Innovative Recovery-to-Work Learning Academy begins in the MOV

Before the pandemic, when I was traveling and sitting in an airport waiting for my flight, I began talking with the person across from me at the gate. She asked where I was going and where I was from. When I mentioned that I was from Ohio, she exclaimed, “Ah, the State known for Cows and Opioids.” I have to say that I was a bit taken aback by her comment and quickly shared my defense of Ohio. “We have been working hard to improve substance use disorder in Ohio and one day soon look forward to serving as a model for our Country.”

Indeed, I recall this experience today as Deputy Director of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Our agency is proud of its continued efforts to reduce stigma and increase access to services in the mental health and substance use disorder realm. As defined by the Mayo Clinic, drug addiction, also called substance use disorder (SUD), is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication. Substance use recovery requires collaborative action to help individuals become stable contributors to the workforce. Active, successful “ecosystems” of regional organizations must work together to help individuals in recovery succeed in the labor market and help companies find and support those individuals.

To advance those connections, I am pleased to share that last fall we were chosen to participate as one of the lead organizations in a “Recovery to Work Learning Academy” funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) with a grant to the Development District Association of Appalachia (DDAA). ARC has been supporting projects to enhance the ability of regions to support workers trying to achieve long-term sobriety and employment. And DDAA is a membership organization of local development districts (LDDs) in the Appalachian Region that works to strengthen LDDs and their member governments.

Through this process, DDAA is supporting four regional initiatives that involve multiple stakeholders working together to help individuals with a history of substance use disorders to successfully navigate sustained recovery through meaningful employment. The Learning Academy involves a twelve-month process in which a core team of organizations from each region collaborates both within and across regions to improve working relationships, identify and adopt best practices, and access technical assistance and funding that will enhance the lives of individuals and communities impacted by the substance use crisis.

This innovative initiative links Washington County with Wood County to facilitate cross-river collaboration and alignment of recovery workforce development services and programs.

“It is exciting to further our joint collaboration. Having expanded opportunities on both sides of the river can only enhance and support training and employment opportunities for those in recovery.” — Robin Bozian, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services and Washington County Hub Co-chair.

I am pleased to be serving on the Core Team for this new program with John Leite, the Director of the newly established SUD Collaborative. The SUD Collaborative is leading a partnership among organizations across the Mid-Ohio Valley to improve access to prevention, treatment, and recovery resources by identifying gaps and improving efficiency. I am extremely proud of how well John and the other core team members have worked together to keep our region on track in this process throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Regional leaders are still working to refine our goals for the academy, but overall we hope to better align and expand education, training, and employment services. We believe that people in recovery deserve opportunities to share their talents. Indeed, “Stable, meaningful employment is critical to sustain long-term recovery, and people recovering from addiction are often the best employees. They have overcome challenges and their resiliency makes them great employees if given the chance.” — Dr. Wittberg, President of Community Health Improvement Associates.

We also intend to grow the network of engaged employers and education/training programs focused on workforce development in the region. “As an employer, you are looking for a workforce that is diverse in experiences, ideas, and backgrounds. This creates an environment that can move mountains. Having programs and the support to achieve this is critical to any employer and employees to continue to evolve and grow in today’s environment.” (Josh Wagner, General Manager, Wal-Mart in Marietta.) Lastly, we aim to remove barriers to employment for individuals impacted by substance use disorders, such as transportation.

Below is a list of the regional participants currently represented on the Core Team and a broader Home Team essential for success in our region:

Buckeye Hills Regional Council

Community Health Improvement Associates


Fourth Circuit Public Defender Corporation

Jobs and Hope WV

Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council

Parkersburg Area Community Foundation

REO Logistics

Sisters Health Foundation

Southeastern Ohio Legal Services

SUD Collaborative

Wal-Mart (Marietta, OH)

Washington County Health Department

West Virginia University at Parkersburg

Wincore Windows

If you have thoughts on this work, or your organization would like to get involved, please contact John Leite, Director, SUD Collaborative, sudcollaborative@gmail.com

John Leite is the director for SUD Collaborative and Hilles Hughes is the deputy director for the Washington County Behavioral Health Board.


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