Harvesting Hope improves lives

Register File Photo

Rhonda, one of the first to participate in the pilot program Harvesting Hope, hugs Executive Director Cheyenne Olson at their completion ceremony in July 2018.

"The number one reason people relapse after they get out of jail or treatment is that they do not have a job," states Cheyenne Olson, executive director of Sustainable Berea. To help combat this issue, area organizations have teamed up with a USDA Rural Development Grant to create the Harvesting Hope program. Its purpose: providing job skill training for women recovering from drug addiction.

A key goal of the program is to prevent relapses into drug abuse among addicted populations. On Friday, the Russel Acton Folk Center in Berea will be the site of a celebration honoring the accomplishments of the women in the program and acknowledging its supporters.

Courses and Training Provided

Participants in Harvesting Hope come from Liberty Place Recovery Center for Women in Richmond. The students were "chosen for their readiness to engage in the rigors of this program," Olson said. Over the past months, the women took classes and completed work projects on the Berea Urban Farm, learning agricultural skills and teamwork.

Graduates also took field trips to local businesses and nonprofits in order to gain business skills. Training in entrepreneurship, resume creation, online job searching and application and interview skills were part of the curriculum. Courses in financial literacy taught women how to pay off debt, make and manage a budget, and build credit honestly.

Students spent two days at the New Opportunity School for Women learning about self-esteem, goal setting and interpersonal communication. On another occasion, students spoke with a city council member about running a campaign and serving the city. Plus, a visit to a homesteader taught them about mountain living.

Vision of Harvesting Hope

The overall vision of the Harvesting Hope organizers is fourfold. Assisting participants in staying sober is a huge focus of the program. Other related goals for the women are improvement in family relationships, engagement in service to others and financial stability.

"Many women trapped in the web of addiction have not worked much and need to develop the skills that will allow them to stay at work when the work gets tough," Olson said. Addressing employment struggles would help prevent many from returning to drug use.

Harvesting Hope Results and Continuing Progress

Olson hopes people "are not continuing to pretend that the opioid crisis really is not happening." She also envisions their program becoming a model for other rural communities facing high levels of drug addiction.

To date, 26 women have participated in the Harvesting Hope program. Fifteen remain at Liberty Place as they continue and complete courses. The remaining 11 have moved on from Liberty Place, and nine of these are currently sober. Of those who have not relapsed, six have also found employment.

Program leaders will continue to monitor graduates' progress for at least two years, keeping an eye out for relapses. Their hope is that all graduates will find job security and healed family relationships. They will also ideally be serving the community and helping other addicts with recovery and sobriety.

Funding and Support

Cheyenne Olson explains that the funding for Harvesting Hope originated from individuals and businesses from Berea and beyond. She dubs these supporters "Club 21" as there were 21 of these groups, giving a range of $35 to $5,000. Olson reports that it was encouraging that both the City of Berea and the City of Richmond donated funds.

The largest gift to the program came from the USDA Rural Development Grant.

"We would not have been able to run this program without that gift," Olson said.

An Evening of Hope and Celebration

For the Friday evening festivities, graduates will gather with loved ones and community members for hors d'oeuvres at 5:30 p.m., followed by the program and graduation at 6. Pamela Corley is heading up food preparation for the expected 60-70 attendees. Program participants will receive a bag of gifts. Also, there will be an auction of several items the women have made, including a painted rain barrel and various "trash to treasure" items.

Many of the program's lecturers will be acknowledged. A few of these are Native Bagel, Grow Appalachia, Lazy 8 Stock Farm and Appalachian Federal Credit Union. Various speakers will share on Friday night as well, including Rob Perez, owner of DV8 Kitchen in Lexington, and several of the program's graduates.

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