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New grant program helps Mainers impacted by opioid epidemic re-enter workforce

A $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor is helping about 360 Mainers affected by the opioid epidemic get free job services and life navigation.

MAINE, USA — From border to border, the opioid crisis has impacted thousands of people in our state. Typically, people struggling with substance abuse need to get good housing to help break that cycle. In order to do that, however, they need to be employed. That's where a new grant program, helping to give people a second chance, applies.

In March, the U.S. Department of Labor granted $2.6 million to Workforce Solutions (operated by Goodwill Northern New England) through Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc. After months of hiring staff and setting up processes, the program is in full swing with 12 career advisors and life navigators to help people whose lives have been touched by the opioid epidemic navigate barriers to employment and life stability, as well as connect to training and employment opportunities. Clients could be people who have either experienced opioid addiction themselves, or those who have been affected by someone who has. 

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This particular program serves Cumberland, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Waldo, and York counties. It is primarily virtual because of the pandemic. To apply, you must be at least 18 years old and be on or eligible for unemployment. People with long-term unemployment (27 weeks or more) can also apply. 

This program works on a case-by-case basis by setting clients up with career advisors and life navigators. It uses Goodwill's "Job Connection" model, which provides clients with holistic, wrap-around supports. For example, career advisors help people with job skills, training supports, resume and interview skills, and job placements; while life navigators take on a social worker-type role, assisting clients with housing, childcare, addiction issues, transportation, technology, and clothing for interviews. People are also given the opportunity to train to work on the frontlines of the epidemic. 

Gerald Corcoran is the program manager for the national opioid emergency grant with Goodwill NNE. He says employment can be one of the most important steps to a lasting recovery.

"With employment comes self-esteem. With self-esteem comes the ability to hold your head up high," Corcoran explained. "From that process forward, if you can support somebody with their surrounding holistic approach of getting support services, then you start to develop that pathway towards hopefully sustainability and success."

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CCW has key referral partners for this program, which include Cumberland County Jail, Maine Pretrial, Region I Adult Community Corrections, and the local recovery community. Shawn LeGrega is the deputy director for Maine Pretrial Services. He says the partnership has felt like a "natural fit", since the people they serve who are leaving the criminal justice system through bail or a re-entry project often face employment barriers. LeGrega told NEWS CENTER Maine his team has made a number of referrals in the past couple of months and has had "great success", with some clients even securing stable jobs. 

LeGrega says it's important for everyone to "work as a team" to help this population succeed, since the number of obligations they sometimes face can be overwhelming.

"We often feel like people who were incarcerated or who were serving jail sentences or prison time are getting what they deserve, but eventually these people are going to come back into our communities," LeGrega noted. "They are our community. They're our brothers, our sisters, our aunts, our uncles."

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So far, about 60 people have taken part in this program -- and the grant is designed to help 300 more in coastal Maine. Workforce Solutions suggests anyone who thinks this program might be helpful to them or someone they know reach out. If it's not the right fit, Workforce Solutions offers other programs. If you live in a different area, staff members can connect you with different services -- there are two other providers that cover the central and northern parts of the state. 

To get started, you can call Corcoran at 207-274-3305, or email him at gerard.corcoran@goodwillnne.org.