Teen wins scouting award for anti-vaping initiative

Joshua Baethge,
The Van Alstyne Leader
Van Alstyne High School senior Makenna Dancer addresses local middle school students about the dangers of vaping as part of an initiative she created for a Girl Scouts project. Earlier this summer, the teen received the organization's Gold Star Award.

Van Alstyne High School senior Makenna Dancer earned a Girl Scout Gold Star Award earlier this summer for an anti-vaping campaign she created for middle-school students.

With the help of fellow students, she produced an informative video, created an anti-vaping website, and generated attention to promote her initiative.

“My generation was supposed to be the one that was going to stop teen smoking, and we did - the numbers started to go down,” she said. “But then, vaping has been on the rise.”

The Gold Star Award is the highest achievement in Girl Scouts. Only 5 percent of scouts ever earn the honor.

One of the requirements is to create a project that reaches beyond the organization and offers a sustainable, lasting benefit to the community as a whole.

Dancer began planning the project last summer before her junior year. She realized that the best way to prevent vaping at the high school was to try and reach middle school-age youths.

She has lived in Van Alstyne her entire life and knew that vaping seemed to be spreading to younger students.

In order to reach them, she enlisted the help of multiple high school leaders, including representatives from such organizations as band, cheerleading and FFA. She interviewed them on camera about the dangers of vaping.

“I wanted them to model that they don’t do vaping, but can still do cool things in high school,” she said.

She presented the video to Van Alstyne middle school students during Red Ribbon Week, which is an annual nationwide campaign designed to raise awareness and prevent the use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and violence.

When the video was over, Dancer asked students to sign a pledge not to take up vaping. Those who did received a special pin with an anti-vaping logo.

Successfully completing the project required her to also generate publicity for the initiative.

Dancer created a website where others could take her anti-vaping pledge. She reached out to various media outlets and also promoted the initiative on social media.

As she expected, not everyone was receptive to her message. She heard jokes behind her back and laughed at some of the online feedback she received.

“You just have to take it, and I anticipated that,” she said. “The subject matter was something people wanted to make fun of, and I knew that was part of the process. As long as they watched the video and it planted that seed in their mind about vaping and its dangers, that was fine with me.”

As the school year gets ready to begin, she’s eager to get back to band, cheerleading and tennis. Dancer also plans to stay active in Girl Scouts as an ambassador.

Another project requirement is that it was sustainable. She has already reached out to the middle school principal about doing something again during Red Ribbon week.

The message may be more timely than ever: Some studies have shown that those who vape are more susceptible to COVID-19 due to the lung damage they have already incurred.

Looking ahead, Dancer said she is still pondering her college options. Recently she’s been considering the University of Texas, possibly as a biology major on the pre-med track. However, nothing is set in stone yet.

“I’m excited for senior year and to see how that plays out,” she said.

Makenna Dancer, a senior at Van Alstyne High School, was awarded the Girl Scouts' prestigious Gold Star Award earlier this summer.