Local students meet with lawmakers in Tallahassee

Duval Co+Lab shares its message about prevention

Duval Co+Lab ambassadors Robert Champian, Zara Griffith and Lilly Smith. (Provided to WJXT)

Three local high school students traveled to Tallahassee Wednesday morning to take their message of prevention directly to lawmakers. They are part of a local group called Duval Co+Lab, which is part of Drug Free Duval.

Wednesday is Prevention Advocacy Day at the state Capitol. News4JAX spoke with two of the students before they left early Wednesday morning.

“We’re going to talk about the importance of prevention,” explained Zara Griffith, a freshman at Episcopal School of Jacksonville. “Prevention is in our everyday life, we brush our teeth to prevent cavities, and we wear a seatbelt to prevent severe injury in a car accident, so why don’t we have prevention toward mental health and substance issues? I mean, we try to solve those problems after the crisis is here or while the crisis is happening, but we don’t try to prevent it beforehand.”

Specifically, the students discussed Delta 8 with members of the Florida Legislature, which is edible marijuana often packaged to look like candy. It was responsible for thousands of accidental poisonings among young people last year.

“I’m just excited for our voices to be heard,” Bishop Kenny senior Lilly Smith said about the Capitol visit. “We know that we are young, but the decisions made by the legislature directly impact our future, and I’m just so excited for this opportunity for Drug Free Duval and Duval Co+Lab. I just can’t wait to tell everyone what we have been working so hard for.”

Duval Co+ Lab ambassadors outside the Florida Capitol. (Provided to WJXT)

Duval Co+Lab coordinator Hannah Schaper accompanied the students.

“The mission for Duval Co+Lab is to raise awareness for better health. They believe in mind, body, spirit, so they’re not just focused on one part of health they look at mental health. They look at substance use. They look at supporting each other and really encouraging, healthy behaviors,” she explained.

Schaper and the local students met with state Reps. Wyman Duggan, District 6; Jacksonville, Lindsay Cross, District 60; and Katherine Waldron, District 93. They also met with Mary Lee-White, legislative aide for state Sen. Jennifer Bradley, District 5, which includes Orange Park.

Duval Co+Lab ambassadors meet with state Rep. Wyman Duggan, District 6. (Provided to WJXT)
Duval Co+Lab ambassadors meet with State Rep. Lindsay Cross, District 60. (Provided to WJXT)
Duval Co+Lab ambassadors meet with state Rep. Katherine Waldron, District 93. (Provided to WJXT)

The group’s message about prevention benefits more than those struggling with mental health or substance abuse, reminds Schaper.

“Every dollar invested in prevention through environmental strategies, the state saves $18. That is a huge impact overall for our community and for people’s health,” she said.

You can learn more about Duval Co+Lab’s mission by attending its Teen Summit next month, on March 26. The students would love to have as many teenagers join them as possible. It’s free and every student will receive volunteer hours for attending. It’s from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. at the Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver Center for Community Outreach in downtown Jacksonville. You can learn more as we get closer to the event by visiting the group’s Instagram page, @duvalcolab.

About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.