By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Students learn to take on tobacco
Kids attend Topeka event, want to challenge big tobacco
take on tobacco
Pictured in the back row are Barton County commissioners Tricia Schlessiger, Shawn Hutchinson, Barb Esfeld, Duane Reif and Donna Zimmerman, and Juvenile Services Director Marissa Woodmansee, Katelyn Sigler with the Health Department, and Ryan Lichter with the 20th Judicial District Juvenile Services Department. In the front are Paige Trendel, Jasmine Figueroa, Alvin Bowyer and Brody Rossman. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Youth Crew enhances recruitment in Barton County

Barton County’s Youth Crew spent the first year getting its feet wet and now is diving into the deep end.

“We are enhancing our recruitment efforts in Barton County schools to attract more students in grades 6 through 12,” said Tyler Morton, prevention advocate. “Also, we are increasing our contacts with churches and civic organizations.”

Youth Crew is a student-led program that seeks to create positive change throughout the community.

“It is designed to give young people a platform to share their ideas,” Morton explained. “Our focus is on the prevention of drug-and-alcohol use and the creation of healthy habits through education about the dangers of substance misuse.

“In addition, Youth Crew strives to recruit, retain and train members for leadership positions. The group will go as far as the kids want to take it. They have the power and the voice.”

Morton noted that “one voice can change a community but there is greater strength in numbers.”

The number now stands at approximately 50 Youth Crew members; about 30 regularly attend the meetings.

The group gathers from 4 to 5 p.m. on the first three Sundays of the month. Locations are Juvenile Services, 1800 12th, Great Bend; Hoisington Activity Center; and Wolf Hotel in Ellinwood. The spaces are donated.

“Some young people want to be involved in something but are just not sure what that something is,” Morton commented. “Youth Crew can be an avenue to figuring that out.”

Some events are just for fun, while others involve volunteering for charitable community projects. There also are opportunities to attend state and national conferences.

Events have included kickball, a scavenger hunt, soccer day at Barton Community College, Christmas Trail of Lights, Trash Pickup Day and Boxes of Love.

“Any church or civic organization that has a community project is encouraged to contact us,” Morton said. “We love to collaborate with other groups for the betterment of Barton County.”

Young people representing all walks of life are involved in Youth Crew.

“They are sometimes seeking new peer groups and, from what we have seen, parents are all for it,” Morton said. “We hope young people reach out and learn more about us.

“Once they become involved,” he continued, “students learn they can empower their own generation to be decision makers, while promoting change through programs, campaigns and community education.”

Youth Crew is a task force under the umbrella of the Central Kansas Partnership. It was made possible by a Center for Disease Control and Prevention Drug Free Communities grant.

This grant provides $125,000 a year for up to 10 years. It finances the project coordinator position and expenses for the various events.

Morton can be reached by calling 620-786-4033 or 620-793-1930, or emailing

On March 1 and 2, members of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Resist program and the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition hosted Take Down Tobacco Day at the Capitol – a national day of activism where youth are encouraged to speak out against commercial tobacco companies and speak with policymakers about tobacco prevention.

Taking part were members of Barton County’s Youth Crew, an organization of teens that falls under the Health Department’s Central Kansas Partnership. Attending were Alvin Bowyer, Ellinwood High School, Paige Trendel, Great Bend Middle School, and Brody Rossman, Hoisington Middle School,, said Jasmine Figueroa, a sophomore at Great Bend High school. 

They were among around 100 kids from Resist chapters across the state taking part, she said, They planted flags representing the number of Kansans killed by tobacco use and visited with legislators about “punishing the retailers versus punishing the users,” Figueroa said.

“As part of this campaign, we were there talking to representatives and senators,” said Rossman. “We were talking about taking on big tobacco to stop influencing young people. These companies get kids hooked, and then have customers until they either quit or die. They really only care about money. The owners themselves are not doing this because they know it is harmful.”

“It was an amazing experience,” Trendel said. “I enjoyed making a difference.

 “Take Down Tobacco Day is a great opportunity to unite communities and create a unified voice to stand up to commercial tobacco companies,” said Bryce Chitanavong, youth tobacco prevention coordinator. “Tobacco companies use deceitful marketing tactics to target the youth because they see them as future customers. We want them to know that we won’t allow it.”  

For most people, tobacco use starts when they are young. Nearly 9 out of 10 adults who smoke cigarettes daily first try smoking by the age of 18. Young people are even more vulnerable to nicotine addiction as their brains develop. Commercial tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States. The use of tobacco products in any form is unsafe, regardless of whether it is smoked or not.

Previously known as Kick Butts Day, Take Down Tobacco Day provides an opportunity to educate students about the importance of youth advocacy in tobacco prevention. The American Heart Association provided advocacy training on the evening of March 1 to prepare students to speak with their policymakers. 

Each group that registered had the chance to meet with their local representative and discuss tobacco prevention with them.

Resist is a youth-led program focusing on peer-to-peer education, awareness and policies preventing tobacco and electronic cigarette/vaping use. Resist chapters are locally established and hold community awareness events to promote tobacco-free environments. Resist is made possible with the support of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition.

Resources are available for people who want to quit smoking or vaping. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669) or visit


youth crew recruit
Youth Crew members attend the Youth Leaders in Kansas Conference last year in Hesston. Tyler Morton, prevention advocate for Youth Crew, is on the left.