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Anti-smoking teen group celebrates 10th anniversary

REALITY Illinois Teens alums Allie Schultz (left) Gabby Nystrom both Gurnee 19 fill out questionaires celebrati5th anniversary Smoke Free Illinois

REALITY Illinois Teens alums Allie Schultz (left) and Gabby Nystrom, both of Gurnee, and 19, fill out questionaires at the celebration of the 5th anniversary of Smoke Free Illinois and the 10th year of the REALITY Illinois Lake County Chapter at Condell Hospital's Conference Center on Janurary 4 , 2012. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

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Reality Illinois, Lake County Chapter

Funded through Illinois Department of Public Health, the program encourages teens to stand up against tobacco. Projects include writing and recording radio ads, protecting parks by cleaning up tobacco litter and take action to create more tobacco-free spaces in Lake County.

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Updated: February 8, 2013 6:11AM

A celebration last Friday marked a double anniversary — the fifth-year anniversary for Smoke Free Illinois and the 10th year for REALITY Illinois, Lake County chapter.

Present and past members of REALITY — the teen tobacco advocacy group — celebrated with community members and Lake County Health Department employees at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.

“REALITY has been going for so long and is an amazing thing to know,” said Jennifer Takamura, 15.

The Gurnee teen is a sophomore at Warren High School and teen leader with REALITY. She has been involved with the group for two years. She watched her sister join and help get local park districts to ban tobacco use on their property.

“I think it was interesting how REALITY really impacted the community. Ordinary people like me can make a difference,” said Takamura.

She is among 28 teens who are members of Lake County’s REALITY Illinois chapter, according to Barbara de Nekker, Tobacco Free Lake County health educator. The group has averaged 15-20 teens from 8-10 area high schools in the past decade.

The organization has gotten 19 communities to pass smoke-free bans, she said.

“One of the reasons we’re so successful is because the results speak for themselves,” said de Nekker.

The Round Lake Area Park District was the first park district in the state to institute a smoke-free and tobacco-free ban, according to Round Lake Area Park District commissioner Tim Pasternak.

He said it was “inspirational” to work with teens from REALITY.

“As a parent, as a community member, as a board member, to see kids with so many conflicts for their time devote their time to an important issue really helped. It impacted us to act,” said Pasternak.

REALITY teens surveyed community members and presented facts to the park district board, he said. The Round Lake Area Park District enacted the ordinances in two phases that went into effect on Aug. 1, 2010. Since then, community response has been mostly positive, he said.

“It’s something people expect. Illinois and Lake County went smoke free. It makes sense in parks,” said Pasternak.

This year’s project is approaching the Lake County Forest Preserve District to enact an anti-smoking, anti-tobacco ban, de Nekker said. Teens are working on research to eventually present, she said.

REALITY alumnus Mike Arshonsky, 24, of Vernon Hills helped collect 2,500 signatures from the community to present to Vernon Hills’ mayor and board members to ban smoking in his community. He was involved with REALITY from 2005-2006 while he was at Vernon Hills High School.

“I think it’s one of the things the state can support, having a healthy lifestyle and supporting the community. I don’t think there’s one bad message the REALITY program has. Hopefully there will be another 20 years,” said Arshonsky.

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