CCHS senior Olivia Cooper visits Washington, D.C., twice to learn advocacy and leadership skills

 - Olivia Cooper met with Rep. Greg Walden's staffer Nolan Ahern to discuss the regulation of all tobacco products.

The newly elected Crook County High School student body president traveled to Washington, D.C., not once, but twice last month to get some tips on how to be an effective leader.

Olivia Cooper was invited to be a national youth advocate to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Youth Advocacy Symposium, a five-day workshop that builds skills in advocacy, communications and leadership in Washington, D.C.

She then attended a 10-day Global Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C., and New York, where she gained firsthand exposure to the challenges of international diplomacy.

The 17-year-old daughter of Scott Cooper and Laura Craska Cooper, of Prineville, will begin her senior year next month. Although she wants to major in mathematics in college, she also plans to somehow be involved in advocacy work in tobacco use and substance abuse prevention.

"I've seen what can happen, and I know that as you get older and as you go on to college, it can get worse and worse," she said.

She has been involved with Students Against Destructive Decisions since her freshman year. But during the last school year, she threw herself into it and was heavily involved, working as a SADD youth liaison with the Crook County Health Department.

"I was a go-between with the health department and the high school, helping put on events that cover things like substance abuse, mental health awareness, driving, putting on your seatbelt, and being aware of distracted driving," she explained.

This year, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reached out to Kris Williams, the Crook County Tobacco Prevention and Education Program coordinator, and ended up inviting Cooper on an all-expense-paid trip to D.C. for their training.

Williams first got to know Cooper when they traveled to Bend together to attend the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program in Oregon in May of 2017.

"Olivia talked to me about the importance of educating her peers on the destruction tobacco use can cause in a community and to someone personally," Williams said. "I nominated Olivia for this opportunity to further her advocacy skills because of her interest in promoting a healthier lifestyle for our community."

Tobacco-Free Kids is a non-profit organization focused on reducing tobacco use in the United States and around the world. Seventeen youth advocates from 16 states participated in this year's event, held July 8-12.

"We learned advocacy skills throughout that workshop and how to use those not only at the local level but also the state level and the national level," Cooper said.

After they learned those skills and talked about what it means to be an advocate, they met with their congressional representatives and their staff.

Cooper and her partner, who was from Washington, met with the staff of the Oregon and Washington congressmen to discuss the need for strong Food and Drug Administration regulation of all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes and cigars that are sold in an assortment of sweet flavors that are popular with kids.

Cooper and other participants asked members of Congress to support the FDA's authority to regulate e-cigarettes and cigars and to reject proposals to weaken it. Current proposals before Congress would make it harder for the FDA to protect kids from candy-flavored e-cigarettes and cigars.

Cooper is applying what she learned locally in her SADD chapter.

She's been in contact with the local health department, making plans for the upcoming school year, which could include a leadership conference.

"Olivia has the drive and passion of someone who completes what she starts and is dedicated to the cause of tobacco use prevention," Williams said.

Cooper was home for a few days before flying back East to spend July 16-25 at a Global Young Leaders Conference that Envision puts on.

Two CCHS English teachers nominated Cooper and a few other students for the conference. Her parents agreed that it would be a great opportunity for her, so they made it happen.

According to Envision, this 10-day leadership journey provides an out-of-classroom learning experience and rigorous curriculum that equips students from across the United States and more than 145 countries with the confidence, independence, skills, and global competitiveness required of the next generation of leaders.

She was one of 375 students from across the globe to attend. They spent the first five days in D.C. and the remaining five days in New York.

The students, ranging in age from 15 to 18, were split into country groups. Hers was China, and she worked on the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals with a student from New Zealand. They were asked to come up with a clean and affordable energy plan that would benefit China.

The country groups then modified the proposals to benefit the entire globe.

"From there, we picked one proposal to go on to the U.N.," she explained. "We got to be in the briefing room, and there was one final proposal from each of the 10 Sustainable Development Goals. We presented it, and then we voted on a country group, and it either passed or it failed."

Cooper said she really enjoyed connecting with people from different cultures.

"I learned so many different things about people from across the world and how different countries operate that maybe I hadn't known before," she said. "I got to talk to a guy from New Zealand all about his government and how it operates."

The students were told to bring something from home that represented their culture, and they presented it to the others. She said it was interesting to see the different facets of life from each of the students.

"I decided to focus on Prineville's cowboy culture," she said.

She showed her tennis sweatshirt that says Crook County Cowgirls and a tennis ball with a cowgirl hat.

"I took a picture of me on a horse in my pink cowboy boots and my pink cowgirl hat," she said.

Back home in Prineville, Cooper is excited to put her lessons into practice.

"I think it better prepared me for this year as ASB president," she said. "I think there's going to be a lot of stuff that I'm going to bring in hopefully this year into the school."

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