West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate and the lowest workforce participation rate in the country. It is no coincidence that joblessness and hopelessness coincide with high rates of substance use. Unfortunately, across the nation and especially in West Virginia, the hopelessness of unemployment has exacerbated the substance use disorder crisis.

Hope is the catalyst for change. Luckily, West Virginia’s hope for a better tomorrow rests in many of the values that give us pride in the Mountain State today: our tradition of hard work and self-sustainability.

Many West Virginians have worked hard to recover from addiction and are prepared to become self-sustaining. For too many, opportunities for work seem out of reach. Earlier this year, Governor Jim Justice unveiled a vision for the recovery of individuals suffering from substance use disorder through a new and unique program called Jobs & Hope West Virginia.

When an individual is working to treat their illness, the prospect of a job can provide them with hope. Through the Jobs & Hope program, individuals in recovery can be linked with a transition agent with the West Virginia Department of Education for a needs assessment resulting in the development of an education and career plan.

West Virginians like Kristie Sellers have succeeded with recovery and are excited to provide for their children. “I’ve been living in Charleston while I finish this recovery program, but I want to move back home to Parkersburg. I have a job lined up when I get home, but I’m looking for a career,” Kristie said. Like many others, Kristie was able to fill one of the approximately 16,000 job vacancies in West Virginia, but she is ambitious and wants a career. Kristie and other residents can now enter the Jobs & Hope program which will assist with finding a vocation or training as well as guide them toward career-track employment.

Finding employment for participants in the Jobs & Hope program and ensuring they attain the training and skills needed is vital to securing a bright future. In the past, West Virginians like Lisa Goodnite found that balancing recovery, school, and housing require difficult compromises. Lisa said, “I want to go back to school to be a lab tech, but it’s too expensive to pay for school and housing while working and trying to learn how to live in the real world.” The Jobs & Hope program can alleviate some of these burdens by helping clients find transportation, childcare resources, and reducing other barriers to training, education, and employment.

Transition agents will help program participants access all the state and federal resources they will need to gain employment and lead fulfilling lives. While the target population is individuals in recovery from substance use disorder, Jobs & Hope is open to any eligible participant who wishes to eliminate barriers to employment. As of today, Jobs & Hope has received 481 referrals and currently has 300 participants.

As West Virginians, we cannot lose hope in our neighbors, friends, and family members struggling with addiction. Jobs and Hope is a long stride toward West Virginia’s economic and substance use disorder recovery. The prospect of a job at the end of a long, difficult recovery process can provide hope. It can help restore lives, restore communities, and restore West Virginia.

To learn more, please visit jobsandhope.wv.gov or call 1-833-784-1385.