Eighth-grader Ashley Jerome may be the youngest person ever to receive the Smoke Free Paso Del Norte’s Chester L. Bryant Valor Award, but there’s nothing small about her contributions to a world where tobacco products are not in use.
The work of the Wiggs Middle School student over the past three years as a mentor and advocate for tobacco control policies has earned the attention of the Paso de Norte Foundation, which presents the award to an individual or organization for their contributions in reducing the negative impact of tobacco in the community.
To qualify for the award, an individual or organization must meet criteria in four areas: prevention, cessation, policy and special populations.
Tobacco use is something that has affected Jerome personally.
“My dad has been smoking since he was around my age. He had a heart attack when I was in second grade,” she said. “Seeing what can happen really made me want to join the program because it’s important to teach about the dangers of tobacco.
Jerome talks to students at Mesita and Lamar elementary about the dangers of tobacco, preparing special presentations for them throughout the year.
“We show them the dangers of tobacco and how to deal with peer pressure to smoke,” she said. “We show them the negative effects. Let’s say you want to be a football player, it affects you because you won’t be able to run as fast.”
She thinks it’s important to hear this message from a fellow student.
“It’s important for kids to learn about this when they are little,” Jerome said. “I think when young people hear that message from someone their age they really stop and listen to what you have to say and how it will affect them and those they love.”