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Pictured are Cadence Davis (left) and Gillian Abee-Freeze.

Cadence Davis and Gillian Abee-Freeze started the Burke Youth Health Coalition when they were students at Heritage Middle School.

Now juniors at Draughn High School, they continue to bring awareness to health issues facing teens, including vaping.

Cadence and Gillian helped organize and lead a PTO meeting at a high school in Asheville on the subject. They said the seminar was more of an informal Q&A session with parents wanting to know more about vaping, how to know if their children are involved and ways to prevent teens from starting in the first place.

“I didn’t realize how much we knew and how much the parents didn’t know,” Cadence said.

Gillian added the goal was to get students, parents and teachers talking about vaping and its health dangers. Both said most parents are in denial about vaping and haven’t accepted that it is an issue among teens.

Throughout their mission toward healthier lifestyles for their peers, Cadence and Gillian have focused on mental health, drugs, alcohol, nicotine and now vaping. They say most people recognize smoking as a bad habit, but are on the fence about vaping and need to be educated on its health risks and the fact that vaping can lead teens to take up smoking or use drugs.

Cadence and Gillian see themselves and the coalition as being a voice for young people and bridging gaps between teens and the community. They want parents to know what is going on with their school-aged children.

The Burke Youth Coalition was instrumental in getting “Tobacco Free Campus” signs for Burke County Public Schools that include not only cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products but also vaping.

They are working on a plan for a seminar in Burke County similar to the one in Asheville. They invite children ages 12 through 18 to enter the third Vocal Lens photo contest by taking a photo that represents a health and wellness challenge in Burke County and a possible solution to the challenge.

“I applaud these students for taking on the cause of healthy youth,” Burke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Larry Putnam said of Cadence and Gillian. “They are showing great leadership and community activism skills at a young age and their actions show they truly have a passion for their peers. Oftentimes students, and even adults, have great ideas but never act on them. Cadence and Gillian continue to follow through with their goals and make a difference in the lives of others. I appreciate them for their desire to bring tough topics to the forefront and start difficult conversations about issues impacting our young people.”

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