Area initiative promotes tobacco-free outdoor space

Sure, making a tumbling pass in gymnastics takes muscle strength and coordination. But clean air to fuel the motion helps, too.

Just ask Garver Memorial YMCA gymnasts Kassidy Burket and Ellen Kennedy.

As part of the international Kick Butts Day on March 20, Kassidy and Ellen – who train at the Roaring Spring gym – were guest speakers at an appreciation breakfast for the different Blair County organizations participating in the Young Lungs at Play program – an initiative from Penn State Cooperative Extension and the American Lung Association aiming to make outdoor recreation areas tobacco-free zones.

“It’s important to me because as an athlete, I need to keep my lungs safe, because that’s one of my major things I have to have for gymnastics,” said Kassidy, 12, a sixth-grade student at Spring Cove Middle School.

“It’s really important to me because I don’t have to see people having second-hand smoke and I don’t have to breathe it in because [Kassidy and I] are both athletes, and lungs are a really important part of our bodies,” said Ellen, 10, a fourth-grade student at Spring Cove Elementary School.

Second-hand smoke exposure is linked to causing illnesses such as asthma, respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease in children, according to a Young Lungs at Play fact sheet from the PSU Cooperative Extension.

Seeing adults smoking in such family-friendly places as playgrounds and parks, the behavior appears acceptable, it said.

“These initiatives are important because they reduce kids’ exposure to second-hand smoke, reduce the number of kids who decide to start smoking, and it keeps the parks cleaner,” said Kathrine Muller, Blair County Drug and Alcohol Programs, Inc., prevention educator, in an email.

Next month, Kassidy and Ellen will get to share their thoughts with state representatives in Harrisburg as part of Tobacco Youth Advocate Day, Kassidy’s mom, Dena Burket, said.

“It’s really, really nice that they’re going to get to go to Harrisburg and meet with the legislators, see a little bit of how things operate down there, and it’ll be very good for them,” and “educational,” she said.

Kassidy’s and Ellen’s parents are proud.

“We are very very proud that it’s so important to her,” said Ellen’s mom, Heather, who works for the Blair County Drug and Alcohol Programs, Inc. “She’s kind of grown up knowing my husband and [my] stance as far as with [drug and alcohol] issues. …We’re just really proud that she has picked it up at such a young age and she’s getting a lot of positive feedback in our community from neighbors and friends and different people who are saying, ‘You know what, we’re just really glad that you’re doing that.’ So I think that’s helping to keep her going in it too.”

In Blair County, Young Lungs at Play participating organizations are: Garver Memorial YMCA, Roaring Spring; Joshua House Community Center, Tyrone; Blair County Valley View Park, Altoona; Central Blair Recreation Commission, Altoona; Northern Blair Recreation Commission, Tipton; Morrisons Cove Memorial Park, Martinsburg; and the Bellwood-Antis Park Authority.

But the campaign to get local areas participating isn’t done yet.

“We would really like to see the baseball fields get on board with this,” Muller said. “All it takes is for the organization to adopt a tobacco-free policy and then we send that in and get as many signs as they need.”

For more information or to request a sign, contact Muller at 693-9663, ext. 307 or

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.