How old must one be before becoming a contributing member of society? At what age should one begin giving back? For Vinalhaven High School senior Olivia Chilles, the magic number is 17. With the support of her parents and key community leaders, Chilles made it her personal project over the last several months to obtain an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) for Vinalhaven School.

Last winter Chilles’ father, Shawn Chilles, had been taking a CPR course that included training in AED use (Olivia had taken a similar course in 2004.) Conversations within the family made Olivia think about the fact that Vinalhaven School did not have the defibrillator.

“Olivia had seen AEDs in other schools,” said Shawn, including North Haven School, “and she asked, ‘how come we don’t have one in our school?'” Further conversations led Olivia to decide to take on the challenge of raising the necessary funds to buy an AED for Vinalhaven School. “I decided to do this project because I knew that there was not an AED in the school and it is an important life-saving device,” said Olivia. “Also, the school is used for many functions such as sports and theater, and it is considered an emergency shelter for the town. I also thought it would be a great opportunity to give back to the community.”

Chilles began by researching the device. After she got the go-ahead from then-Vinalhaven School Superintendent George Joseph, she and Fire Chief Marc Candage approached the Vinalhaven School Board of Education for permission to proceed. “We thought it was wonderful for her to take the initiative,” said School Board Chairperson Julie Shane. Once she had the School Board’s approval, Chilles set out to raise $1,200 to pay for the new equipment.

She raffled off 20 pounds of lobster during the summer as well as organized a large group to participate in the walking portion of the island’s annual Emergency Benefit Challenge. Individuals also donated to the cause. “After I had raised all the money, I needed to meet with Ambulance Chief Burke Lynch,” said Chilles. “To get an AED I needed to order it through the medical center because you need a doctor’s prescription,” she said. One stipulation to the school board agreeing to this project was that the entire school staff had to be trained in CPR and AED use. That happened at the beginning of the school year, and the AED was placed in the school at the end of October.

Chilles attended the Island School in the Bahamas in the spring of 2007. “I think that the Island School really taught me about giving back to my community, it was always something that was mentioned, ‘what can you do to improve your community or give back,'” she said. In addition, she cited the fact that two students with heart problems have attended Vinalhaven School in recent years. “My motivation for doing this project was knowing that someday the device could save someone’s life,” she said.

Shawn Chilles and his wife, Leighann, are proud of their daughter’s accomplishment. “We’re very glad she saw it through to the end,” said Shawn. “Once we could see she was into it, we backed off and let her do it. It was a good learning experience for her to see how slow progress is, going through all the steps at all the levels.”

Olivia has had an interest in the medical field since middle school. “At first, I was interested in veterinary medicine,” she said. “I participated in a veterinary camp in Prince Edward Island, Canada. After the camp, I realized that I wanted to work with people instead of animals, because I enjoy communicating and being around people.”

Chilles cites her mother’s role as a Vinalhaven EMT as an influence. “My mother has been an EMT for over 12 years. I have been able to attend her training and participate as the patient in the training. I also have a friend named Barbara Brittell who is a physician assistant. Barbara has worked in many different parts of the world and has had great job opportunities. Eventually I would like to become a physician assistant because they have opportunities to work in many different parts of the world and are able to work in different venues of medical practice.”