MECC Receives Appalachian Regional Commission Grant To Support Individuals Recovering from Substance Use Disorder

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Pictured left to right: Kaitlyn Robinson and Tanya Fields

Big Stone Gap – Mountain Empire Community College has received a $439,669 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Investments Supporting Partnerships in Recovery Ecosystems (INSPIRE) grant to provide training and support services for individuals identified as in recovery from addiction.

Project Amelioration Expansion, or Am-Ex, will build on an existing Project Amelioration grant which has provided free basic construction, plumbing, and masonry training for more than 30 students in Wise County since 2021. The original Project Amelioration grant was administered by the Lenowisco Planning District, with MECC serving as a sub-grantee partner.

Project Am-Ex will expand services and training locations to include Wise, Dickenson, and Lee Counties. Students will receive hands-on training along with referrals and access to legal aid services, financial education, life skills training, Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT), OSHA certification, counseling services, social services, and employment assistance.

AM-EX will continue partnering with LENOWISCO Planning District Commission, the Town of Appalachia, Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society, Frontier Health and the 30th Judicial Adult Drug Court, and expand with the assistance from Dickenson County Public Schools, Lee County Schools, Lee County Career & Technical Center, Regional Adult Education, WIOA, the Department of Social Services, and additional partners. This project will serve 120 students and 40 workers/trainees.

“Project Amelioration has served as a transformative training opportunity in Wise County,” said MECC President Kristen Westover. “We are excited to continue this important grant program that has provided training for individuals that need a second chance to become productive citizens with hands-on training and high need skill sets that benefit our entire region.”

Project Director Stephanie New said Project Amelioration has been transformative to participants. One student commented, “Project Amelioration gave me a boost of confidence that I needed. When I began, I was in Phase I of Drug Court and struggling. After acing the first test in NCCER CORE, I knew I could do this. Now I am in Phase II of Drug Court, just received my first-ever driver’s license, and I am planning on pursing my GED at the end of the Carpentry course.”

MECC is currently holding Welding/Fabrication training as a component of the Project Am-Ex grant and plans to offer Masonry and Electrical training in spring 2024. To enroll, participants must complete a Non-credit Application as well as a Workforce Grant Application, available on or by paper application in our offices.

In addition to the nearly $14 million INSPIRE award package, Federal ARC Co-Chair Gail Manchin also announced additional funding for a $265,607 ARISE planning grant to the Upper Cumberland Development District that will strengthen a network of SUD recovery-to-work efforts across six Appalachian states—Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. In collaboration with their state partners, the Upper Cumberland Development District will use the ARISE funding to create a multi-state employer toolkit and long-term strategy to engage individuals across Appalachia in SUD recovery into the workforce.

“At ARC, we know that substance use disorder recovery isn’t a singular event, but a continuum. Both workforce training and ending the stigma surrounding substance use disorder are equally important in providing a renewed sense of hope and purpose to Appalachians in recovery,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “These INSPIRE grantees are doing the important work to remove all barriers to entry when it comes to recovery-to-work projects across the region, ensuring that all Appalachians have a chance at a bright future.” These INSPIRE awardees will support the SUD recovery ecosystem in 11 Appalachian states by developing and deepening cross-sector recovery-focused partnerships, expanding peer recovery support networks, planning, and implementing workforce training programs, strengthening community engagement and wraparound services, and more. Additionally,

MECC is one of only two INSPIRE grants awarded in Virginia. The projects will bring INSPIRE’s impact to 60 Appalachian counties for the first time, increasing the initiative’s reach to 83% of the region. A total of nearly $42 million has been invested by ARC across 126 projects since the initiative launched in April 2021. Together, the projects will impact 349 Appalachian counties, improve 2,178 businesses, and help prepare 9,772 individuals for new opportunities in the workforce.

“In Kentucky and across the Appalachian region, we believe all of our people are entitled to healthy and happy lives,” said ARC 2023 States’ Co-Chair, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. “We want anyone battling addiction to know they are not alone, and they matter. No matter how long the road to recovery may be, Kentucky and leaders across the ARC region are here to support them.”

INSPIRE was informed by ARC’s Substance Use Disorder Advisory Council, which developed initial recommendations to address the disproportionate impact SUD had on the workforce in Appalachia compared to the rest of the country – a gap that has only widened since the COVID-19 pandemic. According to recently released CDC data featured in ARC’s report, Appalachian Diseases of Despair, overdose-related mortality rates for the region’s 25–54-year-old age group—those in their prime working years—were 72 percent higher in 2021 than for the same age group in the country’s non-Appalachian areas.

For more information on Mountain Empire Community College’s Project Am-Ex, please contact New at or by phone at 276-523-9123.