Meet the Navigator: Part Two

Employment

Having a job is key to self-sufficiency as well as recovery. Rebecca says that participants who have trouble finding employment tend to leave the program. “The frustration over the lack of resources often keeps them from feeling like they’re going to succeed.” So Rebecca works hard to eliminate as many barriers to employment as she can for her Drug Court participants. And there are a lot of barriers.

First, although they are in recovery, they are still working on mental and behavioral challenges that may have contributed to substance use or been caused by substance use. Those challenges often make working difficult.

But two of the biggest challenges are the stigma of a criminal background and of substance use disorders. Even though participants are working to get charges dismissed and to heal from substance use disorders, some employers won’t consider the evidence that they are working to reform their lives. They can only see the past.

That makes Rebecca’s job harder, but it’s her mission to help her participants, and she’s committed. She begins by helping them identify the kind of job they really want to do, and then seeing what education, training, and other preparations they need in order to acquire relevant skills, certifications, and licenses. She also works with them to develop a good resume, and she assists with the job search.

She has gathered quite a few resources, and some of those resources are past participants who have graduated and started their own businesses. They call her when they need employees, and often they’re willing to train workers, as long as they’re really willing to work. Others are employers that have hired participants and found them to be such good workers that they are eager to hire more. She encourages participants to network with people in their groups and their meetings, too.

In the past few years, there has been a push in the Washington legislature to pass laws that promote re-entry. One of these provides protections to employers who hire people with criminal backgrounds, so many companies have become more agreeable to considering participants’ resumes. There is a list of these Second Chance Employers on the Olympic College website.

Barriers exist here, too, with factors such as transportation. Some Second Chance employers are outside the county, which excludes Phase I and II participants, and may be too far for those in later phases. Other employers on the list may not be willing to hire because they already fulfilled their quota.

Rebecca does as much as she can for participants so that when they graduate, they’re self-sufficient and have confidence in themselves. “I tell them, ‘You are not your past. You are who you are right now. Each day, you try to become a better version of yourself, and you won’t be the same person tomorrow that you are today.’ I want them to appreciate the things that they’re accomplishing on their own.”

Substance use can ravage a person’s self-esteem, so when Rebecca praises their accomplishments and cheerleads them on, it helps to restore their confidence. And that may be as important as the new skills and the resumes to their career success!

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