lamoille County Mental Health Services — Getting Acquainted Through Self Advocacy. She also volunteers at North Country Animal League, where she enjoys walking the dogs and playing with the cats. She is a vibrant young woman who loves to contribute; for example, she has shared great ideas with her local self-advocacy group about doing outreach to students in local schools about bullying, respectful language and education around the autism spectrum.

Maleia Darling is a student at Spaulding High School who recently helped create Imagination Station in Barre, a state-of-the-art $75,000 space that was a gift from the Autism Puzzle Foundation, a Barre-based group composed of Maleia’s loved ones. The name for the space was Maleia’s idea, and the foundation wants the space to be a lasting gift to Vermont’s autism community and to Washington County Mental Health Services. Maleia has bravely testified before the Legislature against budget cuts to mental health programs. And in addition to all this, she is a published author and an active blogger.

If you would like to nominate a person for next year’s Deborah Lisi-Baker Youth Leader Award (someone 22 years old or younger), please contact Stefanie Monte at or 802-224-1820. Be sure to tell her why you are making the nomination.