Gila County’s Anti-Tobacco Squad Wins Statewide Youth Council Award

Back Row(LtoR) – McKenzie Freeman, Brooke Freeman, Andrew Valverde, Katelynn Marquez Front Row(LtoR) - Keirstyn Newby, Kamryn Newby, Robbin Bosquez, Kristin Holliday, Caylee Lopez

Local teens in Globe and Miami who are members of the Gila County Anti-Tobacco Squad were recognized this month with a prestigious award: besting more than two dozen state-wide peer groups to be named Arizona Youth Advocate Group of the Year. The Silver Belt caught up with adult coordinator Shaunae Casillas, of Gila County Division of Health & Emergency Management, for an interview about accomplishments leading to this award.

Q. What activities ranked these Globe-Miami youth highest in Arizona?

Shaunae: “The Gila County Anti-Tobacco Squad is currently made up of two separate squads: Globe and Miami Anti-Tobacco Squad (or GATS/MATS). Members created our motto of “Become The Movement – each one of us can make a difference but together we can make change”. Members are thoroughly trained to educate peers in our schools about the dangers of vaping and tobacco. Members have been working on raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 for almost 4 years. They have collected over 500 surveys from Payson, Globe and Miami. Members have dedicated many hours learning, collecting data, and speaking to community members advocating for Tobacco 21. Recently, Ginny Chadwick, Western Regional Director for Tobacco 21, arrived from Missouri to specifically meet with members to prepare them as they move forward with this goal. While continuing their pursuit of Tobacco 21, members also found time to give back to their communities. Miami Squad collected donations for Gila County Animal Care and Control in December. This resulted in dozens of adoption bags to accompany newly adopted pets in our area. Globe Squad continued with their annual “Santa’s for Seniors” which benefits Haven Health of Globe residents.
Q. How long has the group existed, tell us about the origin?

Shaunae: “Our squad is one of the longest-running youth tobacco coalitions in Arizona. When I started this job in 2014 there were zero members at Globe High School, and just a few at Miami High School. Since then we’ve seen 15 members graduate - and 13 have gone on to college or trade school.

Q. What new events or activities are being planned for the year ahead?

Shaunae: Immediately after we received our award, members asked what we were going to do this year to win again. I laughed and told them “A lot more, so be ready”. Members are actively trying to change the stigma that their voice isn’t heard. We are hoping to start small by hosting park clean up days to pick up cigarette butts, working with businesses to create smoke/vape free policies, and have a bigger influence in their schools. Members want to educate teachers about current tobacco/vape trends. This will enable them to be a resource for their schools to help eliminate these products on campus.

Editor’s Note: What makes Shaunae Casillas an inspiring role model our high schoolers can relate to? She dedicates her time to helping Gila County youth become confident, successful, and independent. Utilizing the School Health Liaison Program, she along with other prevention staff, educate our youth in an array public health topics. To learn more about the Gila County Anti-Tobacco Squad email [email protected]

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