News and Events

A Pandemic Will Not Stop the work of Tobacco Prevention in Okeechobee County
September 14, 2020

It has been approximately 6 months since the outbreak of COVID-19 has changed the way we function, live and work.  I think everyone can agree that these months have been challenging and have forced us to think outside of the box to continue the work that thrives on community engagement. Schools were closed for weeks, then moved to virtual education, people stayed at home, and most gatherings turned to virtual means using Zoom or conference calls to continue meeting.

The Tobacco Free Partnership of Okeechobee (TFP) and Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) usually hold several meetings over the course of a few months, so we had to work together to try to stay connected and working in the community during these trying times.  Our TFP hit the ground running, continuing to hold our meetings as scheduled but now in a virtual format.  In the beginning partners were excited to see everyone and loved that we were being able to stay connected. Fast forward 6 months later, and many partners and youth are experiencing Virtual burnout.  Adults and youth are expected to spend their days online in virtual meetings and many students are still attending school virtually.  The Okeechobee program had to find ways to over this burnout barrier and still get adults and youth to participate in what they now consider “optional” activities and meetings.

Our Partnership members have continued to participate in our program virtually, but the numbers continue to slowly decline.  So, our TFP decided to have some fun on each webinar and make them a themed meeting.  Each member was asked to dress as the theme for the meeting.  Our first “themed” partnership meeting was a Hawaiian theme, almost all participants came dressed like a tropical oasis, even the Mayor of Okeechobee wore his Hawaiian shirt!  Our next meeting was around the time of the college football program discussion, so we decided to have a “support your favorite college football team” meeting.  Of course, that sparked many fun debates over the Gators and Seminole fans. HA.

Our SWAT program was able to still serve their community during the pandemic by volunteering at food drive events that were held locally in Okeechobee County.  These food distributions not only allowed the youth to interact with community leaders and decision makers, but also allowed them to have social interaction with other youth in the community who are not SWAT members and encourage them to join the club.  Our SWAT meetings were forced to a virtual format and we had to find ways to keep them engaged during this time.  On each virtual meeting we would combine a SWAT presentation with some interactive messages to keep the youth coming back.  We used interactive icebreakers and several different interactive game such as an indoor scavenger hunt.  The youth stated that these additions to the meetings have piqued their interest and have even motivated them to invite new youth to SWAT.

It is important to note that our partners are still working to protect the health and wellbeing of the community during these difficult times. We are thankful for Partnership members who stay in communication with each other, spread information to people with whom they work, and continue to support the work we do in the community to help protect young people from tobacco and nicotine use and marketing.

In the months ahead, we hope to be able to meet again in person and continue our work as we have previously. However, if that is not possible, the Tobacco Free Partnership and Okeechobee SWAT have shown that they can adapt to the situation and plan to serve you whether in person or virtually.

For more information about joining Okeechobee County SWAT or the Tobacco Free Partnership of Okeechobee, please contact us at: