OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - While most high school seniors are focusing on final exams, graduation, and college, Hallie Darphin has been grappling with a burning question: How can she protect children from being exposed to cigarette smoke at the park?
"They can't really choose where they play and they can't help being around the smoking," said Hallie Darphin. "Nobody wants to hurt the kids, so I think the park is a really good place to start."
So Hallie appeared before the Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen last month, asking city leaders to ban tobacco products at all eight public parks and possibly athletic facilities in Ocean Springs.
"Even though I was really nervous, they were really receptive about it," said Hallie.
The 17-year-old Ocean Springs High senior had no experience in government or politics. But as a member of the newly-created "Mayor's Youth Council" and chair of the "Smoke-Free Ocean Springs Committee," Hallie quickly learned that even young voices need to be heard.
"We're going to be leading government one day and just to get an early start in what we're doing right now," said Hallie.
"When a group of young people, who are very dedicated and very passionate about an issue, come to you and ask for your help, for something that's to the betterment of the community, clearly you have to sit up and take notice," said Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran.
Now, Hallie is working with the city attorney to draft a tobacco ordinance to present to the board of aldermen. She hopes by turning parks into no-smoking zones, it that will lead to a healthier Ocean Springs.
"To be able to say that we, a group of us 17 and 18-year-olds, made our city smoke free and tobacco free, that's just so cool," said Hallie.
Hallie said if the ordinance passes, the Youth Council may consider asking the aldermen to ban smoking in restaurants as well.
Hallie will be attending Mississippi College in the fall. No, she is not majoring in politics. She is more interested in medicine.