My name is Carina Chen. I am a junior at Classen SAS @NE High School and a member of the leadership team at Youth Action for Health and Leadership (YAHL).
I first heard about YAHL in my biomedical class from my Youth Field Organizer (YAHL supervisor), Beverly. During the training, Beverly educated me and many of my peers about the unhealthy rabbit holes that Oklahoma’s youth are vulnerable to. These include following an unhealthy diet with little to no physical exercise and carelessly abusing harmful and addictive nicotine products. I also learned of the two campaigns that YAHL focuses on: CounterAct Tobacco and Elevate Student Health.
The CounterAct Tobacco campaign works towards changing policies to restrict youth’s access to nicotine products. Personally, I know multiple students who use vapes and even actively sell vapes in their schools. The campaign collects surveys in the community to present statistical data to Oklahoma legislators and senators. During the St. Patrick’s Day CounterAct Tobacco event, I was tasked with asking strangers to fill out the survey. This was my first experience regularly talking to strangers, and although it was difficult at first, I came out a more confident person.
The Elevate Student Health campaign works towards changing policies to allow students healthier options and health education in schools. This campaign also collects surveys. However, they are strictly from students, school staff and parents. In my school, which is in OKCPS, students have complete access to water fountains, healthy options at lunch and are required to have one physical education credit to graduate. However, after attending the YAHL leadership team summit, I have seen many different student perspectives. YAHL is unique in that it connects students across the state and provides opportunities to students in rural areas. During the summit, other students shared their experiences about unsafe water fountains, very limited food options and no time allotted for movement. I have learned about the scarcity of healthy options and education in the underfunded schools outside of the city.
I joined YAHL to have a bigger impact whilst being involved in my community. Additionally, YAHL is amazing for expanding viewpoints and improving one’s communication, leadership and public speaking skills. Youth activism is important because the younger generation needs to be prepared to take on the bigger challenges of the future.