CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday that the Game Changer initiative – one of the largest public-private coalitions of its kind in the nation which is aimed at tackling opioid and substance misuse, along with other issues impacting West Virginia’s youths – will hold a series of four virtual summits across the state this fall.
The goal of the summits will be to empower children to make healthy choices and become leaders in their communities.
"Since the first day that I walked in the door as your governor, I’ve made a real commitment to helping our kids and that’s exactly what this program is going to do," Gov. Justice said. "Our kids are absolutely our greatest treasure in West Virginia. So we need to do all we possibly can do to make their lives the very best they can be."
The virtual regional summits will kick off in September. The state will be divided into four regions and the interactive summits, featuring some of the nation’s top trauma-informed speakers, will serve to raise awareness to the various issues Game Changer will be tackling while serving as a catalyst to detailed prevention programs which will be introduced in the months following the virtual summits.
In addition to substance misuse, other areas that will be addressed include vaping, tobacco and alcohol use, teen suicide, and foster parenting issues.
The events will be broadcast to 157,000 middle and high school students throughout West Virginia.
"This great program, Game Changer, I think it’s a really fitting name because it’s going to make a huge difference in the lives of so many," Gov. Justice said. "I’ve been asked to be like the head coach for the state on this and I’m all-in, absolutely, without any question."
Gov. Justice went on to announce that he will soon bring together representatives from all parties of Game Changer’s public-private coalition – including leaders in education, behavioral health, substance misuse prevention, nutrition, law enforcement, medicine, and business – for a Game Changer team meeting at the Governor’s Mansion to fine-tune additional plans to develop the initiative into a full-scale, comprehensive prevention program to ensure it will be able to continue its work benefiting the state’s youth long into the future.
"We can all sit at one table, have more discussions, share ideas, and absolutely come up with more great ways that we can tackle the real problems that we face with the most precious to all of us: our kids," Gov. Justice said.
For the past 18 months, the state has worked to strengthen its partnership with the Game Changer program. Leaders from the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE), West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), and the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC), with assistance from numerous social service and law enforcement agencies from across the state, have worked alongside partner organizations in the private sector to develop a comprehensive initiative aimed at battling opioid addiction and its devastating effects in West Virginia.
"I can’t thank Governor Justice enough," said Game Changer coordinator Joe Boczek. "There is no question the Governor has a deep passion for the people of the state of West Virginia and cares very deeply for them, especially our youth and teens. I am honored that a person of his caliber is the state’s first Game Changer."
"We are certainly excited to have Governor Justice as our head coach for this important program," said WVSSAC executive director Bernie Dolan. "The Governor is leading the charge toward building a better life for our kids and we thank him for that. I’ve never been more proud to be a West Virginian."
More about Game Changer
Game Changer is coordinated by Morgantown businessman Joe Boczek, who has worked under the direction of WVSSAC executive director Bernie Dolan, and with additional input from DHHR secretary Bill Crouch, Bureau for Behavioral Health commissioner Christina Mullins, Office of Drug Control Policy executive director Bob Hansen, and state superintendent of schools Clayton Burch.
Game Changer is a cooperative effort between the Governor’s Office, the WVSSAC, WVDE, DHHR, West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy, West Virginia Drug Intervention Institute, the state’s six prevention lead organizers, local, state, and federal law enforcement, and the education sector.
While the public sector has provided much of the work, planning, support, and technical aspect for Game Changer, it is the support from private sector, both statewide and nationally – including Walmart, PepsiCo, ParMar, and Mountaineer Mart, as well as founding partner MVB Bank, along with education associates West Virginia University and Marshall University, the University of Charleston and Pierpont Community and Technical College – that has solidified the initiative.
Members of the law enforcement sector that are involved include: Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, United States Attorneys Bill Powell and Mike Stuart, the West Virginia State Police, and the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association.