W.Va. Business Model Invests In People In Recovery
A business in southern West Virginia is getting national attention for the work it does helping people recovering from substance use disorder. The owner says the idea is pretty simple: nurture the community.
Chef Roy, or Roy Lynch III, is one of the head chefs. On this day, he’s working Rupert native, Isaac Skaggs.
“He’s teaching me so many different things,” Skaggs said. “The way to cook different types of foods, different styles, and different cuisines. Really just the basics such as knife cuts to make a really wonderful meal.”
The meals here are served to customers of Fruits of Labor, a cafe and bakery in Rainelle.
Fruits of Labor is more than just a place to dine. It’s a nationally certified culinary and agricultural training center. It supports people who are recovering from addiction. Tammy Jordan founded the program, which includes a farm.
“We have all of our agricultural training up there [on the farm],” Jordan said. “We have mushroom cultivation, maple syrup production, all of our field and flora culture production as well as our orchard and berry systems.”
Jordan started her career at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About 21 years ago, she started growing foods for local businesses on the side, which grew into a catering business, then a flower business.
After juggling both jobs for seven years she walked away from the federal job with benefits and set up shop in a building in Rainelle. That’s when she encountered the heartache that so many communities have right now.
“Tremendous issues with addiction within the community,” Jordan said.
A Vision Of Hope
A faith-based mission trip nearby in 2009 opened her eyes to the needs of those in recovery.
“I went to visit a lady in prison in Alderson,” Jordan said. “And what I saw was a sense of hopelessness in the eyes of the women. I went home and thought, ‘We have skill sets that we could train women coming out of prison.’”
Jordan decided to expand the mission of her business.
“To be able to bring an educational training program that focuses on recovery as well as prevention and to have a community,” Jordan said
To folks passing by the Fruits of Labor storefront on the main street in Rainelle, the business looks like a small cafe or restaurant. Inside, every employee from the chef to the server is invested in recovery. Some of the team members are living with substance use disorder. Others, like Kachina Skaggs, are enrolled in the at-risk, young adult addiction prevention program. On this day, she’s helping to package and stock pepperoni rolls.
“Here, no matter what, you have a purpose,” she said.
Before she came to Fruits of Labor, Kachina had lived at a children’s residential center.
“I went into foster care when I was 14 and ended up at Davis Stuart down in Lewisburg,” Skaggs said. “When I was 16, Tammy Jordan asked me and four other girls, three from Davis Stewart and one from Greenbrier West, to come here for a four day training program. After those four days I knew that I wanted to be in the industry in food service and it just so happened that when I was applying for colleges Tammy asked me to come back to Fruits of Labor to work with her.”
At Davis Stuart, Kachina could see why some kids turn to drugs.
“Because they don’t get to go to an actual foster home they feel unwanted and sometimes they turn to drugs,” Kachina said. “That comes from not being loved and not having someone take you in when you are a young teenager.”
Kachina learned about the industry, like how to prepare food in the back. But she found more than job training. She found a family.
“I am actually Tammy’s foster daughter,” Kachina said while getting emotional. “Her and her husband gave me a home, and it’s amazing.”
Fruits of Labor’s business model combines elements of culinary arts, service, agriculture, education and even housing to serve the community. While getting hands-on experience, students also have the opportunity to earn associate’s degrees. But the key to the model, Jordan says, is the social mission.
“Success is compassion and expectation of success,” Jordan said, “and creating that environment that is calm, that is encouraging, that really absolutely lets that student know that they are loved and that we are here to make them move forward in their life and that we are 100 percent invested.”
Since the program started about 10 years ago, more than 125 students have successfully completed the program earning various certificates.
Expanding To Share More Hope
Now, Jordan is sharing her training employment model with other businesses in the region.
“It’s not that business owners turn a blind eye as much as it’s hard to know where to start,” Jordan said. “Our vision is to become that starting place for other businesses to contact us and say ‘we want to start somewhere we want to do good and this is how we want to put our time.’ But when we start ignoring the recovery process, then we lose an entire generation and we can’t do that. We have to find the resources we possess already and just use them, however that may be.”
Through a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, she formalized a program focused on helping employers create spaces that are recovery friendly. It’s called Communities of Healing.
“It's not just about replicating Fruits of Labor, it's about replicating the pieces that are crucial for getting other businesses to join the journey,” Jordan said. “And help to articulate to them what their journey might be and how to stay the course and not give up on someone in recovery.”
One crucial piece is a partnership with Workforce West Virginia.
“Tammy Jordan has really stepped up and stepped out into the communities,” Executive Director of Region One Workforce Development Board Robin Morgan said, “and has made all of us realize that if we don’t come together as a community to solve the problems and issues that we face everyday, they are never going to get better.”
West Virginia currently lines up with the lowest labor force participation rate in the country. A few years ago, Fruits of Labor partnered with Workforce West Virginia through a program then called, the Transitional Jobs Program. The program is geared towards people with multiple barriers specifically to help with reentry, right in line with what Jordan was doing. Through the program, Workforce pays participants up to 32 hours a week for six months.
Morgan hopes to raise awareness of the resources available to not only individuals looking for work, but businesses looking for employees as well.
“There is much opportunity for the businesses to help them grow and expand as well as helping to improve our labor participation rate but most of all helping people get their lives back on track,” Morgan said.
Morgan says it’s not easy to find a business like Fruits of Labor, willing to give a second chance. Now Communities of Healing is changing that.
“Not only to open the door for the potential employee but also help businesses take away that stigma of hiring or offering someone the ability to come on site and learn skills and work for them that has a background or a history or maybe who has never held a job,” Morgan said.
Other partners in the Fruits of Labor Communities of Healing Program include:
Wight Venture Services
Main Street Alderson
The City of Montgomery
The City of Beckley
There are also Fruits of Labor storefronts in Montgomery and Rainelle. Work is underway to open another business in Beckley.
On A Social Mission
One of the businesses that took part in the Communities of Healing program is Appalachian Furnishings. On a recent weekday, owner Chris Adams was busy working on a custom order for a local school.
“Pardon the mess,” Adams says while he walks through his shop. “I don't have much in the line of furniture that we've got finished. These are going to be trophy cases eventually.”
Adams expanded his growing business in 2020, moving it from his basement to this shop. That’s also when he decided to enroll in Communities of Healing. He spent 14 weeks learning alongside other businesses how to create a workplace that incorporates the social enterprise. Adams learned that before he could employ those in recovery he had to have a solid business.
“The social enterprise part of it can only be successful if the business is successful,” Adams said. “We are a for-profit business so the business has to pay for itself in order for us to do what we really want to do and that’s the social impact side of it. (Communities of Healing) helped me to understand that.”
Since Adams completed the program, six people have worked in the shop as part of their recovery.
“I've had one guy that worked until he completed his recovery program,” he said. “Because he was working here, and because he had secured a job that helped him get his child back into the home with him and his wife. Even though he didn't stay here, it was still a win because he got his little boy back. And still, as far as I know, to this day he’s doing good.”
Not every story ends that way. Adams says some relapsed, overdosed and passed away.
A Fresh Start
The latest employee in training at Appalachian Furnishings is Chris Puckett. He’s here as part of his recovery. It’s been about a year since he realized he needed help.
“I kind of wigged out on my family due to the sleep deprivation and the psychosis from extended use,” Puckett said. “Landed me in the hospital and landed me in rehab. And I decided that was enough. Turned my life around. When I went to the rehab, I took it to heart.”
Pucket lowers the handle on a chop saw to trim a piece of wood and demonstrate his new found knowledge of using a power tool. But that’s not all he’s learned.
“Material selection, woodburning, dimensioning, design,” Puckett said, “He's taught me how to take the raw lumber that we have and dimension it and turn it into the furniture that you’re tasked with building.”
Before this job, Puckett never worked in a woodshop and had never used power tools. It’s a whole new experience. The biggest difference, Puckett says, is the way Chris Adams treats him.
“He's been really patient and understanding and teaching me how to do all this,” Puckett said. “Sometimes I just don't get it. You know, sometimes it's just deer in headlights. And, you know, he's just, patience and understanding.”
“Chris came with zero knowledge of what we were doing and he was upfront about that,” Adams said. “When I interviewed him, he told me he had zero knowledge about what we were doing. So my expectations were somebody with zero knowledge.”
Adams hasn’t always been a woodworker either. He worked in or around the mining industry for 40 years before retiring. He remembers a time when his brother lost his job and needed help.
“My baby brother, and youngest brother, only brother, he's the baby of the family,” Adams said. “He was away at college, and had several kidney stone issues and things like that, that had kind of introduced him to pain relief. He became addicted to opioids. On his own, he, two or three times he [tried to quit] because he had a wife and a child. But he would always relapse.”
At the time, Adams was working six to seven days a week for 12 or more hours per day.
“I had suspicions, but I had no idea how bad it was. And then, once I realized how bad it was, thank goodness that I had that job. Because we could afford to cover the cost of a program that he participated in.”
Former Mine Boss Re-Thinks Trashed Resumes
Not everyone can afford treatment. So when Adams expanded his woodworking business in 2020, he decided he wanted to help people like his brother.
“All of those years with the heavy equipment dealer, and with the coal company, I was in supervision and management,” Adams said. “I would catch those resumes that had those employment gaps in it and I knew what that was. Those resumes just went in the trash can, they never never got a call back.”
His brother could have easily been the name behind one of those resumes Adams tossed in the trash.
For Chris Puckett, the job training is helping him to find hope and healing, something he wants to share with the community.
“You can't get help unless you're ready,” Puckett said. “But if you're ready, there's so much on the other side. So much. It's been so long since I've experienced this type of happiness, and I just hope everybody else can.”
Eighteen businesses graduated from the Communities of Healing program last year, there are 10 enrolled in the spring cohort. Employers can register for the Communities of Healing recovery-to-work program at the Fruits of Labor Communities of Healing website.