Fair chance hiring prioritized at the 2023 Kentucky Chamber Recovery in the Workplace Conference

The Kentucky business, recovery, and education community gathered to discuss hiring, training, and retaining individuals in recovery from substance use disorder at the Kentucky Chamber’s 5th Annual Recovery in the Workplace Conference on Tuesday.

Kicking off the event, Kentucky Chamber Foundation Workforce Center Executive Director LaKisha Miller kicked off the day discussing the many successes seen in the business community around programming through the Foundation including the Kentucky Transformational Employment Program, Fair Chance Academy, and much more.

Miller also noted the partnerships the Foundation has with state government that allows for a direct connection between those leaving incarceration and the business community. She noted more than 13,000 individuals are released each year in Kentucky and ways that are identified to ensure successful reentry including addressing substance use disorder (SUD) and securing employment which she said the Foundation and its programs are happy to play a role in that incredible ecosystem across the state.

As for the state of recovery in Kentucky, Office of Drug Control Policy Executive Director Van Ingram touted the success of those programs and the partnership between the two entities to ensure individuals are being connected with open positions and also noted the incredible recovery programs Kentucky is home to. However, he stressed there is more work to be done and warned that fentanyl was involved in 73% of overdose deaths.

“When today is over, we will have lost six more Kentuckians to this disease. And law enforcement, public health, treatment, recovery, and others cannot solve this problem alone. It takes all of us,” Ingram said. “These are not bad people trying to do good. They are sick people trying to get well.”

Ingram also discussed steps being taken in the legislature including House Bill 248 focused on ensuring quality recovery housing which was signed into law by the governor last week.

From Crisis, to Care, to College, to Career: Long Term Success for People in Recovery

A partnership between Addiction Recovery Care (ARC), Destiny Workforce Solutions, and The Millard College in Lawrence County, Kentucky is helping to set up individuals in recovery for long-term success. 

Matt Brown, chief administrative officer at ARC, applauded the work of the Kentucky Chamber, calling the organization a champion on this issue for paving the way for how other states think about these issues.

Brown, who suffered with substance use disorder for 18 years starting in high school, did not think he would ever recover until he found himself at ARC in 2014 in a recovery and job training program that changed his life.

ARC’s Kentucky Market President John Wilson said science shows that the best chance for success hinges on successful treatment and employment following treatment which ARC has formed a model for with its Crisis to Career program.

Partnering with Millard College, individuals are trained for roles that are needed regionally and nationally under the motto “discover your destiny.”

The group touted the successes seen at Toyotatomi through this pipeline with individuals being hired full time, many completing some level of an educational program, some purchasing vehicles to provide themselves with transportation, and even one who is now a homeowner.

Destiny Workforce Solutions said partnerships like this and others help minimize barriers to fair chance employment across the state.

Stories of Recovery

Throughout the conference, attendees heard powerful stories of recovery followed by success in the workforce.

Hunter Glasscock, a program director at Addiction Recovery Care said his childhood was similar to many others. He grew up in a good household and was focused on sports from a young age. When he went to college and stopped pursuing sports, everything changed.

He stayed at Western Kentucky University for one semester before having to move home where he was using frequently and had 27 different jobs, none lasting more than two months. In 2016, his daughter was born, but he was using more than ever behind people’s backs until his new family moved out and out of state.

From 2016-2019, Glasscock said he didn’t make a single penny but still found a way to use every day until his family told him they had to distance from him to protect themselves. He called someone at ARC the next day and entered a 28-day program thinking he would only stay for those days and would still drink following the stint. However, he quickly went from not wanting to stay past 28 days to wanting to work at ARC and never leave.

Glasscock is now working as a program director at Crown Recovery, working for the school system as a coach, and helping others all because someone took a chance on him.

“So, when you think of putting people in recovery in your workforce, think of me. Someone put a seed of confidence in me, and I saw my potential. I no longer have to think of myself as the guy sleeping in that car,” Glasscock said. “I wake up every day working to change the stigma. We have to be willing to put our faith in individuals and be willing to work with them.”

James Lay also told his story of addiction and recovery to attendees. Lay said he started drinking at 11 years old and was in prison by age 18. He went on to have a wife and family but was still drinking heavily at home and eventually ended up losing his kids to the foster care system as his wife struggled with a heroin addiction.

“When people ask me about the Life Learning Center, I tell them that it breathed life into me when there was none. I was a shell. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. Today, I’m a maintenance technician, a career. I can put my kids in private school. My hope and dream for them is to grow up and be good people. I’m open with my kids and they know my past. It’s a struggle, but with the Life Learning Center, anything new that comes into my life, I’m like a child. I bought my first truck and drove it straight to the LLC to show them. It’s like a family there,” Lay said.

Incorporating Entrepreneurial Opportunities and Leadership Development as Effective Models of Treatment

Jason Roop, Executive Director of Workforce Education at Campbellsville University, presented research showing that people with substance use disorder are often goal-oriented, resilient, adaptable, and persistent. He studied characteristics of those in leadership roles who have struggled with addiction and found transformational, authentic leaders are making a powerful difference in the business community and many other sectors.

This research has led him to a trait-based model for recovery based on strengths rather than deficiencies using a person-centered approach and creating a dynamic model which connects recovery to resources.

Isaiah House Government and Public Affairs Director Brian Privett, J.D. shared quotes from leaders who participated in the study about the traits they have used in active addiction that have now benefitted them when they refocused and used them in the business world.

Reentry Services and Employment

Reentry services are vital to those looking to overcome barriers to employment, especially those with histories of SUD and justice involvement. A panel including Senior Director of Reentry at Goodwill Industries Dennis Ritchie, Kentucky Department of Corrections Director of Reentry Services Kristin Porter, and Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) Special Populations Project Manager Tesa Turner focused on some challenges employers face when recruiting, hiring, and retaining fair-chance talent.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections experienced some pushback from employers in the beginning, but they have now seen a more than 67% success rate placing individuals with employers and them keeping that job as they continue to utilize critical partnerships and finding innovative solutions.

Many employers who are beginning the process are referred to The Kentucky Chamber’s programs by the corrections industry and others to help them get involved in this work and find ways to become a fair chance employer.

“In this process, you are getting someone who is already vetted because so many times you hire someone who doesn’t work out who is struggling or you didn’t know their background, but this system allows for the individuals and businesses can be successful,” Turner said.

Goodwill Industries helps many individuals with a career coach as well as wrap around services that help minimize barriers and succeed with the employers that take a chance on them.

Keynote | America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth: One Reporter’s Stories

During the keynote speech at the conference, best-selling author Sam Quinones discussed his research and journalism on the rise and spread of opioids in America, what has happened in recent years, and what is being done to help those struggling. 

Quinones said Kentuckians have been so welcoming and helpful throughout his research as he wrote his two books on this topic, Dreamland and The Least of Us. When he started this work, he said his questions were met with deafening silence because people did not want to talk about what they were struggling with. And that silence allowed the problem to spread. 

But when Dreamland was released in 2015, he saw firsthand that people learned they weren’t alone and began sharing their stories. 

In the years after Dreamland, Quinones said he thought it had been covered because “what’s worse than heroin?” But that question was answered quickly as he watched the rise of synthetic drugs like the fentanyl that is being seen in so many overdoses. 

“Synthetic drugs are not about meeting demand but instead about creating demand. We are seeing young dealers getting started just by getting online as Snapchat has become the new street corner,” Quinones said. “Risk-free recreational drug use is no longer risk free because there is no such thing as a long-term fentanyl user. They all die.” 

Quinones said it is encouraging to see communities and others coming together to address these issues and there are innovative solutions out there. 

Stay tuned to The Bottom Line to hear more from Quinones in an exclusive interview in the coming weeks. 

No Wrong Door: How Workforce Development Boards Can Lead Efforts for Justice-Involved Individuals

Approximately one in three adults have a criminal record, meaning there are many adults who have been involved in the criminal justice system and will likely face employment and legal hurdles. Declining labor force participation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, causing businesses to become more receptive in hiring individuals that may have previously been screened out during their interview process. 

Jonathan Aaron Poynter, Director of Reentry Programming, Cumberlands and South Central Workforce Development Board, pointed to the Kentucky Chamber’s report 20 Years in the Making: Kentucky Workforce Crisis which highlighted Kentucky’s need to increase its labor force by 158,000 at current population levels to be in line with its neighbors.

“It all comes down to our No Wrong Door Approach, emphasizing an individual path to reentry & employment success. People think success looks like a straight line. It is not linear. Everyone thinks success should be A to B to C to D with no steps back,” Poynter said.

In closing, he offered tips to empower frontline staff, such as own your style and be authentic, as well as keeping achievable goals and quick wins.

Treatment and Recovery Leaders Inducted to the Kentucky Recovery Hall of Fame

Also at the conference, RECON KY, a consortium working to promote long-term recovery in Kentucky, honored its 2023 Kentucky Recovery Hall of Fame inductees including:

  • Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, received the Congressman Hal Rogers Award, which recognizes Kentucky policymakers, elected officials and public officials who have advocated for legislation and public policies to address the addiction crisis and help more Kentuckians reach long-term recovery from substance use disorders.
  • Charlotte Wethington, founder of Casey’s Law, received the Jay Davidson Award, which recognizes individuals who have advocated for Kentuckians in their journeys to long-term recovery.
  • Toyotomi is the Kentucky Recovery Hall of Fame’s Employer of the Year, which recognizes a business that has championed second chance employment and helped reduce stigma around recovery in the workplace. Toyotomi is a certified Fair Chance Employer by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy and Kentucky Chamber Foundation.
  • Jeff Whitehead, former executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program,received a Special Honor in recognition of his decades-long career with EKCEP and his role in creating innovative workforce programs for people in recovery.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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