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Second Chance Job Fair brings scores of applicants

Offering someone an opportunity to work can open doors to self-empowerment and change future outcomes.

Surry County’s Office of Substance Abuse Recovery held a Second Chance Job Fair in Mount Airy Thursday that was designed to aid people who are in treatment or recovery of substance use disorder or who have been involved in the legal system open those doors.

A wide array of employers big and small were on hand at the Surry County Resource Center, employers who all had agreed to be part of the county’s Recovery Friendly Workplace Program.

Altec, Wayne Farms, AES, Leonard were just some of the bigger named employers but a walk around the room found a display of handmade ties from Brown & Church, Ltd. of Pilot Mountain, a firm looking to add two employees to their operation.

Emily Venable-Schiff, Surry County’s Recovery to Work Business advisor, said the employers represented at the job fair were indicative of the types of fields that have the greatest need.

Manufacturers have a nearly insatiable need for employees and representatives from Insteel were offering a chance for candidates to come tour the plant and see what they are all about before making a commitment.

Many of the candidates she said are coming from the retail or food service industries and she is trying to present them with a path toward stability. She repeatedly said that getting folks into a regular five-day-a-week, 40-hour job with a fixed schedule can by itself be a game changer.

This is truer for the candidates she is working with in this program who may have been living week-to-week, or day-to-day, on tips or low-paying retail work. Breaking the cycle of unemployment, or underemployment, can change the future trajectory of a person’s life.

Shelton Vineyards was on hand with gigantic decorative bottles of wine on the table which may seem an odd fit for a recovery to work job fair. Venable-Schiff noted many of the businesses around that area along Interstate 77 and Zephyr Road are owned by the Shelton family meaning they had numerous placement options, including a recent placement at the Hampton Inn & Suites.

Venable-Schiff is collecting the success stories from the program now and says that Wayne Farms and New River Tire Recycling in Pilot Mountain have placed staff members from the recovery to work program. She joked that New River Tire calls often to find “other workers just like him.”

Participating businesses are part of a group of business allies who see the long-term potential benefit to the community at large of helping people get back to work. These allies are an essential component in the collective sustained effort that will be required if Surry County wishes to improve on gains made regarding substance use disorder, according to Outreach Coordinator Charlotte Reeves.

Citizen allies such as Nancy and Kurt Van Drie of Open Air Ministries were also doing what they could to make a difference Thursday as they offered rides to the job fair.

Their ministry has been hosting twice a week drop-in centers, in partnership with The Shepherd’s House, on Monday and Thursday from 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. at Helping Hands Ministry located at 227 Rockford St., Mount Airy, where they provide meals, toiletries, and clothing when able to those in need.

This week they saw a chance to help create meaningful change by connecting people to opportunity. “Some of these folks don’t have a job and can’t get a leg up. They think they are unemployable because of their past,” Kurt said Friday.

“They need a break and, to me, that’s the reason for the job fair. I think it’s great that employers are willing to hire people even though there are things in their past they think may eliminate them” from consideration for a job.

He speaks of the stigma that tends to follow those in treatment, recovery, or in the legal system. Having some of the biggest employers in the area at the job fair was a clear message that employers are hungry to hire and are progressive enough to realize past actions need not dictate future performance.

Kurt Van Drie happily reported that one rider they took to the job fair appeared to have landed a job, he was told when and where to report for the next steps in the process. With backgrounds checks already complete and the employer aware of the candidates’ past – there are no surprises coming down the line for the person to deal with when a background check pops an arrest record.

The Surry County Office of Substance Abuse Recovery began last year in a pilot program that has been looking at ways that everyday citizens and community partners can help change outcomes. They are drawing connections between childhood trauma and future instances of substance abuse.

Among those adverse childhood experiences are found homelessness, food insecurity, and abuse, many of which may stem from economic factors relating to a lack of employment.



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