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Pinellas organizations promote recovery awareness at St. Petersburg job fair

People stand around a job fair inside St. Petersburg College. Tables are set up for vendors. Folks engage with each other.
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF
Friday's recovery awareness expo invited people in recovery to connect with employers and treatment providers.

Advocates say helping people who've struggled with addiction find jobs and advance their education is critical to maintaining their recovery.

A coalition of drug treatment providers, businesses and Pinellas County officials want to help people in recovery advance in the workforce.

They hosted a job fair on Friday at St. Petersburg College’s Gibbs Campus where attendees connected with behavioral health employers and learned about education opportunities at the school.

The businesses at the expo are known as second chance employers, meaning they’re open to hiring people regardless of whether they have had legal troubles in the past.

Prior arrests or criminal records can be significant barriers to finding jobs for some people who have struggled with drug or alcohol addiction, said recovery advocate Mattie Velasco, who organized the event. Education and employment are critical to helping people maintain long-term recovery, she said.

“It enables them to garner more resources for their families and really give back and contribute meaningfully to their communities so they can thrive,” Velasco said.

Velasco brings community organizations together each month for what's known as the Pinellas Recovery Roundtable. The group seeks to develop collaborative ways to tackle the drug crisis and relays those ideas to officials in charge of distributing opioid settlement funds.

The meetings also serve as opportunities for more people in recovery to connect with potential employers, Velasco said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch stands at a podium and addresses a crowd at a job fair.
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch commemorated September as Recovery Awareness Month in the city.

Organizations including CareerSource Pinellas, Westcare, Operation PAR, Windmoor Healthcare, Vibe Recovery and River Oaks Treatment Center, where Velasco also works, are partners in the roundtable and sponsored Friday’s event.

Area officials including St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, Councilwoman Deborah Figgs-Sanders, Police Chief Anthony Holloway and state Sen. Darryl Rouson were also in attendance.

Welch signed a proclamation recognizing September as Recovery Awareness Month in the city, while Rouson, who has long been open about his past struggles with addiction, announced plans to propose legislation next session that would designate St. Pete as a “recovery city.”

Leaders with St. Petersburg College joined Velasco, an alum, to announce the formation of a new scholarship to help students in recovery pay for classes and books.

The fund has $2,500 so far, but Velasco said once they raise $10,000, they can start awarding scholarships, with a goal to do so by next fall.

Students in recovery who pursue certifications or degrees in addiction studies or related human services programs would be eligible to apply for $500 a semester in aid.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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