Tobacco cash funds awareness program

By Teresa Herriman

The Courier-Herald

Prairie Ridge and other unincorporated areas of Pierce County will soon benefit from some of Washington state's portion of the 1998 settlement with the country's tobacco companies. A pilot program to help raise awareness and reduce dependence on tobacco is slated to begin in the area. The program will be funded using the settlement money.

STARR, which stands for Sumner Tobacco and Alcohol Risk Reduction, is a department of the Sumner School District that manages and supports programs, grants and coalitions involving family services, community mobilization and the prevention and intervention of youth substance abuse and violence.

Marilee Hill-Anderson, who heads STARR for the district, is spearheading the Prairie Ridge program.

The funding for the Prairie Ridge project and the STARR program comes from the Washington State Department of Health, which uses local education service districts to help allocate the funds to each school district.

To date, the state has received $729 million of the estimated $4.5 billion from the tobacco companies.

The STARR program is coordinating with AmeriCorps Alliance for Children, Youth and Families led by Mary Sorg, a service member placed with the Prairie Ridge community.

"We are just getting started in Prairie Ridge," Hill-Anderson said. "We are seeking to build a closer link with the community so we can each support our students."

The STARR program will start by working with residents to determine how best to serve the community. Part of the challenge is talking to the children of parents who smoke, without offending the parents.

"The last thing we want to do is to come in and tell people what to do," Hill-Anderson explained. "We will be working in partnership with the community, not as an outside agency."

The program, she said, is intended to mirror what the children are learning in school about tobacco awareness. In the Sumner district, the STARR project offers fifth- and sixth-grade teachers the opportunity to schedule special presentations of tobacco-related lessons from the "Here's Looking At You" curriculum. The STARR project also provides a presentation on the medical and health impact of tobacco use through Good Samaritan Mobile Health Services.

Hill-Anderson said the new program will use parent involvement activities and community-based programs to specifically target children in fifth through ninth grades, the age where kids are typically making choices about tobacco.

The program will reinforce skills the children are learning at school to help them avoid using tobacco products including cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

One of the keys to the STARR program is helping kids analyze messages they see and hear on television and in the movies.

Hill-Anderson wants children to understand that ultimately, tobacco use is an addiction.

By partnering with AmeriCorp, the STARR program is able to implement the outreach project in the Prairie Ridge area. Sorg will integrate tobacco prevention information in all the activities she leads at Prairie Ridge. Displays will be available at community events advertising the State Quite Line for children and parents who may need help with tobacco cessation.

"We want to support people in the process of making healthy choices," Hill-Anderson said.

Teresa Herriman can be reached at

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