ELEANOR, W.Va. — While working with the first men to find recovery at Recovery Point of Huntington when it was called The Healing Place, West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy Director Bob Hansen saw how big the hurdle was to transition from recovery in treatment to recovery in the world.

“What happens next was the big issue,” Hansen said Tuesday at a celebration of Gov. Jim Justice’s Jobs & Hope program, also known as “Jim’s Dream.” “We would talk to folks about going back to your home community and the answer was no, because we’d be looking to going back to the same environments. It was a question mark and a gap. Here they are working so hard on their recovery, and then what? This is part of the answer.”

Justice was joined by his partners in creating the Jobs & Hope program Tuesday at the Putnam County Career and Technical Center in Eleanor to celebrate the launch of the recovery and workforce development program.

Originally called “Jim’s Dream” when he announced it at his 2019 State of the State address, Jobs & Hope West Virginia is billed as a beginning-to-end program that allows an individual to receive free substance use disorder treatment while at the same time receiving free career technical education. While the program is aimed at transitioning people in recovery, anyone with a barrier to gainful employment can take part in the program.

After completing the program and receiving a certification in an in-demand career field, participants are given an immediate opportunity to expunge nonviolent criminal offenses.

With the help of a dedicated transition agent, participants are connected with services to help them succeed, such as regaining a driver’s license, help with child care and even dental work.

“We’ve all got to realize one thing and one thing only, and that is this: If we don’t believe that this is a problem that will truly cannibalize all of us, we are making a really bad mistake,” Justice said. “If we realize the importance of what this is really all about — a problem, an absolute cancer that is eating us all to pieces — we will fix it. It’s a step in the right direction.”

There are already 12 transition agents throughout the state, with plans to add more. In three months, the program already has had 380 referrals and 250 participants. Referrals can come in various ways, including from treatment centers, the state jails or federal prisons, and even self-referrals.

Lisa Reed is a transition agent for Tucker, Barbour, Randolph, Lewis, Upshur, Gilmer and Braxton counties, an area with little to no recovery services. She said most of her referrals come from drug court, the jails and Huttonsville Correctional Center.

Reed said after a referral is made, she contacts the person and sets up a meeting where they check to make sure the individual meets the eligibility requirements and to discuss what is wanted out of the program.

After that, she sets a game plan for how to reach that individual’s goals, including how to overcome the barriers he or she faces and plans for any additional training that may be needed.

“Hope is the key thing,” Reed said. “People are out of options. They are desperate. Really, what we are doing is connecting people to services that have been there for ages; they just don’t know what’s available or how to access them. We are partnering with them and teaching them along the way.”

Reed said the biggest barrier for most people so far has been a license. But once all of that is in place, she begins what she calls the “polishing” process of getting individuals ready for job interviews and the like. She sticks with clients six months after employment, as well, to ensure they transition well.

“We aren’t talking minimum wage jobs,” Reed said. “We want jobs specifically in the state that are in demand so we can provide those jobs. But they need to be career employment, so they can sustain themselves, they can get out of any government assistance they may be on and support their families.”

Hansen said he thinks it’s an important message the state is sending people in recovery.

“It’s making a big statement that their lives are important and they can fulfill their dreams,” he said.

Hansen said the program also fits perfectly with the ODCP’s Substance Use Response Plan. The plan describes the current substance use environment in West Virginia, highlights existing activities and initiatives to date, and presents a framework of evidence-based goals, strategies and objectives to address the current gaps and needs.

Hansen and team are currently taking the plan around the state for public comment. A public meeting will take place in the University of Charleston ballroom from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21.

The Jobs & Hope WV program was funded by the Legislature in this fiscal year’s budget. The program is funded at $20 million in general revenue.

Sixteen state agencies are working together on the program, including the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia National Guard and WorkForce West Virginia.

To get started with the program, visit www.jobsandhope.wv.gov or call 833-784-1385.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.