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Jobs & Hope WV

Written by Legal Aid WV


jobs and hope wv logo

Created in 2019, Jobs & Hope WV was formed by Governor Jim Justice and the WV Legislature as a “comprehensive response to the substance use disorder crisis.” The program aims to help those in recovery by removing barriers to employment, a crucial step in the journey for those with substance use disorder.

Although it was developed for those in recovery, anyone can benefit from Jobs & Hope’s services, as a letter from Governor Justice explains on the program’s website: “Jobs & Hope is a beginning-to-end program that allows an individual to receive free career technical education. All West Virginians are welcome to receive free additional training and certification whether you have a drug issue or not.”

One of the biggest barriers to employment for many in recovery is their criminal record. That’s where Legal Aid of WV’s partnership with Jobs & Hope began.

Legal Aid of WV (LAWV) has helped with criminal record expungement (or criminal record sealing) for years, but a major law change in 2019 generated a renewed commitment to making sure applicants get the expungement process right. When Jobs & Hope was created in 2019, its operations as a state program provided funding opportunities for partner organizations who helped with barriers to employment.

“Our partnership with LAWV has been very important from the start of Jobs & Hope WV,” explains Deb Harris, Manager of Jobs & Hope WV. “LAWV’s help for participants removing barriers has been a game changer for our participants who are navigating processes without the knowledge they need.”

LAWV receives funding each year to support its work educating organizations and individuals about the expungement process and other legal issues that can delay or prevent employment, like having a suspended driver’s license.

Marie Bechtel, supervising attorney in LAWV’s Beckley office, leads LAWV’s expanding expungement services. She has provided expungement clinics at locations throughout the state, including Parkersburg and the Eastern Panhandle, just in the past year.

“Criminal records often serve as a significant barrier to employment for many West Virginians,” Marie says. “In 2019, our state’s law changed significantly to allow many individuals with non-violent criminal records to seek expungement. But the law is still confusing for many, and the process can be hard to navigate without a lawyer. Our partnership with Jobs & Hope has enabled us to focus on helping individuals overcome many civil legal barriers to employment, including expunging certain criminal records. This, coupled with Jobs & Hope’s focus on education and career employment, allows our clients to return to being tax-paying citizens, earning a wage to support themselves and their families.”

four people smile and gather around a table at a Jobs and Hope Ask a Lawyer event.
LAWV attorney Marie Bechtel (3rd from left) attends and presents at a Jobs & Hope WV “Ask a Lawyer” event at Pointe Cafe in Huntington.

“I think helping those in recovery is my purpose,” says Deb. “Why would we not want to help people be successful in the path they choose? Having a job is a major part of long-term recovery. If we help them get a job, that is a big step in their journey. Why would we not want to lift them up and support them?”

Jobs & Hope employs 23 transition agents across the state, who work with their participants in continuing their education and training, while assisting them to remove barriers on their path to finding employment. The transition agents address challenges using extensive expertise about employment resources and opportunities, as well as community resources like peer recovery services.

Jobs & Hope WV also partners with organizations beyond LAWV, including Catholic Charities, Modivcare, the WV Department of Human Services (formerly a part of WV DHHR), the WV Military Authority, the WV National Guard, the WV Office of Drug Control Policy, and more.

As of January 2024, Jobs & Hope has helped 5,124 West Virginians gain employment in the five years since it began. They have helped more than 1,200 people get off of SNAP (Food Stamps) benefits as a result of employment, helped more than 1,700 people get a driver’s license, and helped 30 people successfully obtain expungements.

For more information about Jobs & Hope WV’s program statistics, successes, you can visit their website or follow them on Facebook for exciting updates around the state. You can also learn more about Jobs & Hope and LAWV’s advocacy for those in recovery on our website program page.

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