U.S. Department of Labor Awards Maine $2 Million To Continue Connecting with Opportunities Initiative Bookmark and Share

January 31, 2022

For Immediate Release: January 31, 2022

U.S. Department of Labor Awards Maine $2 Million To Continue Connecting with Opportunities Initiative

Initiative Provides Training, Other Job Search Support for People with Substance Use Disorder, People Working in Recovery-Related Fields

Augusta, MAINE - The Mills Administration announced today that the State of Maine has received $2,093,963 from the U.S. Department of Labor to continue its Connecting with Opportunities Initiative - https://www.maine.gov/labor/bes/coi/ , a program that provides education, training, skills development and job search support to people affected by the opioid epidemic. U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh personally called Governor Mills to inform her of the award. The award will help advance larger effort by the Mills Administration to address the longstanding workforce shortage issue in Maine.

"There are few people in Maine who have not felt the impact of opioid epidemic. Ensuring that people who are fighting substance use disorder - and the people who want to help them - can access the training they need to find and keep good-paying jobs is an important step forward on the road of recovery," said Governor Mills. "This additional federal funding is welcome news as we continue our work to combat the opioid epidemic and connect employers with workers across our state."

The State of Maine established the Connecting with Opportunities Initiative - https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/eta/eta20200220-0 , in 2020 with a goal of serving up to 683 unemployed people who are either in recovery from substance use disorder or who are looking to work in substance use disorder treatment fields. This award is the third and final allocation of a $6,281,891 National Health Emergency Dislocated Worker Grant, allowing the Maine Department of Labor to continue the Initiative through the end of 2022. To date, 514 individuals, or more than three quarters of the enrollment goal, have enrolled in the Initiative thus far.

"The Maine Department of Labor is committed to helping people with substance use disorder return to work in their communities," said Laura Fortman, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor. "I encourage any person who is interested in participating in the Connecting with Opportunities Initiative to visit our website. There are resources available to you to make it easier to find a good-paying job that provides for your family and that supports your recovery."

Individuals enrolled in the program have received a variety of support, including skills training, education, and other services like transportation and childcare that are critical to getting to work.

Over a dozen individuals with "lived experience" of substance use disorder and recovery were also hired as "peer connectors" by participating organizations for temporary employment as part of the program. Peer Connectors provide peer support to grant participants while also receiving services themselves. Of those that have completed this temporary employment, five were promoted to permanent staff with the service provider organization and another three have gone on to work for other substance use and recovery organizations.

"My experience working with the grant has been the most amazing, enlightening experience, and it came into my life at just the right time," Tracye Greene, a former Peer Connector, now Workforce Development Specialist for Eastern Maine Development Corporation, said. "It gave me the opportunity to give back to the amazing community that gave me a second chance at having a successful, meaningful life! I am so grateful to have this opportunity to advance my career into career case management as a Workforce Development Specialist."

"Being a peer connector has allowed me to incorporate the workforce piece into the lives of individuals who have Substance Use Disorder(s) in their history; individuals I may be working with in the recovery world. These individuals seem to succeed at a greater rate with a peer connector helping them navigate the waters. That's the priceless part of this job, seeing a participant get their shine back WHILE attending school or earning a weekly paycheck," Michael Kennedy, a Peer Connector for Eastern Maine Development Corporation, said.

"Being in this Peer Support role has helped me grow and thrive as a person in recovery. It has given me the ability to connect with and help others who have traveled some of the same dark roads I have," Brittney Green, a former Peer Connector for Aroostook Community Action Program, said. "I will be able to continue professionally helping others as well, thanks to this grant paying for my schooling to become a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor. The Connecting with Opportunities Initiative made it possible to turn heavy, traumatizing experiences into a beacon of hope for others, as well as for myself."

More information on the grant, as well as contact information for grant service providers throughout the state, can be found here: https://www.maine.gov/labor/bes/coi/

Employment and training services are delivered statewide through the CareerCenters - https://www.mainecareercenter.gov/ , Aroostook Community Action Program - https://www.acap-me.org/ , Eastern Maine Development Corporation - https://www.emdc.org/ , and Workforce Solutions Goodwill Northern New England - https://goodwillnne.org/ .

Key referral partners include recovery centers and residences, state and county correctional centers, providers of behavioral health and counseling services as well as many others.

For more information on the Mills Administrations response to Maines opioid epidemic, please visit https://www.maine.gov/future/initiatives/opioids .