Admittedly, Savannah Hunsucker noted substance prevention education was not something she was naturally inclined to get involved with, but when Mirror's youth prevention group (STAND) made a presentation while she was in eighth grade at Chisholm Middle School, a fire was lit.
Listening to one of STAND's "Generation RX" prescription drug training talks — educating middle schoolers about safe use, disposal and storage of prescription drugs — Hunsucker said she thought it was cool to see those students training others about what they should and shouldn't be doing, and that mission quickly drew her interest.
Hunsucker joined STAND as a freshman at Newton High School last year. Now, as a sophomore, Hunsucker serves as vice-president on the STAND board — drawing on the investment of her peers to push her to that next level of commitment.
"We all come together and I was really inspired by the passion that everybody has for it, so I wanted to take leadership in this because it's something that I have grown to have a passion for," Hunsucker said.
Much of STAND's prevention education focuses on training and presentations for middle school students, offering connection through a peer-to-peer model that reinforces positive social norms and living above the influence. That has included hosting a spin-off of the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" to help inform young students, while Hunsucker has also been a part of community awareness efforts — encouraging positive interactions among peers — like the "fifth quarter" events held after NHS football games.
Recently, Hunsucker was also part of a group of STAND board members — representing 120 youth in all five Harvey County high schools (as well as Peabody) — who proposed a new T21 ordinance to the Newton City Commission. The ordinance, which called for an increase of the legal age of purchase of tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21, was passed by the city commission in September.
"The thing that I appreciate and love the most about it is you get to make new friends, new connections and you get to be a role model for people. You have so many people who support you," Hunsucker said of STAND. "Even though with T21 that we'd done we got a lot of backlash with that, but there's still people who support you."
On top of her work with STAND, Hunsucker also volunteers her time at Norm's Coffee Bar during the winter and spring, while also helping as a manager with the NHS cross country team in the fall — with those closest to her being a big influence on that community involvement.
"My family, they really value giving back to people and just being grateful for what you have. I always thought it would be great to show other people the things that have been instilled in me with my family," Hunsucker said.
For her efforts with STAND — pushing the T21 ordinance, presenting on substance issues (like the vaping epidemic) she and her peers face to both middle school students and community leaders, etc. — as well as involvement with the local Harvey County Drug Free Youth Coalition, Hunsucker was honored with the Youth Leadership Award at the Annual Kansas Prevention Conference earlier this month.
According to her nomination letter from Mirror Inc., "whenever an opportunity presents itself to make a difference, Savannah is the first to drop everything else to put everything she has into helping impact the world around her. Savannah has a heart for making the world a better place for those around her."
Receiving the award was a big deal, Hunsucker admitted, right on par with her efforts to continue the mission of STAND to reduce youth drug and alcohol use. Both are something she won't soon forget, as she remains motivated to do all she can to help her peers and get their voice heard.
"Probably my proudest moments were when T21 passed, because me and a few other members had kind of brought that to the table at the city commission and definitely when I got the youth leadership award. That was just so empowering," Hunsucker said. "That was pretty cool and I was so grateful for that. It just kind of showed that all the things that I've been doing and that STAND has been doing together have really been paying off and that people are recognizing that."