Ready Set Quit Tobacco Works With the Community to Better the Community

Polly Amy, creator of the Parents Against Youth Smoking Scholarship, meets with the freshman class of Eminence High School. After explaining the scholarship, students pledge to never use tobacco and are entered to win a scholarship that will be chosen on Senior Honor Day their senior year. Photo credit: Emily Metheny
When a small group of dedicated people get together to support a cause, big things can happen. The Ready Set Quit Tobacco Coalition began in February 2008 when a group of concerned citizens decided to take action, and work together to lower the 29% adult smoking rate in the Morgan County community. An Indiana State Department of Health – Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission grant supported the creation of the coalition, and they were able to plan their attack.

“We stated talking to folks in the community about what we could do to reduce tobacco use,” said Jennifer Walker, director of the Ready Set Quit Tobacco Coalition. The group spent the first year creating the organization’s foundation and reaching out to “key players” in the community, such as health care providers, business leaders, and more. The group wanted anyone and everyone who had an interest in health and the prevention of tobacco use at the table.

It PAYS to be a tobacco free student

To help prevent youth from smoking, the coalition also supports a scholarship in Eminence schools. The only requirement is being tobacco-free during high school. The Parents Against Youth Smoking Scholarship, or PAYS, was created by Polly Amy in honor of her husband, Charles, who died due to smoking complications. Originally, the scholarship’s only requirement was a pledge not to smoke. The Eminence Student Council, Amy said, decided to extend it to all tobacco use. Eminence was the school district chosen because of the rural area, additionally the Amys' children attended this school.

"I don't care what their SAT, or ACT, or class standing is. All I care about is that they don't smoke in high school," Amy said.

During the time Polly created the scholarship, she also served on the CFMC Scholarship Committee. It was difficult time in Amy's life, as her husband was dying from smoking related health issues, her youngest son was in Iraq, and she herself was battling breast cancer.

"It started out as one of the worst times in my life, [but] it turned out to be one of the best things in my life," Amy said. Amy has two scholarships in the county: PAYS and Never Too Late, a scholarship to assist non-traditional students as they begin, or return to, higher education.

During their high school career, Eminence Students keep an eye on each other, holding each other accountable. On senior honor day, the students who still qualify for the scholarship are put into a hat, and the winner of the $1,500 award is pulled at random.

There have been students who began smoking before their freshman year, and with the help and resources from RSQT, they have been able to stop and become eligible for this scholarship. Amy said that the program has helped not only students quit using tobacco, but parents as well. Parents have seen their children's success, and it has inspired them to get help too, Amy said.

There is a desire to have similar scholarships in all of the county school districts, because of the success they have had in preventing students from using tobacco.

Outside of the schools, the RSQT team works to provide support and resources to organizations that continue to work with kids like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club of Morgan County, and The Haven. RSQT provides training to the staff that works with the children to help them better meet the child’s need when tobacco problems.

“We reach out to Head Start and WIC by training their staff about second hand smoke, and the harm caused to children in the home,” Walker said. “Second hand smoke is one of the biggest concerns when children are concerned because that leads to respiratory issues, ear infections, even SIDS.”

The idea is the WIC and Head Start staff can provide the 24/7 support because of their access to their clients.
One community event RSQT puts on with other local groups is the community baby shower. This event offers expecting or new mothers and families resources and information on everything from the dangers of secondhand smoke on children to infant CPR. Photo credit: Emily Metheny

Get the community involved

RSQT decided to use a variety of outreach methods to help groups targeted by the tobacco companies.

In honor of Veteran's Day, RSQT hosted Honor Our Heroes with the First Christian Church of Mooresville. The National Guard, Military OneSource, and Disable American Veteran's came and gave presentations to veterans about the resources available to them to quit smoking, find jobs, receive financial support for veterans themselves or their families.

Last September, RSQT hosted its third community baby shower at the First United Methodist Church in Martinsville. The event had breakout sessions that addressed a variety of topics like secondhand smoke around your child, how to quit smoking, child discipline, and financial planning.

"We had a lot of people from the community like Women's Ministries, who hosted the session on postpartum depression. Headstart did the one on child discipline. We had one on prenatal yoga from the YMCA," Walker said. "It was quite the day for education."

Locally, the group has helped the school districts adopt smoke-free campuses and a smoke-free air policy at the county fair. Walker said there was some push back from the community, but the rulings were done for in to protect the students. The schools have been smoke-free since 2010, and the Morgan County fair has been smoke free since 2009. Youths presented the smoke free air policy to the fair board.

“We attempted a smoke-free air policy in the community about the same time the state adopted a smoke-free air policy at all work sites with the exception of bars and gaming facilities,” Walker said. “Through our efforts in raising awareness and educating decision makers, such as our legislators at the Statehouse, we were able to turn that tide and get that policy passed.”

The coalition also spends time at the Indiana Statehouse to push for policy changes.

They have also offered presentations with people who work with kids to give them the resources to help the kids quit like the Indiana Tobacco Quit Line.

The line is a free, phone based counseling tool that also includes texting and web-based options. The service is available in 170 languages and manned by professionally trained quit coaches with master’s degrees in psychology.

“It's a financial luxury to smoke these days,” Walker said. If someone smokes a pack of Marlboro at $5.75 a day, that's about $175 a month, and it adds up quickly, Walker said. She added that the addiction could make a person choose it over the needs of a family.

“We know there are a lot of barriers here in Morgan County for getting help for youth and adults. Transportation is one,” Walker said. “With the quit line we knock down the barriers, even if someone has an inaccessibility issue.”

Kendrick Foundation ties

This is the third year that RSQT has received a grant from the Kendrick Foundation. With their support this year, RSQT has been able to hire a tobacco cessation coordinator to help with the quit line and help reach out to people in the community who need help quitting smoking. Through the efforts of RSQT, the adult smoking rate has decreased to from 29% in 2007 to 24%, but Walker said it wouldn’t have happened without variety of people in the coalition.

“It takes all of us working together in a collaborative effort in all pockets of the community,” Walker said. “That’s what makes it work. That’s what moves the needle, and that’s what improves the health of Morgan County.”

Joining the CFMC

Originally, RSQT was using a different fiscal agent, but made the move to the CFMC.

"It just makes sense to bring our dollars local. And the staff here has been so welcoming and have been so helpful in opening doors that we didn't have open before," Walker said. "We didn't know some of the folks in our community that are doing similar things to what we are doing and would also be interested in reducing tobacco use."

In 2014, the Lilly Endowment offered a matching grant to local community foundations. A 50 cent on the $1 match for qualified county-wide programs and projects allowed the CFMC to distribute more funding into community initiatives, such as Ready Set Quit Tobacco.

But, the growth is not just monetary.

"With the community foundation, we hope to continue to grow our support base and our foundation," Walker said. "It's been phenomenal how they have been able to help out and provided funding to oversee our program, and they do all the fiscal responsibilities that frees us up to do programming, which is what we want to do."

Want to help Ready Set Quit Tobacco to do more?

More information and donations can be made to the organization at the CFMC website.

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