The statistics were shocking.
The members of Girl Scout Troop #60789 knew that tobacco posed serious health risks, but their research into the effect of smoking in a certain environment revealed unsettling details about the true toll of the habit.
Prairie Middle School eighth-graders Makenna Batcho, Sofia Aarestad, Micaela Morrill and Amelia Malchow along with their fellow troop member Julianna Martin were specifically interested in the impact of smoking in vehicles, and they uncovered unsettling statistics. For example, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, smoking half of a cigarette in a car can produce polluted air that's 10 to 15 times greater than what's considered hazardous.
"We've always known that kids are getting into cars where people are smoking, but we never really thought of it that much," Batcho said. "When we opened our eyes to smoking and how bad it is, we found information about how bad it is to smoke in a car; it's probably one of the worst environments to smoke in."
Smokers aren't the only ones who are at risk, the troop members quickly concluded. They immediately started thinking of the unwilling victims in such toxic environments, the most helpless passengers who don't have a say when it comes to controlling quality of the air they breathe.
These Girl Scouts wanted to find a way to protect children in their city, and they went straight to the Aurora City Council to do it.
They contacted Aurora City Council members and worked on drafting an ordinance that would ban smoking or vaping in a car with a juvenile. An initial draft of the proposal received approval from the council during its regular meeting on Jan. 22, and a final vote on the measure is expected during the council's meeting on Feb. 5. Violating the ordinance would carry a $150 fine or community service for first-time offenders.
The effort could earn the troop a coveted Silver Badge, one of the highest honors available in the Girl Scouts. The Silver Award is presented to middle school-aged Girl Scouts who work in small groups to develop an idea that benefits the community and who demonstrate a knowledge of sustainability. More importantly for the five members of Troop #60789, the push could make a real difference in their community and protect some of Aurora's most vulnerable citizens.
"We couldn't be more proud of them," said Kristin Batcho, one of the troop leaders. "They've taken a cause and really wrapped their arms around it."
That kind of enthusiasm impressed the members of the Aurora City Council. City Council Member Charlie Richardson, who helped the troop draft the ordinance, called it "one of the most gratifying experiences of my service on council."
Even as the troop members wait for the final outcome and get a view into the sometimes cynical world of politics, their spirits and hopes are high. Having to wait for final approval and hearing opinions from all corners of the debate hasn't dissuaded the group from civic engagement – instead, it's given them inspiration to continue tackling important issues for their community.
"It gives us experience," Morrill said. "It's not discouraging, because there are a lot of people who think it's a good idea."
Indeed, the troop members have heard from supporters from all corners of the community, sometimes in unexpected places.
"It's made us well-known," Malchow said, adding that the group has received messages of encouragement from adults in cars dropping off students in front of Prairie.
But the recognition for this particular effort isn't as valuable as the greater rewards of Girl Scout membership for these middle-schoolers. Being a part of a group that encourages participation and community carries its own appeal.
"I like being part of an organization that supports girls and does great things," Batcho said.