#parents | #teensvaping | A conversation with Jill Gordon on Enrich Mississippi   The Northside Sun

Jill Gordon is founder and executive director of Enrich Mississippi, a new nonprofit that is focusing on student vaping. Gordon, a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. She previously served as director of marketing for the Mississippi State Medical Association and had a 20-plus-year career in banking. Enrich Mississippi will be hosting its first vaping summit February 5, at Jackson Preparatory School’s Centre for Arts and Leadership.

What is Enrich Mississippi?

“Enrich Mississippi is a charity and nonprofit designed to enrich the lives of youth in Mississippi.”

I know y’all are focusing on vaping right now. What areas do Enrich also plan to focus on?

“Once we are impactful and influential in reaching youth about vaping, we want to focus on social media, youth and suicide prevention.”

You mention being impactful and influential when it comes to vaping. How will you determine that?

“You measure it through evaluations. We’ll measure it by watching the numbers of e-cigarette use in teens across the state. We’ll connect schools with resources on how to do evaluations and use measurement, and we can do surveys before we do the education, and then do the survey again afterward. This is a problem that won’t be fixed in a six-month timeframe, but is something we can start making a difference with now.”

Did you know about vaping before you started Enrich?

“I had seen a lot of information and had started self-studying it in the last year and a half. My husband and I, we quit smoking 10 years ago. Back then, vaping had just come out. We were actually told 10 years ago that it was a safe alternative. We have since learned it’s not.”

Tell me about the vaping summit coming up.

“It’s funded by the Mississippi State Department of Health and Enrich Mississippi is hosting it. We have some of the best experts in the field of vaping speaking at the conference. This conference is for everybody – educators, lawmakers, parents, students, school administrators. It’s for everybody – a true community event designed to bring people together in an effort to educate them on the issues of vaping, and especially the harmful effects it has on our youth.”

How did you end up hosting the summit at Prep?

“I was on the hunt for venues for a large group of people. We not only have some presentations, but student events, breakout sessions for legislators, students, parents and school administrators. We needed not only a bigger venue, but somewhere where we could separate out for small group discussions and come back together. I reached out to (Prep Chief External Affairs Officer) Crisler Boone, and Crisler jumped on it immediately. You don’t have to convince schools leaders how bad the problem is, they live it every day. They want to get the message out there to their students and parents and provide opportunities for parents to get educated on this. Prep rose to the occasion in minutes and offered their entire campus to us to host the summit.”

Will this summit be Enrich Mississippi’s first one?

“It’s the first vaping summit that we’ve had, since we are relatively new. I hope it won’t be the last. I know that we have several things on the agenda for 2020.”

What are some of Enrich Mississippi’s plans for the upcoming year?

“We began a pilot program at Northwest Rankin Middle School in January. We will have a series of educational, informative and highly impactful events for students, their parents and community leaders. We also have an official curriculum that we developed through a partnership with the William Carey College of Osteopathic Medicine. That curriculum will be made available to kids who get caught with vaping products or are caught vaping. Vaping is creating a lot of disruption in learning at our schools. At the summit, one of the things we will be exploring is alternatives to suspending kids for vaping, because suspensions affect their learning.”

So kids shouldn’t be suspended if they’re caught vaping on school grounds?

“I think we as a community should explore with educators what would be a more effective method of (discipline) than suspension. If you suspend a student for vaping, they go home and they have a higher (probability) of vaping again. We need to give students information on the dangers of it and provide resources if they’re addicted to the products.”

How is the pilot program at Northwest going so far?

“The school has been so supportive of me wanting to do this, and Shea Taylor, the principal, has been a game-changer for Enrich. He wrote a letter of necessity for Enrich to show potential partners and potential funders about how much the program is needed. We need all the resources we can get for this. One organization alone can not tackle vaping across the state. We need to work better to pull all our resources together to make a greater impact faster.” 

How many people do you expect to attend?

“We have the capacity to seat 1,000 in Fortenberry Theater. I expect anywhere from 300 to 500 adults. We want all students who can come to come to the student presentation. That presentation is led by the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. Enrich Mississippi is inviting everybody work on this topic to come together.”

Why did you start Enrich?

“I have been seeing lots of alerts in the news about this problem. I started hearing about it from the health department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the news and what was going on with law enforcement. I just decided one day that all of those things are great, but I wanted to engage our kids on this topic and provide them with information in a fun way, that is relevant to their age group and that can help them make better informed decisions. Then, my own child did it. My own child bought a vape device from another child and vaped, at 12 years old. In seventh grade. When that happened, I knew that this mission was something I had to carry out. My child is a great student, an athlete, a responsible child. When that happened, I said I was all in, and went for it. We have accomplished a tremendous amount in a short period of time and have wonderful volunteers and great strategic partnerships. I’m grateful to the community for embracing this.”

How did you catch your son?

“We had a child come up to us, who was on his soccer team, and told us in confidence. I am the mom in the team group that is telling these kids ‘be careful of these vapes.’ I had said something to the team as we were leaving practice and one of the kids approached my husband in confidence and said, ‘you need to talk to him about it, because he has one.’ And so, we did. I was heartbroken. I was ashamed but utilized this as an opportunity to have conversations with him about the danger of this. I asked him, ‘why did you do this, if you knew it was bad?’ And he gave the answers most kids give, ‘everybody does it.’”

Was your son addicted when you found out?

“Thankfully, because his friend let us know quickly, he had only done it twice. He had not become addicted. As a parent, I will be providing nicotine strips to (parents in attendance at the summit) and I will be testing my own child.” 

You were lucky that another student told you about your son’s vaping. How can parents find out about their children using the devices?

“Through conversation that is the only way, unless they find the vape itself. With the nicotine strips, we have community partners who are offering them and we are providing them at the events we have.”

How is Enrich funded?

“We receive funding for vaping from the Mississippi State Department of Health. We also secured private funding and have built community and business partnerships across the state. A list of those partners are on our website.”

How many events do you plan to hold in 2020?

“Several. We have the capacity to have no less than 10 or 20 events, depending on funding and who wants to be involved. Between now and the end of the school year, we will have symposiums for students, parent panel discussions, the vaping summit, and we will roll out a strategic media plan that gives evidenced-based facts to the community. We’re also doing business leader roundtables to engage the community on this effort and are building student leadership teams through middle and high schools to provide peer-to-peer training.”

For more information on Enrich Mississippi, or its February 5 summit, log onto enrichms.org.




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