community outreach

Vape Free

I have this burning desire to make New York vape free. Despite vaping and smoking being banned in public spaces, we all have witnessed smoking and vaping on buses, in subways, parks, schools, colleges, and other public areas. Thus polluting the air surrounding us. This poses not only a hazard to the environment, but a potential health risk to both the person vaping and innocent bystanders who are exposed to dangerous fumes. Medical studies have show that you can contract dangerous lung disease such as Pulmonary Fibrosis, even as a passive smoker.

Frequently there are infants and young children in public spaces who are left helpless when the vaping or smoking addict decides to light a cigarette or vape. This could cause permanent, irreversible damage to their tender lungs.

That’s why I co-founded WINGS OF HOPE, a youth-led organization that helps youth addicted to vaping and smoking.

Youth of today are the future citizens of tomorrow. If we educate the youth about the health risks and danger of smoking and vaping, we could have healthy, productive citizens as adults. We have conducted campaigns in schools and on social media in order to spread awareness of the dangers of smoking and vaping. Beginning our work in New York, we started a petition urging all youth to give up smoking and vaping. To date, we have helped nearly 50,000 youth in New York. Due to our campaigns, 50% of youth that came to us addicted to vaping, pledged to give up their vaping habit.

We also used music as a way to campaign for our cause. We know that youth love listening to music, so we used our talent of singing to compose a song called “Break Free From Addictions.” The song informs listeners of the dangers and risks of vaping and smoking.

Youth feel very comfortable sharing their trauma anonymously. They also seek advice and ask for help in their darkest moments- something they are afraid of disclosing even to their parents, peers, or teachers. Since they usually pay out of their own pockets for vaping and smoking products without the knowledge of their parents, strict confidentiality is maintained at WINGS OF HOPE. Teens and youth receive timely help in some of their most distressing and desperate moments.

Since it is a youth led movement, we have found that youth are more comfortable sharing their problems with us. They are more open to listen to the voice of a youth leader rather than being preached at by an adult. This youth appeal plays a big factor in drawing youth from all five boroughs in New York to WINGS OF HOPE. They are not afraid of being reprimanded or reported to the police or their parents. Every day we receive nearly 500 letters from youth all over New York who are in distress due to smoking and vaping.

Running WINGS OF HOPE from the age of ten, made me realize that I do not have to wait to be an adult to do good. I learned to trust and depend on my mentors to guide and support me in my journey. I learned to rely on the wisdom of my teachers. And most importantly, a team of volunteers from across the globe showed me that without their help, this organization could not be alive today. In order to make my movement work, I had to network globally with the right people. This was the key to success for me.

WINGS OF HOPE has taught me to be a leader who serves, although it has not always been easy. Many times I felt like saying goodbye to my creation, but the joy of doing good surpassed the angst, humiliation, and distrust I faced from people six times my age when I approached them for funding. The door was often shut in my face. These experiences have taught me to be resilient, compassionate, patient, and to never give up.

The greatest lesson I learned is that goodness always pays and that even a young voice matters and can be heard across the world.

Written by Renee Mendonca.

*Originally published in May 2020.

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