Olivia Holter is a force to be reckoned with.
The Helena High School senior has the determination of a fighting bull, the empathy of a saint and the brains of a doctor.
Holter has a laundry list of accomplishments, but there are two topics — politics and tobacco— that have earned her some prestigious awards and life-changing experiences.
She was one of several Montana teens that helped create an award-winning ad campaign for the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program, and won the National Youth Advocate of the Year award from Tobacco Free Kids. She worked with the U.S. Senate Page Program and attended the Seeds of Peace camp this summer, which is an international organization working for long-lasting peace.
All of these recognitions and experiences help create the driving force behind this young woman.
Seeds of Peace is dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence. It was founded in 1993 by journalist John Wallach.
Over the past 18 years, Seeds of Peace has intensified its impact, dramatically increasing the number of participants, represented nations and programs. From 46 Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian teenagers in 1993, the organization has expanded its programming to include young leaders from South Asia, Cyprus and the Balkans. Its leadership network now encompasses more than 4,300 young people.
Seeds of Peace’s internationally recognized program begins at its summer camp in Maine, which Holter attended in late July. It is hard to describe its powerful impact, Holter said.
“I heard stories that make you want to cry,” she said.
Holter said it was at the camp this summer that she met a Palestinian boy who, because of the region’s political conflicts, had never seen the ocean even though he lived 20 minutes from the water.
She said at first, nasty words were exchanged among the youths from various parts of world, but it didn’t take long before the 250 young people (only 30 from the U.S.) had made friends with the “other side.”
When she got home from the summer experience, Holter learned that Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program received one of this year’s Bronze Telly Awards for a television advertisement titled, “Nobody’s Trophy.” The ad calls attention to the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics that target teenagers through a hunters theme. It sends the message that teens can’t be hunted by corporate tobacco.
“We wanted it to be really Montana themed so it reaches all corners,” Holter said. “Hunting is something Montana does, so we can all understand it.”
Erin Kintop, the prevention program’s youth empowerment coordinator, said the ad was shot in Montana using real Montana teens, which helped deliver the message here and make it relevant.
Linda Lee, the program’s supervisor, said winning the award is a big deal.
“It’s very significant,” Lee said. “It’s like the Emmys, only in TV advertising.”
Holter has been part of the reACT Core Team for the past four years, which is a group of teen advocates who lead the reACT Against Corporate Tobacco Program. The Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program funds and staffs the reACT programs. One of reACT’s charges is to plan and organize the yearly summit where 150 teens attend to learn how corporate tobacco targets them as potential customers.
“Most people who are addicted to tobacco start using when they are teenagers,” Lee said. “Basically, we help teens understand that they are targets of the tobacco industry to replace smokers that die and quit.”
Health messages don’t always work on a 15-year-old, but if they understand the tobacco industry is trying to dupe them, they don’t like that — it makes them mad and helps their enthusiasm.”
Holter played an integral role in changing rules about smoking at the Symphony Under the Stars and Shakespeare in the Park, which were tobacco-free this year.
“That’s exactly the right direction we all need to go in order to reduce addiction and therefore death and disease from tobacco,” Lee said.
Holter, who aspires to become a doctor, says she hopes tobacco companies will someday be out of business.
“If a company can sell something that will kill you, why not let murder be legal,” she said. “Lipstick and dog food ingredients are regulated, but not tobacco; although that’s changing now. But the regulations don’t cover the new products they are coming out with like dissolving, nicotine-delivering mints. They just want to make it easier for kids to start using tobacco products.”
Holter lost her grandmother to a tobacco-related illness when she was about 4 years old and thinks of her for inspiration.
The big push for Holter’s final year at HHS is enforcing schools to be tobacco-free.
“We still have a smoker’s corner at lunch and after school,” she said. “When you are addicted to nicotine, you need that fix even if it breaks the rules.”
Holter says she’s never tried smoking or chewing. However, she asserts, she doesn’t judge those who choose to engage in those choices, but will work hard to educate them knowing that with education and knowledge comes power to make healthy decisions.
“I have a lot more to live for than drugs and alcohol — it’s a dangerous road.”
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or email@example.com