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by William L. Bulla

On a trip through the Valley Mall this spring, I came upon a group of Girl Scouts with a display that caught my attention. The big sign, T.R.A.S.H. was a stopper. On closer observation I discovered it stood for Teens Rejecting Abusive Smoking Habits.
"Have you heard about 'Toxic Pizza'?" a Girl Scout asked.
"What in the world is a 'Toxic Pizza'?" I asked the girl.
She led me over to a display featuring a picture of a huge pizza, and gave a very interesting presentation to several other shoppers and me. The presentation taught the viewers the harmful aspects of smoking.
In talking to the Girl Scouts and the adult leaders, I learned that the Washington County T.R.A.S.H. Coalition had been formed through a grant of $14,000 from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The grant was awarded to the Girl Scouts of Shawnee Council to serve as the lead agency and grant administrator, working in collaboration with Girls Incorporated, Boys and Girls Club of Washington County and the Mason Dixon Boy Scout Council.
The T.R.A.S.H. Coalition Co-Advisor, and Girl Scout of Shawnee Council Membership Outreach Director, Jane Barvir told me about the exciting year the boy and girl members of the coalition had enjoyed. They learned about the health problems related to smoking, and took that message to the clubs, schools and general public in Washington County.
A group of thirty-seven boys and girls formed the coalition. They elected Ellesse Frazier, president; Ebony Coates, vice-president; Lakeisha Mayo, secretary; and Brittany Blakney, treasurer. Barbie Barvir was elected as State Representative with Ellesse Frazier and Lakeisha Mayo as alternates to represent the Washington County Coalition as Youth Advisory Board Members at the State level. These representatives traveled to other parts of Maryland to meetings, sharing what the Washington County group was doing and learning of the projects being done by other coalitions.
Last November the group attended a photo shoot in Baltimore with other coalition groups to participate in the creation of postcards to carry the message of the harmful effects of smoking. In January they had a training session with personnel from the American Lung Association of Maryland.
During the Valley Mall's Baby and Beyond event in April, I discovered them with their T.R.A.S.H. Coalition display, where they handed out postcards, Stop Smoking giveaways, and making presentations to the shoppers.
Also, that month the local coalition youth went to a "Battle of the Bands" at the University of Maryland Baltimore County to set up displays for the Washington County T.R.A.S.H. Coalition, and the Maryland State T.R.A.S.H. Coalition displays. Events of this nature provided them with another youthful audience to share their non-smoking message.
After my first encounter with this youth group, I have been interested in what had happened since. In meeting with Ms. Barvir I learned that they are still at work.
Members of the coalition have carried their message to a community fair in Maugansville; into the schools with the "Toxic Pizza" presentation for the 5th through 7th graders; with youth at Boys and Girls Clubs, Girls Incorporated and Girl Scout meetings; after school activities with other youth; displays in the schools; Martin Luther King Center; and at local Lions Clubs meetings.
One major activity was the participation in the statewide event held in May in Largo, Maryland. The event was the Maryland T.R.A.S.H. Battle of the Bands at Six Flags America. The local group performed a step dance that enlightened the audience, of more than 500 people, with some tobacco facts. The step dance was called "The Only Thing Smokin' Is The Beat."
The local coalition has made a music video showing kids that "smoking isn't cool." The kids enjoy the video while getting this important message.
In talking to the youthful members of the coalition I heard various comments. When asked for suggestions if the program continues next year the members seemed to want to meet every week, not every other week as is currently being done. Also, they are anxious to do more events for the public. Of, course the Battle of the Bands was high on their list of things to do. Most of the children seemed to like the idea of being able to meet new people and share their knowledge.
" They felt good about being able to speak with authority about what they have learned," Ms Barvir said. "I am amazed at how some of these shy persons have evolve into such good speakers. They show a confidence they didn't possess before joining this coalition."
The Girl Scouts of Shawnee Council is hoping to get a renewal of the grant for Washington County for the 2005-2006 school year so they can continue the activities for the County's youth. The Council is seeking one for Alleghany County that is also part of the Shawnee Council's territory.
I am glad I stopped to read that T.R.A.S.H. sign at the Valley Mall. Perhaps, if I had seen it years ago, I would not have smoked for 30 years, before getting the message that tobacco was harmful to my health like a "Toxic Pizza."

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