High school students collected 1,087 cigarette butts in 45 minutes at Hunt Club Park Community Center, according to Vidal Anguiano, 18, a Zion-Benton High School student.
Anguiano is one of 26 members of REALITY Illinois, a Lake County chapter of a statewide teen prevention program. Anguiano and his fellow club members met with Gurnee Park District commissioners Monday to try to persuade the board to institute a tobacco-free policy.
“I’m hoping it makes a difference. I feel that targeting the parks will get rid of negative influences, like people smoking in parks, so kids wouldn’t be exposed to that. It’s also a better work-out environment for people who use the park for recreational purposes,” Anguiano said.
Club members started gathering data for their presentation in October. Their work included gathering cigarette butts from Gurnee parks, which they brought as a visual aid to their presentation.
“We were surprised how many cigarette butts they collected. We know park staff clean the parks on a regular basis. To know there is daily cleaning and they can still find that many is not very good,” said Libby Baker, Park District board president.
Baker said it was clear that the students “did their homework” and presented a lot of material.
It is too early for the board to take immediate action, Baker said. The board wants feedback from residents and also wants to explore what kind of impact going tobacco-free would have on its services, she said.
“This will be discussed at a later date. They definitely generated a response,” Baker said. “It’s a really nice group of young men and women, not just from one but from a number of schools, working together so well.”
Baker said the presentation included several visual aids as well as comments from other park districts that are currently tobacco-free.
REALITY persuaded Round Lake Area Park District to approve a policy banning all tobacco from its premises last year. Two years ago, REALITY convinced Vernon Hills Park District to ban tobacco.
Club members interviewed Gurnee residents about how smoking affects health, according to Kathryn Beres, 16, of Green Oaks. Beres, a junior at Caramel Catholic High School in Mundelein, joined REALITY this year. She is involved in an alcohol- and drug-free club at school and wanted to get involved with something that had a larger impact.
“All my life, my mom has smoked. It bothers me and I don’t want it to bother other people,” Beres said.
Gurnee Park District was the most receptive to working with REALITY, according to Barbara De Nekker, Lake County Health Department community health specialist, who is cosponsor of the Lake County REALITY chapter.
Teens from nine different high schools meet monthly to work on fulfilling the club’s mission to make all parks tobacco-free.
“They learn advocacy skills and how to get adults to listen to their ideas. We teach them that they can impact their community,” De Nekker said.
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