Gov. Justice celebrates milestone successes of life-changing Jobs & Hope West Virginia program, including first expungement

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – Gov. Jim Justice joined leaders with Jobs & Hope West Virginia today to celebrate the program’s many recent success stories, including the first ever Jobs & Hope client to have a non-violent offense expunged through the program.

“We came up with a concept where we would give free treatment to people who were struggling, and then we would genuinely train them to be able to do real, meaningful, and good-paying work,” Gov. Justice said. “But we couldn’t just train them and then put them back on the street. We tried stuff like that before this program got started, and people weren’t able to get a driver’s license, or something else would come up, and they’d lose their job and start the whole cycle over again.

“With Jobs & Hope, the idea was to link these struggling West Virginians with transition agents who are there for them every step of the way, removing all the barriers to employment they might face, including the possibility of a one-time expungement for non-violent offenses,” Gov. Justice continued. “I’m excited to see that this program is really working in terms of getting West Virginians back on their feet and contributing to society in a way that’s good for everyone.”

The milestone expungement was made possible through a partnership with Legal Aid of West Virginia, which allows Jobs & Hope clients to be connected to assistance for the process of obtaining an expungement of criminal convictions and regaining their driver’s licenses.

“I could not imagine a more worthy client we could have had,” said Marie Bechtel, an attorney for Legal Aid of West Virginia who works with the Jobs & Hope program. “She, frankly, did something very dumb when she was a young, single mother and was trying to provide for her children. It was the only crime she’s ever been accused of committing ever in her life. It had held her back, it had cost her a driver’s license, it had cost her employment opportunities and education opportunities over the years.

“She was able to satisfy every requirement of the law, qualify for an expungement, and obtain that expungement,” Bechtel continued.

The partnership has also helped assist clients in regaining custodial rights to their children and addressing debt concerns.

“I can’t imagine more worthwhile and good work that we can be doing in partnership with the Governor’s Office and with Jobs & Hope,” Bechtel said. “I’ve been an attorney for 18 years…and this is some of the most exciting work we’ve been able to do because of the affirmative good that it brings to the lives of our participants.”

Several additional participants are close to completing the expungement process as well, and even more West Virginians are currently working toward the same achievement.

“Not only do we celebrate our first expungement at this time but also we celebrate so many other things,” Gov. Justice said, noting that Jobs & Hope West Virginia now has a total enrollment of 1,805, an all-time high for the program. “These are 1,805 great people within our state that could have been lost. Instead, we’re working with them, trying in every way to help them get back on track.”

Since July 2019, a total of 182 participants have achieved career employment through Jobs & Hope West Virginia.

“Just think, they have turned around 182 lives, and they have done that in just a year,” Gov. Justice said. “I say it all the time, what’s a life worth? We’ve turned around 182 lives from a lot of bad possibilities.

“It’s just a lot of good stuff worth celebrating, that’s all there is to it,” Gov. Justice continued.

Also today, the Governor spoke with five new transition agents who are set to complete their orientation and will soon begin helping their fellow West Virginians.

This will bring the total number of transition agents to 21.

“In my initial idea, I didn’t have the transition agents as part of the idea and that really was an ingredient that literally set this thing on fire and set this thing really going,” Gov. Justice said. “These people are monitoring and helping and giving assistance in every different way to be able to get these people through a God-awful war in their life that is just a battle that is really tough to win.”

Jobs & Hope West Virginia is the result of the concept brought forth by Gov. Justice during his 2019 State of the State address, to remove barriers to job opportunities for those recovering from addiction.

Since being officially unveiled last October, the program has had 3,400 referrals. Currently, there are more than 1,800 active participants.

As of September 2020, Jobs & Hope West Virginia has had 84 program graduates. Transition Agents across the state have helped 193 clients get their driver’s licenses reinstated. Thanks to a partnership between Jobs & Hope West Virginia and Good News Mountaineer Garage, 19 participants are now vehicle owners.

“I really can’t say enough about this program and how it’s been a great opportunity to witness lives being changed for the better in the state of West Virginia,” said Deb Harris, Lead Transition Agent for Jobs & Hope West Virginia. “Partnerships like Legal Aid, Workforce, Good News Mountaineer Garage, and so many others have been instrumental in making this program a success.”

“West Virginians work together to solve problems and Jobs & Hope is a great example of that,” said Lorrie Smith, Jobs & Hope manager through the West Virginia Department of Education. “We’ve been able to develop State, local,
community, non-profit, recovery, and training partners that help our participants in so many ways. We have referral processes for almost any barrier that a West Virginian would face.”

Assistance through the Jobs & Hope program is not only for those battling addiction. Any person seeking a pathway to more meaningful employment through job training, obtaining certifications, or other types of education may be eligible.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit jobsandhope.wv.gov or call the hotline at 304-583-4008 or 1-833-784-1385.

Tyler Barker
Tyler Barker is currently the News Director and Digital Content Manager for WOAY-TV. He was promoted to this job in Mid-November. He still will fill in on weather from time to time. You can follow Tyler on Facebook and Twitter @wxtylerb. Have any news tips or weather questions? Email him at tbarker@woay.com