Making a job connection

Ladies of Charity host employment event for Knoxville-area men and women in recovery             

 By Gabrielle Nolan

Local community leaders are working hard to help men and women in recovery from substance abuse by connecting them to life-changing employment.

A representative with the Knoxville staffing company @Work is ready to discuss employment opportunities with clients of the Ladies of Charity, which held a job fair for people in recovery and the general public at its Knoxville facility on Aug. 20.

The Community Resource and Employment Event was hosted at Ladies of Charity on Aug. 20 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

While Ladies of Charity has hosted job fairs in the past, this was the first of its kind.

“The group that we’re targeting today are people in recovery or people with barriers to employment,” said Susan Unbehaun, the executive director of Ladies of Charity.

Over 20 recovery-friendly employers were present at the event, with specialties ranging from landscape design to road construction to retail and more.

“I let people know I’m a person in long-term recovery, which means I haven’t had a drink or drugs since Sept. 6th of 2003,” said Aaron Kucharski, an organizer and coordinator with Recovery Advocacy Project, a not-for-profit organization providing tools and guidance to local communities around the country who are supporting people in recovery.

“We’re really about listening to folks on the grassroots level who are experiencing different barriers, whether they’re in recovery and working to provide community solutions around what we’re hearing,” Mr. Kucharski said.

Clients attend the Ladies of Charity job fair, where more than 20 employers set up booths and tables in the nonprofit social service organization’s large conference room. Prospective employees could discuss job opportunities and even fill out job applications and do interviews onsite. The employment event attracted job-seekers from around the Knoxville area.

“We held the listening sessions, and person after person after person was just talking about employment, and so that’s how this event came about,” Mr. Kucharski added.

According to the Recovery Advocacy Project website, 22 million Americans struggle with addiction, and 90 percent of people in need of treatment do not receive it.

“When I think about my own early recovery, having gainful employment was something that helped me maintain my recovery,” Mr. Kucharski said.

“That’s the sort of piece we’re talking to employers about today at our recovery-friendly workspaces. We know that having gainful employment is something that just increases the chances of somebody maintaining their recovery, and so we wanted to be able to link those two up,” he continued.

“I’m a person in recovery, as well,” said Matt Holder, a Tennessee organizer with the Recovery Advocacy Project and also the Recovery Ministry director at First United Methodist Church of Oak Ridge.

“This was something that I feel very passionate about because I was a person that was unemployable at one point. I work for a men’s treatment facility, and I see the need for the second chance,” Mr. Holder said. “When you bring someone in and are able to give them purpose and give them a job, then it’s a lot easier to get them to heal in their areas that they need to heal with substance abuse.”

For people recovering from addiction and substance abuse, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Obstacles may include stigma, criminal backgrounds, finding housing, and maintaining employment.

“Sometimes that solution comes from community events like this, and sometimes it can come legislatively,” Mr. Kucharski said.

“There’s a diverse number of employers that are understanding the value of the hard work that people in recovery are capable of, and I think that the more employers throughout Knoxville and across the state who can look at themselves and say that they’re recovery-friendly workspaces is really important.”

Although the event was equipped to help recovering men and women, it was open to the community at large for those seeking employment.

Representatives with Vocational Rehabilitation, an agency of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, prepare to meet with people looking for employment opportunities at the Ladies of Charity job fair for people in recovery. VOC Rehab was one of more than 20 employers and employment agencies looking to work with job-seekers.

“It might be a situation where they kind of have jobs, but they’re underemployed, like as far as being able to pay for an apartment or housing,” Mr. Holder said. “We try to be selective to get jobs that they would financially be OK.”

Clients had the opportunity to interview with employers onsite at booths they had set up, or information was given to set up an interview later with the company. Printing stations were available so that clients could print out résumés and job skills for the employers.

Mr. Holder commented that for the employers who are already hiring people in recovery, they notice that these people become very loyal employees.

“They do a really good job because they don’t have a lot of options, they are not given a lot of opportunities,” he said. “When the fit is right, it turns out to be very beneficial for both the employer and the employee.”

Partners helping to make the event a success included Recovery Advocacy Project, Ladies of Charity, KnoxWorx, Bright Story Shine, Tennessee Alliance of Recovery Residences, and the EM Jellinek Center.

Ladies of Charity has an ongoing relationship with the EM Jellinek Center, which is a supportive housing facility for men overcoming addiction.

“Last year we helped 33-plus men in our facility for day work or longer-term employment, and this is a way to support them getting out into the community,” Ms. Unbehaun said. “So for us, personally, we have seen people looking for work, and this is a way to do that today.”

Representatives with the Knoxville landscaping business Seeds of Change were on hand conducting interviews and handing out applications to people attending the Ladies of Charity’s employment event on Aug. 20.

In addition to community events and relationships, Ladies of Charity provide an onsite thrift store, food pantry, and nutrition class. Recently, they have started a weekly night-time food pantry so that individuals who are employed during the day may still receive pre-packed food assistance from 5-6:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month.

As a thank-you for attending the event, every client who walked through the door received a free supportive food box, and for those who needed it, a $20 voucher was given to buy interview clothes at the thrift store.

“I think that if we can make one connection, it’s been a good day,” Mr. Holder said. “It’s worth it if one person found a fit. Maybe somebody walks in here today and needs some help, and we can get them directed towards that help, and I think it’s all worth it.”

“Right now, it’s the first, but I could certainly see something similar to this happening in the future,” Mr. Kucharski said.

After the employment event concluded, the Ladies of Charity Facebook page posted that 10 individuals were hired during the event, and 19 individuals were outfitted with career clothing.

For more information on services offered at Ladies of Charity, located at 120 W. Baxter Ave., or how to volunteer or donate, visit www.ladiesofcharityknox.org.

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