Actress Jennifer Garner joins State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt for ‘GameChanger’ event

By Matthew Young, RealWV

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – “Everyone realizes the problem that we’re facing. Four-years-ago I made a charge that I wanted West Virginia to take the lead in this fight, and it gives me a great amount of pride that West Virginia has taken the lead in prevention education.”

That’s what GameChanger founder and Executive Director Joe Boczek told reporters at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs Wednesday. Boczek, along with GameChanger Chairman Larry Puccio, State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt, and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, spoke as part of a media event kicking off the fourth annual GameChanger Prevention Education Dinner and Golf Classic. 

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, Jennifer Garner, GameChanger Executive Director Joe Boczek, State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt, GameChanger Chairman Larry Puccio, and GameChanger Media Relations Director Shelly Poe at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, May 22. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

Also joining the panel was the evening’s keynote speaker – actress, businesswoman, philanthropist, and native West Virginian – Jennifer Garner. 

“There is nothing like intervening before a problem happens,” Garner said, adding that her involvement with GameChanger was the natural progression of her work with the Save the Children program.

“Fifteen-years-ago, then Governor (Joe) Manchin agreed – after a lot of pestering – to bring Save the Children into the State of West Virginia,” Garner noted. “Save the Children works with kids from birth to third grade, and supports the entire community, the families, the school, and especially the parents and the caregivers.”

Garner’s work with Save the Children began in 2008, and she has served as a member of their Board of Trustees for the past 10 years. 

“If you can get to a kid right at the beginning, that’s your best shot to have them excited to learn by kindergarten,” Garner explained. “The same is true in its own way for the other big pocket of brain development in humans, which is adolescence. If you can get to an adolescent, and convince them – in a supportive, communal way – to stay away from drugs and to stay away from opioids, you’ve bought them their lives.”

“Addiction, as we all know, just takes [away] the rest of your life,” Garner continued. “With four-out-of-10 pills that contain fentanyl containing a lethal dose, that may never happen for so, so many of West Virginia’s beautiful kids.” 

Jennifer Garner and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, May 22. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

Since its inception, GameChanger has championed peer-to-peer leadership and coaching amongst West Virginia school children in an effort to combat substance use before it starts. In 2021, GameChanger expanded those efforts by partnering with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation to develop a youth-led prevention curriculum for introduction into West Virginia’s schools. While the curriculum is currently utilized in 18 counties, State Superintendent of Schools Michelle Blatt said the ultimate goal is to reach all 55.

“When we see students talking to students, that resonates,” Blatt told reporters. “That peer-to-peer model makes a difference. They hear a lot of us talk all the time. They hear their parents talk, but when [other] students are providing them with the information and are sharing stories […] I think that’s what really makes an impact in the classrooms.”

GameChanger Chairman Larry Puccio echoed Blatt’s sentiments, saying, “Without being able to have the program in the schools to touch the kids, this wouldn’t work.”

“Today I want to mention who I am most impressed with in this program – our students,” Puccio added. “These students are brilliant. These leaders have stepped up, and they’ve become GameChangers.”

To learn more about the GameChanger Prevention Education program, visit gamechangerusa.org

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