ELEANOR, W.Va. — Jim’s Dream has a new name and it’s starting to become reality.
Gov. Jim Justice announced months ago during his State of the State address that he had a vision to intertwine addiction recovery programs with career training to help West Virginians overcome obstacles that might keep them out of the job market.
Justice called it Jim’s Dream. Since then, state officials have been working out the details.
On Tuesday afternoon, under a cloudless blue sky outside Putnam Career and Technical Center, state leaders gave a progress report on the program that is now called Jobs and Hope.
“This started out as Jim’s Dream but it evolved into Jobs and Hope because they couldn’t put my name on it,” Justice explained to the crowd of students and community members. “This started with just a dream. All the good ideas come to me from the good lord.”
The program is meant to be a comprehensive approach to the substance use disorder crisis that has plagued West Virginia.
The programs with Jobs and Hope are weaved together from a variety of state agencies, including the state Department of Health and Human Services and the state Department of Education.
“We’ve got to make it simple,” Justice said, referring to efforts to remove barriers from recovery programs and workplace training.
“If we don’t believe this is a problem that can cannibalize all of us, we’re making a mistake.”
The problems of addiction, educational attainment and workforce participation are intertwined.
During an annual economic outlook conference last week, West Virginia University economist John Deskins noted that West Virginia’s labor force participation rate remains last in the nation. That number includes those who are working or searching for work but not people who are out of the workforce over the long term.
Deskins drew the link with drug addiction, pointing out that West Virginia’s rate of drug-related deaths is far higher than the rest of the nation. He also noted that West Virginia’s college-going rate is far lower than the rest of the country.
“Let’s be the ones to solve this terrible problem,” Justice said.
Talking to reporters after the Tuesday kick off for Jobs and Hope, Justice said he would like to get started right away.
“It’s my hope that training will start immediately,” Justice said. “We have so many areas where we’re looking for people.”
Following the prepared remarks by other officials, Deb Harris, a transition agent for Jobs and Hope, described how people can take part.
Any participant can refer themselves if they feel like they qualify, Harris said. Participants must be West Virginia residents, 18 years or older, with some sort of barrier to employment. Participants also must agree to be drug-tested periodically.
“So someone may come in needing help getting into a treatment facility to start getting help with a substance issue,” she said. “From there, they can meet with a transition agent to work on the barriers they have.”
Transition agents like Harris are assigned to assess participants’ needs and build a personalized plan to outline education and career opportunities.
“Individuals come to us with different kinds of barriers and different stages of their recovery,” Harris said.
The work starts with the most critical areas to employment.
“So someone could come in needing a birth certificate to obtain their driver’s license or a picture ID; someone may come in needing their high school equivalency. We will help connect them to the resources for that,” Harris said.
“Anything along the line such as transportation, child care, referring them to housing, anything like that they need we hope to address that. Once those are eliminated we can work with Workforce to secure training and things that they ultimately want as their end goal.”
Participants may participate either in 30- to 90-day short term training or in long-term training of one to two years.
Expungement of a non-violent criminal record may be a final step for some participants.
Harris said the key to the program is partnerships among state agencies.
“I don’t know of any other state doing that,” she said.
Bob Hansen, the director of West Virginia’s Office of Drug Control Policy, praised the vision of Jobs and Hope.
“We’re headed in the right direction. It will be an important part of giving people hope,” Hansen said during the ceremony. “For some people it will even mean having goals for the first time in their lives.”