“Since 2007, we have been advocating for our county parks – which covers roughly 10,000 acres of land – to go smoke and vape-free,” explained Howard Podgurski, Neshaminy Coalition for Youth (NC4Youth) co-chairman. This year, NC4Youth was ultimately able to make their longstanding goal a reality, which Howard accredited to sector collaboration, the power of data and mindful message framing.
“Sometimes I feel like advocacy work can be a lot like Groundhog Day. You feel like you’re having the same conversations with the same people with minimal progress to show for it. At one point, I decided to take a step back and pivot our approach. That’s when we decided to meet with the Parks and Recreation team.”
Within Howard’s first conversation with the Parks and Rec Director, they discussed key considerations, including which areas of the parks could realistically be monitored by park rangers without stretching their department thin. Together, they concluded that prioritizing sports fields, pavilions and playgrounds – essentially, where families and youth spend the majority of their time – would be a suitable and targeted compromise.
“In addition to this, we also realized how important consistency and framing of messaging is. We had been advocating for no-smoke, no-vape areas for years, but that was the wrong message. It was centered around what we can’t do instead of what we can do. That’s when we shifted our conversations to focusing on protecting the welfare of kids and families and changing behaviors and attitudes to help them thrive.”
Shortly after that conversation, NC4Youth visited the parks and interviewed about 150 people over a two-to-three-day period using their new messaging approach: “Young Lungs At Play” (YLAP). In survey questions, they asked respondents if they were in favor of creating YLAP zones. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with 95% being in favor of the new ordinance. After presenting these findings to the Parks Commissioner, Chief of Rangers and the county’s Park Commission Board, NC4Youth’s initiative was unanimously supported.
“There’s something bigger than an ordinance change that came out of this. The Parks and Rec Director now wants us to get involved in supporting better utilization of the parks and working with community organizations to make sure that people are aware of the new policy in place. Another success from this is that the County Commissioners now know who we are and are interested in our work – we’re now seen as a knowledgeable, ethical resource, which ultimately makes our coalition much more sustainable and effective.”