Next-gen kids, next-gen outreach

Tobacco education, prevention group pays visit to Moffat County schools

— Emily Miller and Chris Copeland sit on the grass in a circle of friends at the Moffat County High School's freshman barbecue Tuesday.

Across the field, a van decorated with comic art blasts The Get Up Kids and a girl inside passes out stickers, T-shirts and coins. Another girl with a bullhorn organizes piggyback races where at least one person collapses on his face under his partner's weight.

It was all part of Own Your C (the "C" stands for "choices"), which is sponsored by the State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership. Own Your C uses freestyle rapping, goofy dancing and a mess of games to get the students' attention for tobacco awareness.

Heather Burchall, community health educator for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association in Craig, facilitated Moffat County's visit, which planned for stops at the high, middle and intermediate schools.

Meanwhile, the mustard and ketchup dried on Miller and Copeland's plates. They might not have been participating in the activities at that moment, but they got the message.

This is how the next generation of youth responsibility programs reaches today's students - with an unforced hand and relatable mentors, Burchall said.

"People are always lecturing us about what to do," Miller said. Own Your C "tell(s) us it's our choice, and that's different."

An overbearing program might look at friends and social groups as bad choices when the student knows them differently, Miller said.

"I don't think they're trying to influence us, but just have us know we can make good decisions about who we hang out with," she said.

An un-relatable program might focus on hand-outs and worksheets and never address the students face-to-face, Copeland said.

"They give us these packets and half the kids just throw them away," he said.

Relating to kids is the best part of the job, said the Own Your C girls Lindsay Smith, 23, and Nancy Davila, 20.

But the kids aren't forced, they said. The van plays music, which comes from Davila's personal iPod, and the students can approach if they want to.

Every school and group of kids is different, Smith said.

"There are lots of ways we can relate with them," Smith said. "Kids this age are interested in so many things it's easy to find something for them to talk about."

Smith and Davila don't get flustered even when the kids are younger, such as when they visited Craig Middle School on Wednesday.

Middle school students reacted primarily the same as their counterparts at the high school. Although many of them like the approach and said they believe in the message, sometimes they get tired of being lectured.

"Sometimes we have better things to do," said Clara Tomlin, 13. "It was great. I loved it. I don't want to die at an early age, or get a hairy tongue."

Smoking or chewing tobacco, activities which Smith and Davila are very familiar with, can cause hairy tongue. But the students of Moffat County taught them something new, Smith said.

The high school "is a big dip school, and snuff, too," Smith said. "Apparently they snort (snuff). I never heard of that. You learn something new everyday."

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