Malinda and Daniel Silver

As a little girl, Danielle Silver had a favorite game. It was to wear her mom’s old high-school blazer with the colorful patch on the pocket. Danielle loved the red coat with the bright enamel pins on the lapels but didn’t understand what it represented.

Fast forward to 2015, with Danielle winning gold in SkillsUSA’s Promotional Bulletin Board contest for North Carolina, earning her the right to compete in the national championships. Suddenly, she had a reason to wear a red coat. Her mom, Malinda, was excited — she’d had the same life-changing “red coat” opportunity two decades earlier.

Like mother, like daughter

Both Danielle and Malinda Silver were students at Heritage Mount High School in Burnsville, a small town in the mountains of western North Carolina. Both were gold medalists at their state conference. And both competed in the SkillsUSA Championships in Louisville, Ky. — 24 years apart.

As a drafting student at Heritage Mount in 1991, Malinda was the school’s first student to go to the national competition. Looking back, she remembers it as an important experience for her and her instructor. “You know, it just stands out,” she says. “It’s an experience I never forgot in the 24 years I’ve been out of high school.” And because she was its first, the school allowed Malinda to keep the jacket her daughter would eventually play with.

“It says ‘VICA’ and has all the old pins on it,” Danielle explains (referring to the organization’s original name, Vocational Industrial Clubs of America).

Danielle was relentless in raising money for the trip to nationals, according to architectural drafting instructor Kimberly Higgins: “She sold candy bars at her brother’s Little League games. She sold doughnuts. She washed teacher’s cars. She sold catered lunches to teachers. Danielle knows you have to work and that you are not just entitled to amenities in life.”

Higgins graciously stayed home during the championships; with Malinda filling in as chaperone, the mother and daughter could enjoy the experience together. Malinda even brought her old blazer.

It was life-changing for Danielle. “National conference was the highlight of her high-school career, too,” her mom adds. But the trip wasn’t about winning; the growing was in the going.

“We’re from a rural, poverty-stricken school,” Malinda explains. “You looked at these other bulletin boards and they were just so big and elaborate. Hers was paper, just the traditional bulletin board, because we couldn’t even drive somewhere and have the [same] resources.”

She saw a change in her daughter after nationals. “Danielle gained confidence. She became a Girl Scout leader and has to attend leader meetings, plan activities and field trips. I feel without her national conference experience, she would not have had the skills to take on such a large task.”

Now a senior, Danielle, 17, is a local SkillsUSA officer and regional president. She has already enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. The straight-A drafting student belongs to other organizations but says SkillsUSA gives her what the others can’t: “I get to show what I can do.”

She wants to be an engineer, a career her mother once dreamed of but was discouraged from because it was not traditional for women. “I am proud of her accomplishments,” Malinda says. “I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.”