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Governor's 'dream' workforce and recovery program launched

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.

Fantasy Maze returning to Ritter Park

HUNTINGTON — It may be spooky season, but for those who prefer a more mild Halloween celebration, the Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District’s Fantasy Maze is making its yearly return to Ritter Park.

Since its debut in 2015, thousands of families have enjoyed an enchanted trip through the maze, billed as a “non-scary alternative to Halloween” that’s filled with classic storybook and cartoon characters that the young — and young at heart — love. Located in Ritter Park, workers began assembling the hay bale maze Tuesday. Once filled with scenery and characters, the maze will be open to the public from 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 18–20 and Oct. 25–27.

Tickets are $5 per person and can be purchased at the event from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. each day. Children are encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes and bring a candy bag.

GHPRD offers the maze each year with the help of the HART Choose Joy Players. New this year is a partnership with the Marshall University School of Pharmacy to host a Teal Pumpkin Night, during which non-food treats, such as glow sticks or small toys, will be made available to include trick-or-treaters who have food allergies or other conditions.

Fantasy Maze Teal Pumpkin Night is set for Oct. 27, with more details forthcoming on the GHPRD Facebook page.

Cabell County's new summer feeding bus nearing fruition

HUNTINGTON — Final plans for the creation of Cabell County Schools’ first mobile summer feeding vehicle — created to deliver meals directly to students in their neighborhoods over the break — were released Tuesday night at the county Board of Education’s regular meeting in Huntington.

A mockup of the vehicle, a decommissioned Cabell County school bus wrapped in light blue with graphics, was presented to the board by food service director Rhonda McCoy. The bus will be remodeled by students at the Cabell County Career Technology Center, who will remove the seats to accommodate food coolers.

No timetable for the bus’s completion has been set, though it is expected well before next summer. The bus will become the latest part of Cabell County Schools’ Summer Food Program, which serves over 30,000 free meals each summer to students 18 years old and younger.

In voting matters, the board heard the first of three readings for new policy changes to determine how and which elementary school teachers are affected by reduction-in-force (RIF) and subsequent preferred recalls.

The updates outlined in three policy statutes — Reduction In Force, Reduction in Classroom Teaching in Elementary Schools and Preferred Recall List — are rewritten to place a higher priority on qualification rather than simply seniority when selecting teachers for RIF, transfer and preferred recall. Seniority is, however, to be considered among other attributes that would contribute to being overall qualified.

Cabell County Schools “RIF’d” 128 employees in April, though nearly all were hired back to positions within the county by the start of the next school year in August.

Reduction-in-force policy is common in many workforces, particularly in education, in which employees are removed from their positions, often due to lack of funding or reorganization. In Cabell County’s case, as it is in school districts across West Virginia, RIFs are generally the product of the loss of state funding generated by shrinking enrollment.

RIFs at the school level could be the product of schools eliminating or changing certain course offerings or programming or simply if the district cannot guarantee they will continue their position in the next school year. In the past, these typically impacted younger employees with less service time.

One example would be if a kindergarten teacher position was eliminated based on declining enrollment, meaning that teacher could then bid on other positions in his or her certification posted prior to the next school year.

Once employees receive a RIF notice, they may rebid on new job postings listed by the county prior to the school year, with preferred recall granted to RIF recipients.

In the past, more senior employees could instead be transferred to new positions within their certification, as the RIF and rehiring process most often impacts staff with less service time. The policy, if approved, would no longer weigh seniority as the sole determinant for a transfer, but rather qualification for a new role.

Cabell County Schools is staffed by around 1,250 professional employees and roughly 590 service personnel.

Policy changes require three readings before the board can take a binding vote. At the earliest, the changes could be fully ratified at the board’s Nov. 19 meeting.

The Cabell County Board of Education meets every first and third Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the district’s central office in Huntington. Meetings are always open to the public.

Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.

Ohio law raises smoking age Thursday

COLUMBUS — Effective Thursday, Oct. 17, anyone attempting to purchase tobacco and vaping products in the state must be at least 21 years old.

Ohio’s new “Tobacco 21” law takes effect this week, raising the age to purchase cigarettes, other tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vaping products from 18 to 21.

It also makes it illegal to give such products to others under age 21. A clerk who sells tobacco and alternative nicotine products to a person under 21 and the owner of the retail establishment may face criminal penalties and fines.

“Research indicates that approximately 95% of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday in a news release. “Increasing the age to 21 will reduce the chances of our young people starting to smoke and becoming regular smokers.”

According to a 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine, raising the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21 will likely prevent or delay initiation of tobacco use by adolescents and young adults, particularly among youth 15 to 17 years old.

“Raising the sales age for tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 means that those who can legally obtain these products are less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students,” explained Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton.

The types of tobacco and alternative nicotine products covered by the new law include cigarettes; electronic smoking devices such as vapes, e-cigarettes and tanks; cigars; pipe tobacco; chewing tobacco; snuff; snus; dissolvable nicotine products; filters, rolling papers, pipes, blunts or hemp wraps; liquids used in electronic smoking devices whether or not they contain nicotine; and vapor products — any component, part or additive that is intended for use in an electronic smoking device, a mechanical heating element, battery or electronic circuit and is used to deliver the product.

Tobacco products and alternative nicotine products do not include products such as nicotine replacement therapy for use when quitting tobacco and other nicotine products.

For more information about Ohio’s Tobacco 21 law, go to OhioTobacco21.gov or call the toll-free hotline at 855-OHIO-T21. ODH’s Ohio Tobacco Quit Line at 800-QUIT-NOW offers free resources, including nonjudgmental quit coaches for quitting tobacco and vaping products.