Program works to help residents find careers
ELKINS — Lisa Reed, a transition agent for Jobs & Hope West Virginia, spoke to the Elkins Rotary Club this week about her organization’s role within communities across the state.
Reed covers Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis, Randolph, Tucker and Upshur counties while helping West Virginians with an employment barrier find a career. Though the program is open to all individuals, Jobs & Hope works primarily with those in recovery from a substance abuse disorder.
“We’re in our infancy,” said Reed. “It is much needed in the state of West Virginia, much needed in Randolph County (and) Elkins and it’s something that can benefit the local business community, but more importantly benefit people who are participants in the program to turn their lives around and become accepted in our society again.”
The program is about five months old and was designed by Gov. Jim Justice and the West Virginia Legislature. The money to fund this program comes from tax dollars allocated to West Virginia in the form of a grant related to the nationwide opioid crisis.
Reed began her presentation with a few national statistics regarding opioid and substance abuse.
“In 2016, we had over 42,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in the U.S.,” she said. “That’s the same as saying 115 people are dying every day from an opioid death.”
As for the state, Reed explained, West Virginia logged a record 1,016 overdose deaths in 2017, much higher than the national average.
“Years ago, I was probably like a lot of people in this town who would drive down Main Street and kind of turn my nose up when you see people that are obviously doing drugs,” said Reed. “I’m not quite sure what happened, but I started thinking what a hypocrite I feel like sometimes whenever I’m pointing the finger at the people that are obviously struggling (…) and I’m not doing anything to fix it.”
Reed continued by saying that in her current position, she acts as a mass resource for other programs and facilities that can help in more specific aspect of the participants life.
She explained how difficult it is to find resources in this part of the state simply because not many are provided. For example, she said there are only four outpatient treatment providers in Randolph County, and not a single residential treatment or recovery provider. Many surrounding counties, including Tucker, Pendleton, Pocahontas, and Webster, have absolutely no programs for those struggling with substance abuse.
“You can see, in the middle of the state here, we are very deficient on things that are able to help people become clean again,” said Reed. “That’s why I think that it’s so important to have this agency working in these counties to be able to prove guidance to people on how to get their lives back.”
Employment is one of the sustaining components of a successful recovery and clean lifestyle.
“That employment is what keeps them busy, it keeps them out of trouble, it keeps them on track because they also typically have an employer who is also keeping them focused,” Reed said.
In collaboration with Jobs & Hope West Virginia, the DHHR uses some of the funding to provide free transportation and drug-screening services to ensure participants stay clean. Jobs & Hope also works with Workforce WV and the National Guard, both of which provide training programs and work experience.
To be eligible for Jobs & Hope West Virginia, individuals must be over 18 years of age and residents of West Virginia. Participants have to consider career employment as their long term goal, while also having a barrier for employment in place. Finally, participants must pass clean drug screens and be committed to maintaining recovery.
“Every participant are eventually going to have three people assigned to them,” said Reed. These participants are assigned a transition agent, like Reed, an employment specialist and a peer-recovery coach to keep them on the right track.
Reed ended her presentation with a few incentives for employers to hire recovering addicts, such as a work opportunity tax credit or paid work experience through Workforce WV.
“They can be federally bonded to protect you in case there is something that happens,” said Reed. “It protects you as an employer from loss, and anybody can be federally bonded. From what I’m told, it’s a very simple process.”
“When it comes down to becoming employed, it’s up to the business community, and our community in general, to just sort of eliminate the stigma that’s attached,” Reed said.