Know your story so you can be the boss of your body! This was the underlying theme of the annual Jump Start: Youth Empowerment Retreat, which was held on Saturday, August 26. Before we can change policy, we must share our own stories of how smoking negatively affects us, the people we know and love, and our environment. And we must be able to present our vision of what a tobacco-free community looks like.

At the retreat, we were greeted by blue skies and trade winds at Camp Mokule‘ia in the idyllic Waialua town of North Shore. Thirty youth from across the state attended the Youth Retreat eager to meet other youth who care about being a tobacco-free generation. The day started with Camp Mokule‘ia staff helping the youth to get to know each other through three different team-building activities. The crowd favorite was the wa’a where all youth try to get on top of the teeter totter platform without either end ever touching the ground. This specific activity requires youth to take initiative as there were only three instructions: stay focused, be patient, and communicate.

Once the activity was pau, everyone was smiling and feeling accomplished because they were able to do it as a team– what a good morning! After a delicious lunch, we dove into two sessions: 1) why stories matter; and 2) envisioning what a tobacco-free community and generation looks like.

In the first session, one youth participant shared her story of how her grandmother is having difficulty breathing and is in the hospital due to her addiction to tobacco. Others had similar stories. The exchange showed the attendees how tobacco use has had an impact in all communities and that In her words: “I know I can speak my thoughts and share my story because people will listen.”

The second session asked youth participants to show their creative side! This visual art activity used magazines, drawings, and words to a create a collage of what a tobacco-free community might look like. Hawai‘i County youth focused on having a healthy mindset, which will help them to say no to tobacco. Oahu County youth imagined stores selling more fruit and vegetables near the check-out station instead of tobacco. Much like we experience on our Perspectives on Community Health field trips, different communities often have different approaches to a similar problem. Bringing together voices from different communities allows everyone to share stories, learn and problem-solve.

In the coming weeks, some of the participants will come back together to choose a policy priority for HIPHI to work on in the 2018 legislative session. Stay tuned!