Girl's efforts to help dad stop smoking lead to contest win
ROCHESTER HILLS - When Melissa Megerian of Rochester Hills was in third grade, an official visited her class and described the dangers of smoking.
Later that day, the school called Melissa's mother, Jan, to tell her that Melissa had broken down crying.
"Melissa was so upset," Jan said. "She told me, 'That's what going to happen to Dad's lungs!' "
Now 13, Melissa has never let up on her crusade to get her father, H.M. Megerian, to stop smoking his pipe. This past winter, she came up with a plan involving positive reinforcement to get her dad to quit.
Then she wrote a short essay explaining what she did.
In late March, special delivery mail arrived at her home announcing she had won the grand prize in the Children Helping and Motivating Parents to Stop Smoking "Help Parents Quit Smoking" national essay contest, sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, the marketer of stop-smoking products like Nicorette gum.
The contest, which drew 500 entries, challenged kids ages 13-18 to share creative ways they had devised to help a parent or adult loved one quit smoking.
As the top winner, Melissa receives a $6,500 cash scholarship and a trip for two to Washington, D.C., where she and her family will meet baseball great Reggie Jackson and be recognized at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids 2004 Youth Advocates of the Year Award banquet May 5.
Melissa's strategy involved using a chart to monitor her father's smoking.
"I guess it's because I like math," she said.
She also developed coupons that her father, a consultant, redeemed as he cut back on his smoking. In exchange for the coupons, Melissa agreed to do more chores around the house, like taking out the trash and walking the dog, without any arguments.
"I'd put little stickers around, like, that would say, 'Good Job,' and put words of encouragement in his briefcase," said Melissa, a student at Van Hoosen Middle School.
Around February, her mother, a teacher at Rochester Adams High School, read about the essay contest and suggested to her daughter that she enter.
"She sat down at the computer and finished the writing in one day," reported Jan.
Melissa sent the 100-word entry to the CHAMPSS Web site, and "then we forgot about it," she said.
When the award announcement came in the mail, the family was elated. "We read it over and over," said Melissa, smiling.
A 30-year pipe smoker, her father admits that quitting has been "tough," especially at night when he's relaxing after work.
Jan said the whole family - including sons Michael, 25, and Greg, 22 - urged him to quit through the years.
He has theories on why this time his daughter's pleas finally hit home.
"Maybe it was the notes, the chart. I don't know. This time, it all worked," he said, adding with a laugh. "Now I just eat a lot."
He added proudly: "She put so much heart and soul into it. It was a big deal, and while she is happy about the award, I want people to know she is most excited that I stopped smoking."