Guests hear from WV Gamechanger and Trulieve Medical Cannabis
By Matt Young, West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The 2022 West Virginia Press Convention got underway Thursday night with a reception hosted by WVPA President Perry Nardo. This year’s convention was held Aug. 4-6, at the Four Points by Sheraton in downtown Charleston. The three-day event marked the Association’s first in-person gathering since 2019.
“I think it’s very important that we all get together because our industry is built on ideas, and it’s built on sharing ideas. …” Nardo said during the evening’s opening remarks. “… For the last two-years — with COVID — I just think everyone hunkered down, got into their own little bubble, and they didn’t communicate. And I think by not communicating we’ve become stale.”
Nardo’s comments served as a fitting preamble to the theme of the convention: “A Vision for the Future.”
The evening doubled as both an opportunity to welcome representatives from West Virginia’s media outlets, as well as a chance for WVPA Executive Director Don Smith and Assistant Executive Director Betsy Miles to express their appreciation for Nardo’s leadership throughout the pandemic.
“We’re honoring our President, Perry Nardo, tonight,” Smith told those in attendance. “We all knew we needed to get back together, and Perry said ‘Don, let’s start.’ So we did our Legislative Look-ahead, and we did our Legislative Breakfast – and they were successful. And this week is going to be even more successful. We have great programming and great guests, and we’re really excited.”
Thursday evening also featured the convention’s first two guest speakers: Joe Boczek, executive director of WV GameChange; and Heather Peairs, West Virginia Area Manager for Trulieve.
After a short video presentation which highlighted WV GameChanger’s recent partnership with the Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation, Boczek spoke of the important role media outlets play in educating the communities which they serve.
“GameChanger needs the media,” Boczek said. “This opioid and substance misuse issue is killing kids… it really is.”
Beginning with the 2022/2023 academic year, GameChanger’s prevention-education program will be taught in 12 pilot schools throughout the state. In addition to the Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation, GameChanger has partnered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to incorporate the “One Pill Can Kill” initiative into their program. GameChanger hopes to have their program implemented in every school in West Virginia by 2027.
“The Drugs and Consequences Museum is opening at the West Virginia Cultural Center on September 7,” Boczek added, before explaining that the interactive museum will feature educational opportunities for identifying potential drug use.
“This is a big job, and the media will play a big part,” Boczek noted. “This is all of us in West Virginia. The more information we can get out, the better off we’ll be. We have to have parents stop putting their kids in the ground.”
Trulieve’s Heather Peairs then took a few moments to explain how medical cannabis can provide a safer and more effective treatment – option for chronic pain than many prescription narcotics.
“When I had an opportunity to bring this program to my fellow Mountaineers, it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss,” Peairs said, before explaining how public awareness is crucial to overcoming the stigma placed on cannabis. “We really focus on contributing to the community.”
Since the company’s founding in 2015, Trulieve has opened dispensaries in 11 states. Their first West Virginia location was opened in Morgantown in November 2021. Trulieve currently operates six dispensaries in the Mountain State, with three more scheduled to open by year’s end.
“At our (South Charleston) grand opening we had over 400 patients waiting outside,” Peairs noted.
“We employ community educators,” Peairs added. “They’re remote employees who travel around the state and get active within communities. We like to say ‘spread the green word’ out in West Virginia. We have now reached over 10,000 patients in the state, which is remarkable. And that’s what helps this program grow… education.”
Day-two of the WV Press Convention featured educational seminars and the Advertising Awards Luncheon, as well as presentations from Intermediate Court Justice Dan Greear, and WV Secretary of Tourism Chelsea Ruby. Friday also served as host for the Advertising Awards luncheon to honor the top-performing newspapers in the state.
“We’re focused on getting our people back together, and building that camaraderie which is so important,” Nardo said at the conclusion of the evening.
“I think we have some great programs this week,” Nardo added. “I think everyone will have an opportunity to get some new ideas and talk to their peers about some of the challenges we’ve all had to face over the last two years. Sharing our challenges and our successes with each other – that’s one of the best things that we’ll be able to take away from this week.”
Both Smith and Nardo pointed out that such events aren’t possible without the support of partners and sponsors. Smith thanked all sponsors:
West Virginia University – University Relations and Reed College of Media
Highmark West Virginia
West Virginia Press Association Foundation
New River Gorge Regional Development Authority
Hartman Harman Cosco H2+C
Orion Strategies (O-Ryan)
The Associated Press
West Virginia Press Association Foundation
Contractors Association of WV
Focus Media Co.