Mirror's youth prevention program, STAND, has been hard at work across Harvey County.
On top of the normal peer-led substance prevention education, community service projects and positive alternative activities carried out by the group to promote healthy decision-making, STAND members pushed for a T21 ordinance — to increase the legal age of purchase of tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21 — that was recently passed by the city of Newton.
Those efforts have not gone unnoticed, either, as STAND received the Prevention Education award at the annual Kansas Prevention Conference, held the first week of October. Additionally, STAND board vice president Savannah Hunsucker was recognized with the Youth Leadership award, and members of the STAND board — including Hunsucker, Karly Green, Eli Redington, Ben Bollinger, Tristan Wedd and Mallory Sierer — presented at the conference.
"We were educating them about what we do as a STAND group, how we engage leaders and how those leaders engage their peers," said Mirror youth coordinator Rachel Miner. "The biggest part of our program is that the leaders ... they're making healthy decisions, and that they're healthy decision-making spreads to their peers and they're influence impacts those around them."
Members who presented shared their personal motivations for getting involved with STAND, which president and Hesston High School student Ben Bollinger noted varied from familial motivations to earnest desires to make a difference in their communities.
Gaining the recognition with the prevention education award is something Bollinger said is both rewarding and energizing in continuing on with STAND's mission — something that was reflected for Bollinger in the bond forged between the board members who presented at the annual prevention conference, knowing they were in it together.
“Personally, my goal was to make sure it’s not just a coming together of kids across Harvey County, but it’s a family aspect," Bollinger said. “I feel like for us as youth, it shows us that this isn’t just for the benefit of us making the right choice and staying healthy, but it's benefiting the lives of other students.”
STAND is made up of 120 youth across Harvey County, with 25 members on the board that represents all Harvey County communities, as well as Peabody — with a STAND group established at each community's high school in Burrton, Newton, Halstead, Hesston, Peabody and Sedgwick.
Leaders and STAND members are active in seeking out engaging ways to enact its peer-to-peer education model to spread its message of substance prevention (like utilizing a spin-off of the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" to take out to area middle schools).
In an effort to reinforce positive social norms and living above the influence, Miner said STAND's hard work backs up its mission. That work, in turn, helped lead to the formation of the Harvey County Drug Free Youth Coalition (D-FY), making the recent award a well-earned honor in Miner's eyes.
"The prevention messages got shared in every single school this year, and sometimes those kids got hit multiple times with the message. We were able to reach over 2,000 students through our prevention messaging and we just have this network that allows us to reach so many students," Miner said. "In other towns or other communities, they might have just one small group going in a high school or a couple groups, but we have a network of over 120 youth who are working all across the county. That's something that is really rare."
Going beyond the impact on the board members, Miner noted she has seen first-hand the difference STAND has made with middle schoolers — encouraging them to get involved in the group's efforts themselves — and being recognized at the annual Kansas Prevention Conference is something she sees as a great motivator in continuing the mission.
"For me, personally, it's exciting to see the work that you've been doing in the community and the work that the youth has been doing getting recognized at the state level. We can see all of the good things that are happening in our own community, but it's nice that people from the outside are starting to notice it, too," Miner said. "I hope they know that they're doing great work and that their efforts are being noticed. No matter the big or small ways that they're impacting their school, they're making a difference."