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11/9/2020 - Waterbury jobs program a lifesaver for those who need one

Waterbury jobs program a lifesaver for those who need one

BY MIKE PATRICK REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

 Kimberly Leduc and Sami Hajrula, both Peer Recovery Navigators at the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board in Waterbury outside their offices on Friday. The state has a. pool of federal money available to provide job training to people affected by the opioid crisis. Jim Shannon Republican-American

WATERBURY – A year ago, as a client at the former Hospitality Center for the homeless on East Main Street, Jackie Gargonia said she felt at a low point in her life.

Then hope walked in, in the person of Sami Hajrula.

Hajrula is a peer recovery navigator for the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board on Thomaston Avenue, which administrates a pot of federal money that provides job training for anyone affected by the opioid crisis.

Today, Gargonia is a trained recovery coach, and no longer homeless.

“Myself being in recovery, I have always struggled with keeping a good job. I didn’t go to college like I was supposed to,” Gargonia said. “I always wanted to work with people. Hearing about the recovery coach, I figured, I’m in recovery, I’ve been down that road, I can relate with them a lot more.”

Connecticut Works to Recover, known statewide as CT Recovery Works, is supported by part of a $22 million federal Department of Labor allocation designed to allow states to train those affected by opioid addiction in jobs that would serve people in recovery, such as drug and alcohol recovery counselors, certified addiction counselors, certified alcohol or drug counselors and licensed alcohol and drug counselors.

Sami Hajrula and Kimberly Leduc, both Peer Recovery Navigators at the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board in Waterbury outside their offices on Friday. The state has a. pool of federal money available to provide job training to people affected by the opioid crisis. Jim Shannon Republican-American

The program also offers placement – and some training – in careers such as construction, manufacturing, health care, retail, human resources, information technology, lead and asbestos abatement, and more.

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“It’s an opioid relief grant,” Hajrula said. “Basically, anybody that’s affected by the opioid crisis, directly or indirectly, even if they have a friend affected by the crisis, they’re eligible for up to $4,000 in career training in multiple fields.”

While the program began late last year, he said the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown halted and hindered his ability to perform the kind of outreach at homeless facilities, methadone clinics and sober communities that benefit people like Gargonia.

“It got to the part where I really started to hit the ground, then COVID hit,” he said.

Now, he said, his outreach is limited to a couple days a week, and only in municipalities that are not considered “red” with COVID-19 cases.

Another part of his outreach that has been scaled back because of the pandemic, he said, is with employers, encouraging them to become “recovery-friendly” workplaces.

“We have reached out to some. They haven’t gone through the process yet. They like the fact that they are part of the solution,” Hajrula, said, adding he is 10 years sober after an opioid addiction. “It’s mostly to try to get rid of the stigma behind it.”

The pandemic also affected the availability of training, he said, with some of the training sites and schools remaining closed.

But he said he still encourages those suffering the effects of the opioid crisis to apply for the program.

“The spirit of it is towards people in recovery and people who have lost people due to drug abuse or have had hardships over the fact,” he said. The hope is with my helping them connect with people and people in the community, and having them get job training, it would help motivate them to stay clean.”

That’s how Gargonia said it worked for her.

“I can do well in life and be a part of society and not be ashamed of my history,” she said. “Knowing I have people depending or looking up to me makes me have a more of a drive to stay clean. These people look up to me, and I have to show them it can be done. If I mess up, it can affect them. It helps me be strong for them, as well as myself, of course.”

The municipalities where residents are eligible for the program are Barkhamsted, Wolcott, Bethlehem, Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Canaan, Cheshire, Colebrook, Cornwall, Danbury, Goshen, Hartland, Harwinton, Kent, Litchfield, Middlebury, Morris, Newtown, New Fairfield, New Milford, New Hartford, Naugatuck, Norfolk, North Canaan, Woodbury, Prospect, Redding, Ridgefield, Roxbury, Salisbury, Sharon, Sherman, Southbury, Thomaston, Torrington, Warren, Washington, Waterbury, Watertown and Winchester.

For information about Connecticut Works to Recover, contact Hajrula at 203-617-7719 or hajrula@careerresources.org.