Wilkes Recovery Revolution has been awarded $267,297 by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to create meaningful work-study opportunities for individuals in recovery from substance use disorder, mental health concerns, and the disease of addiction.

The nonprofit will also partner with The Health Foundation, Wilkes Partnership for Children and a Steering Committee of partners to assume operations of the Wilkes Fresh Mobile Market, an existing community collaborative designed to provide equitable, healthy food access by selling locally grown produce in underserved areas of Wilkes.

Wilkes Fresh Start will begin by purchasing produce from local farms while they build a community garden on the Optimist Park property in North Wilkesboro. The plan is for this garden to develop into a sustainable farm for Wilkes Fresh Start, said Ariana Williamson, project coordinator for Wilkes Recovery Revolution.

“We partnered with Wilkes Community College and the Wilkes Cooperative Extension Service who will offer, through their facilities as well as on location at our garden/farm, certification programming like OSHA-10, pesticides, greenhouse, Serve Safe and other relevant courses. These have been determined by the horticulture department at WCC and the extension service as certifications that will serve to create a ready workforce for the agricultural industry in Wilkes,” said Williamson.

“While this program will be available to all community members who identify as being in recovery, many of the participants will be residents at Phases Transitional Housing. This housing program is under the Wilkes Recovery Revolution umbrella and serves as a post detox/treatment housing center for those in early recovery. This will also be promoted and accept participants through our R3 Recovery Community Center,” said Williamson.

This grant funding covers 40 work-study opportunities for individuals in recovery in Wilkes County over a two-year period. “We are dedicated to sustainability and expect this program to continue after this two-year period. In addition to the living-wage paid positions, we also anticipate offering opportunities for engagement through community service and volunteers with Wilkes Fresh Start,” she said.

“All participants must identify as being in recovery from substance use disorder and/or mental health concerns. They will need to engage with our staff who are NC Certified Peer Support Specialists. We have peer support specialists at Phases, at our R3 Recovery Center, and will hire some to work specifically with this new project.”

The Health Foundation, Wilkes Partnership for Children, and a committee of partners has been operating the Wilkes Fresh Mobile Market since 2019. Through their pooled resources, they were able to identify areas of Wilkes where access to fresh, local produce is least available. “We will continue to expand on their research through the life of this program to ensure Wilkes Fresh Mobile Market continues to reach the communities in greatest need,” said Williamson.

Cam Finley, owner of the Optimist Park property and a long-standing member of the Wilkes Recovery Revolution Board of Directors, is actively working to get appraisals and necessary paperwork completed with the intention of donating the property to the non-profit. Finley is currently leasing the space as an in-kind donation until the transfer of property is complete.

This is one of 30 projects receiving more than $9.4 million from Investments Supporting Partnerships In Recovery Ecosystems (INSPIRE), an ARC initiative addressing Appalachia’s substance abuse crisis by creating or expanding a recovery ecosystem leading to workforce entry or re-entry. ARC has also released a Request for Proposals for a second round of INSPIRE funding, which will award up to $10 million to more recovery-to-work projects.

“I congratulate Wilkes Recovery Revolution for their INSPIRE award and commend them for their role in addressing the economic impacts of Appalachia’s substance abuse crisis,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas. “ARC INSPIRE partners will help individuals in recovery obtain sustainable employment, further encouraging economic resiliency in the communities that will be served. As ARC looks to the second round of this funding initiative, I encourage all interested applicants in the Region to send us your ideas.”

Wilkes Recovery Revolution is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create a community where recovery is possible through restoring hope, repairing lives, and rebuilding community, stated a press release.

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