Soccer Tournament Presents Opportunity for Long-term Community Engagement in Minnesota

One of the largest gatherings of the Hmong community in the United States is an annual soccer tournament, the Hmong Freedom Celebration and Sports Festival, held in St. Paul, Minnesota. Organized by the Lao Family Community of Minnesota, the event draws anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 people from around the country and is typically held the first weekend of July.

Over the years, APPEAL has had the opportunity to work locally in Minnesota, partnering with a number of groups addressing tobacco control and other health issues. One of these partners, the Statewide Tobacco Education and Engagement Project (STEEP), a collaborative of agencies serving the Cambodian, Hmong, Lao and Vietnamese communities, has maintained a strong presence at the soccer tournament — even after both the city park and the Lao Family’s own non-smoking policies were put in place to protect festival attendees from secondhand smoke. So, why is it so important for STEEP to stay involved even after tobacco control policies have been adopted? As STEEP Program Coordinator, Ellie Watkins, notes, “There is still a lot of work to be done.”

While policy change remains a centerpiece of their tobacco control efforts, STEEP views continuing engagement with community members as a core part of their efforts. Even with policies in place, “people still need help understanding those policies and how they affect their lives,” explains Ms. Watkins. “There is still a lot to learn about the harms that tobacco can have [on health], so prevention cannot end.”

The soccer tournament also offers STEEP a platform to address a range of ther health issues that impact the Hmong community, increase their visibility with the public, and expand their base of support. In recent years, the collaborative has developed their expertise on healthy eating and physical activity, just as the Hmong community begins to see obesity, diabetes, and other related health conditions spread. STEEP’s credibility to address these areas of health draws, in part, from their rich experiences in the tobacco control arena.

STEEP’s story serves as a great example for advocates in the tobacco control movement. A cornerstone of their approach has been their commitment to combining education with advocacy efforts, and continuing to engage the community well after the implementation of policies. This long term view and investment in the community allows them to deepen their tobacco control work, and address additional areas of concern in the Hmong and other Southeast Asian communities.

The Hmong Freedom Celebration and Sports Festival was held on June 30 – July 1, 2012. Please visit the following website for more information: http://www.laofamily.org/july4.

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