Program aids businesses with employing people in recovery

Dec. 6—Several years ago, Alison Ibarra, owner of Pinheads in Oak Hill, decided she wanted to make hiring individuals in recovery part of her business plan.

Unfortunately, this new venture did not go as planned.

"I failed miserably," Ibarra said adding that she didn't understand the increased level of support she needed to provide for those staff members in recovery.

"I was a little bit more short fused, I guess, than I should have been because, you know, you get into those times sometimes where you feel weaker and you try to will what you want to happen instead of just shut up and listen," she said.

Although her initial attempt at this new business strategy was unsuccessful, in the fall of 2021, Ibarra participated in a program called Communities of Healing, which she said gave her the tools and resources to be effective in helping and employing people in recovery.

"I didn't have that before," Ibarra said. "And just putting those resources together to be able to help staff — I mean, we saved a guy's life. It's been incredible."

Funded in 2020 by the Appalachian Regional Commission, Communities of Healing is a four-month training program that helps businesses mold their current operations into social enterprises supporting local people recovering from addictions.

The program is designed on the success of Fruits of Labor, a culinary program that has worked for nine years with those in recovery and 20 years in business.

On Monday, partners and participants of Communities of Healing gathered in Beckley at the Fruits of Labor café to celebrate the program's fall 2022 graduates, recognize former participants and discuss program updates.

Recent graduates from the Communities of Healing training program included Jonah Kone and Joseph Hazlegrove of Hatfield Union Timber Cooperative in McDowell County, Stephanie Stout of Plugg'd Inc. in Berkeley County, Austin Moore of A.I.R.R.O. LLC in Raleigh County, Toni Robinson of Action Printing & Services Inc. in Fayette County and Ruschelle Khanna of Mountain Mama Stitchery in Raleigh County.

During the gathering, past graduates of Communities of Healing were able to learn about a new initiative to help them grow their current operations.

Paul Wright of Wright Venture Services said this new program is called Investment Lab.

Wright has been involved with Communities of Healing for several years as his company facilities that organization's online training programs.

With the Investment Lab, Wright said he will help Communities of Healing participants gain access to "traditional and nontraditional sources of capital" to aid in advancing their businesses.

"We're trying to help them think about how their business model can sustain any type of repayment, whether it be on debt or equity, and how their mission and the outcomes that they're having might get funded by impact investors," he said. "So that can be the philanthropic community, government — and so it's really about helping them leverage what they're doing, tell their story and hopefully, we'll be introducing them to some funders."

Ibarra said the Investment Lab is something she's looking forward to learning more about as she's now scouting out a second location for her business.

She added that, in using the resources and partners from the Communities of Healing program, she has found success in areas where many other businesses are struggling.

"So many businesses right now are struggling to find staff — I have a waitlist for staff," Ibarra said. "I have so many incredibly qualified people that are applying that I'm able to help out other businesses."

Ibarra said she has three people on her staff right now who are in recovery. She added that one of these workers, whom she describes as "freaking amazing," was initially brought to Pinheads as part of a grant program.

"We've now hired her full-time and she is the assistant kitchen master," Ibarra said. "Her nickname is 'Sunshine' because no matter how crappy the day is, she is the person who can lift up a whole staff."

Through Communities of Healing, Ibarra said she also learned about how she can help people struggling with addiction even if she can't employ them just yet.

"I can't work with people in active addiction, but what we can do is we can help — and really a lot of this has to do with what we learned from Communities of Healing — I've got a Rolodex of back-end support I can offer to people," she said. "So for example, our plan when we go into this second location, there are a couple of people that other staff members in this location have alerted me are struggling through addiction right now. So what we can do is if they're ready for help, we can get them support. But in order to be recovery friendly, that's just something we've got to do."

Fruits of Labor President Tammy Jordan, who helped bring Communities of Healing to life after spending years training and hiring individuals in active recovery, said 31 participants have now gone through the Communities of Healing training programs.

She said they have also reached an additional 200 business that have benefited from the training and support offered with the Communities of Healing training programs.

"It's so unbelievable to see a community, not just the Beckley community or the Rainelle community but the full community in the region that's embracing recovery efforts," Jordan said. "It's tremendous and very encouraging."

To learn more about Communities of Healing, go to fruitsoflaborinc.com/communities-of-healing.