By his own admission, Richard Smith’s life wasn’t going how he’d imagined it would.
“I was on drugs, and having a hard time with life,” he says.
Smith is standing in a hallway at Hope House Ministries in Bowling Green, Ky., a local advocacy organization that assisted him with getting back on his feet following years of substance use issues. He’s wearing his work uniform, his first name stitched in cursive on a badge on his chest. He seems at ease with where he is now, and looking forward to where he wants to be.
“Pretty much, if it wasn't for these people to give me the opportunity to come here to Hope House and straighten my life up, I’d probably still be in jail today,” says Smith, a native of Morgantown.
Smith first came to Hope House in June 2019, and after six months was required to get a job to help continue his recovery. That was when he first met Meredith Hester, a job entry and retention support specialist with the Strategic Initiative for Transformational Employment (SITE). Hester was able to quickly connect Smith with a new job, and that job has played an important role in helping him plan for his next steps.
An initiative of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc. and funded by the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort (KORE), SITE is designed to bridge the gulf between recovery and workforce for individuals active in their recovery. SITE provides valuable career, training, and supportive services while actively cultivating second-chance job opportunities.
In her role as a support specialist, Hester cultivated a working partnership with Hope House to assist recovering individuals there with employment opportunities. She received Smith’s case as a referral, and she quickly connected him with a position working at the Bowling Green operation for Bando, a leading producer of automotive parts.
“Basically she did all the footwork. I just had to say yes, I want the job,” he says. “She sent them my résumé and stuff, she did all that. It was just a blessing for me.”
Those sorts of connections are important, Smith adds, especially for himself and his fellow SITE participants at Hope House who may have backgrounds that could prevent some employers from considering them for open positions.
“We’re convicted felons, most of us are,” he says. “It’s kind of hard to get a job because most places of employment don’t like to look at felons.”
Smith began working full-time on Dec. 16 making serpentine belts for automobiles. It’s the first time he has a job that offers eight hours of work per day and benefits like health insurance. It represented a big step, and one he may not have taken had he not been able to work with the SITE program.
“It’s quite a blessing to have a job in my recovery because now I’ve got something to look forward to every day instead of just where I was going to get my next fix,” he says.
For more information about SITE in the South Central Kentucky workforce area, contact Meredith Hester at firstname.lastname@example.org or 270-991-7248, or find program updates on Facebook at facebook.com/siteky.
This article was originally published by EKCEP.
"God has taught me to be more open minded through Program Living because, in my addiction, I never trusted or opened up to anybody. But now in sobriety and following Christ, I’ve seen that you can lean on others. You don’t always have to look over your shoulder thinking someone’s out to get you. It’s okay that we have problems, and it’s okay to talk about those problems with people you trust. If you don’t talk about them, you won’t ever get through them. I’ve realized that I don’t have to use drugs to have a good time."
Brandon Johnson is a Program Living resident at Hope House and will graduate the program in late February. We have been so blessed to see how the Lord has worked in his life to change his heart and restore his relationships. He has been an employee at Bando for nearly six months, and we're excited to share that he was recently baptized at Christ Fellowship Church! Watch his testimony below:
“I’ve been in and out of jail since I was 18 years old, and I’m 38 now. My life used to be an endless cycle of drug addiction, depression, and anxiety. I felt stuck, and I was paralyzed by fear. I had very little self worth, so I made self-destructive choices based on lies. I believe I was saved when I was young, but I never really started a relationship with Jesus.
Two months after my most recent arrest, I was introduced to Jobs for Life through the Warren County Regional Jail. I didn’t really know what to expect, but the ladies who volunteered with the class made me feel human again. When you first come into jail, you’re stripped of so many things and dehumanized. Jobs for Life gave me hope that once this was over, I would be able to find a job and start again, even as a convicted felon.
I learned about honesty, integrity, and work ethic, and I liked that the class was Christ-centered. Jobs for Life was my first introduction to actually having a relationship with Jesus, and it set the tone for the last two years of my life. It was the first program I completed, and it encouraged me to pursue other faith-based programs. Now, I have about 30 certificates to show that I was productive during my time in prison.
I’m looking forward to gaining employment and having responsibilities, so I can start my own life. I’ve always been in a relationship, so I want to be able to take care of myself. On Friday, after I was released from jail, I found the post-release checklist from Jobs for Life for finding employment and resources to help me start over. If I just came back out on the streets without that, I would be pulled in so many directions. It’s so easy to get off track without any kind of structure. I’m grateful to Hope House for giving me direction.”
"About one year ago, I was working two jobs to make ends meet for my children and me. My car had broken down, so I would walk to work at my first job and catch a ride to my second job when my shift was done. One day, I was walking to work, and someone from Journey Church asked me if I had a church home. I told him I was looking for one for my family. He offered to give me a ride to work and invited me to come to Journey Church that Sunday.
Soon after, I was evicted from my apartment, but I didn’t let that stop me from going to church. My children and I stayed with a friend from church while I looked for another place to live. No matter what I was going through, I kept going to church every Sunday. I didn’t let anything stop me. When I started going to Journey Church, I just let out my tears. I felt like a change was coming in my life.
Months passed, and I still couldn’t afford an apartment. My pastor told me about Jobs for Life at Hope House, and I didn’t even hesitate to say yes when he asked if I wanted to take the class. He didn’t want me to feel like he was pushing me to do something I didn’t want to do, but I told him that’s exactly what I needed: someone to push me to where I needed to be.
When I started the class, I liked how it had stories from the Bible in the workbook and that we prayed before class. I really liked the story about Jonah. The Lord told him to do something, and he kept running from God and trying to ignore Him. My auntie used to invite me to church, but I didn’t want to go. Something happened in my life that changed my mind, and she told me that God chases the ones He loves, just like Jonah.
Jobs for Life taught me that life is like driving down a road, and there will be roadblocks along the way. But I learned how to prevent roadblocks and get through them when they happen. I used to get angry at work and sometimes disobey the manager, but I’ve learned that I have to have respect for the people I work for and have respect for myself. Recently, I got a job in housekeeping because cleaning is something I love to do. I still don’t have my own car, so I had to wait for a ride and got to work six minutes late on my second day. I told one of my supervisors that I was on my way, but when I got there, the other supervisor fired me.
I was heartbroken because I had written down goals for myself that I wanted to accomplish, and I felt like I let down the people who helped me get to that point. It was a Sunday morning and I could’ve just gone home, but I went to church instead. Now, I’m working on applications for other jobs and doing whatever it takes to reach my goals. Just because I had that incident, I won’t let it stop me. I have to keep going.
I’m so thankful to have people around me to push me to where I need to be. I’m working on paying off the bill from my last apartment, so I can get a new place for my kids and me. I just have to keep telling myself it’s not too late. I want to get a job I like, so I can save up for a car. I’m taking one step at a time. I’ll be so happy when I reach my goals, but I know it doesn’t happen overnight. It took me a year full of a lot of struggle to get to where I am now, but I had to want change for myself before it would ever happen. I’ve learned that everything I’ve been through is my testimony, and God was with me the whole time.”