In the early morning coolness of a Friday in May, vehicles filled with young artists from the North Coast region began their trek to the Born to Breathe 2023 Youth Media Festival at the Benbow KOA, just south of Garberville in Humboldt County. It was the second festival in two years, but the first in-person, and NorCal 4 Health staff worked diligently to make the event extra special and accessible to all participants.
The Benbow KOA hugs the Eel River and lies in the mid-point region between Lake, Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino counties, NorCal 4 Health’s project region. After a stormy winter of canceled in-person youth trainings, the crisp spring weather coupled with fresh green lawns, playgrounds, and the Friendship Hall displaying posters and iPad videos of this year’s entries kindled a festive spirit.
Born to Breathe is the brainchild of the California Health Collaborative’s NorCal 4 Health project team and their California Tobacco Prevention Program (CTPP) funded partners. The intention of the festival is three-fold: 1) help young people ages 13-24 learn about the dangers of tobacco and nicotine products; 2) empower them to put that newly found knowledge into a form of expression that resonates with them and their peers; and 3) make a connection between the youth, their artwork, and local elected officials who have the power to make changes in their community.
By engaging local elected officials throughout the region to attend, help judge entries, and present awards, NorCal 4 Health created a fun, low key environment for relationship building, youth empowerment, and moving pressing tobacco-related issues to the forefront of conversations. During the awards ceremony, elected representatives from Del Norte, Humboldt and Lake County spoke passionately to the audience about their concerns of the impact of tobacco and nicotine products on our children. With genuine pride and heartfelt accolades, they presented 22 cash awards ranging from $125 – $300.
Thanks to a generous donation from Adventist Hospital Clearlake, this year’s prize fund was $5,000. It helped recruit 29 young people who together created 22 entries in song, video, written word, sculpture, two-dimensional drawing, and computer-generated drawing categories. (Entries can be seen at https://norcal4health.org/2023-b2b-gallery.) There were three tiers of awards, “Achievers,” “Skilled & Talented,” and “Wowsers!”
The day’s activities began with everyone on the lawn playing ice-breaker games like “Would you rather…” and “Broken Telephone – Drawing.” Laughter and connections naturally emerged and continued throughout the event that included a taco bar lunch on the patio and the awards ceremony. Throughout the day, the NorCal 4 Health project’s media company, Wingspan Media, held interviews with attendees that were then morphed into a powerful mini documentary and call to action that can be viewed at: https://norcal4health.org/take-action-menu.
NorCal 4 Health’s Born to Breathe 2022 mini-documentary, “North Coast Youth Voices on Vaping” (https://norcal4health.org/born-to-breathe), was selected for showing at the American Public Health Association’s annual conference in Georgia.
Like the springtime weather and glorious showy flowers and greenery at the Benbow KOA, momentum for passing local tobacco retail licenses (TRLs), which can reduce youth exposure and initiation to these harmful products, was in full swing in Lake County, Arcata, Ukiah and Willits at the time of the event. NorCal 4 Health Project Director, Amber Wier, along with other CTPP funded partners, were excited for the opportunity to let their elected officials learn firsthand from their young constituents the challenges they’re facing.
“We know youth voices matter in our communities and our elected officials really do care about their health and wellbeing,” noted Wier. “Shortly following this year’s festival, Humboldt County passed a TRL 5-0. Last year’s festival led to Del Norte County reintroducing and passing their TRL 5-0. We believe creating these opportunities allow relationships to grow and create successful strategies to protect our young people from predatory tobacco practices.”
The momentum from the festival continues as the NorCal 4 Health team created a “roadshow” and media campaign from the messaging and entries that will travel throughout the four-county region. Currently, at the request of Lake County Supervisor, Bruno Sabatier, a festival judge and keynote speaker at both Born to Breathe 2022 and 2023, the roadshow is on display at the Lake County Courthouse lobby through the end of September. The Board is due to vote on a tobacco retail license and outdoor air policy near the end of September and those wishing to voice their opinion are encouraged to visit the NorCal 4 Health Take Action page at https://norcal4health.org/take-action-menu.
Submitted by JoAnn Saccato, MA, Community Engagement Coordinator for Lake and Mendocino counties, for the California Health Collaborative’s NorCal 4 Health project. The project helps create greater wellness and prosperity for all through advancing health and equity in community planning and policies.