First Tennessee Development District: Championing Caring Rural Workplaces

Johnson City, Tennessee is home to a variety of community organizations supporting workforce opportunities for individuals both in recovery and transitioning from the justice system. Local employers have also demonstrated interest in hiring those workers in recovery and transition and enhancing support services for those employees and their families. What Johnson City was missing, however, was a model for collaboration that would bring organizations, individuals, and employers together in a holistic recovery ecosystem.  

That’s why First Tennessee Development District (FTDD) received a $1.3 million U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities (WORC) Initiative award in September 2020 for their Caring Workplaces Rural Opportunities Initiative (CWROI). 

“It’s proven that offering individuals employment opportunities has a positive impact on recovery rates, and drops recidivism rates,” said Kristina Peters, CWROI’s Workforce Manager. 

CWROI aligns partner efforts in the recovery ecosystem to create safer work environments for individuals impacted by substance use disorder (SUD) and the justice system. Local employers are recruited and trained to receive a “Caring Workplace” certification, signifying their commitment to help current and future employees – and their families – with SUD and justice-related challenges.  

CWROI partners with Ballad Health for certified peer recovery specialists known as “navigators”, who provide potential employees with individualized wraparound and support services, while the local American Job Centers provide soft skills training, job search and placement, and basic employment preparation resources to increase chances of successful reentry and employment. 

“We have been able to hire more certified peer recovery specialists to help clients navigate successful reentry and employment,” said Lottie Ryans, FTDD Director of Workforce and Literacy Initiatives. The WORC award has also helped them better “focus on this initiative and build out the partnerships required for a successful model.” 

To date, CWROI has enrolled and begun certifying 55 regional employers on supporting current and prospective recovery- or justice-involved employees and families, while 214 individuals have achieved gainful employment.