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Putting Kentuckians First initiative removes barriers for area job seekers 

January 18, 2024

Work Matters Column by Terri Thomas 

Terri Thomas
Terri Thomas

Transitioning from justice-involved circumstances to stable living often involves overcoming multiple obstacles, including barriers in obtaining consistent employment. For instance, a 2021 study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics monitoring more than 50,000 individuals released from federal prison in 2010 found that over a four-year period, only 40% of these former inmates held steady employment, and those who did secure jobs encountered difficulties in job retention. 

In the Lincoln Trail region, the Putting Kentuckians First Initiative stands as a beacon of hope, setting the stage for success for individuals transitioning out of justice-involved situations. At the Kentucky Career Center-Lincoln Trail in Lebanon, where I serve as director, we have embraced this state initiative wholeheartedly, striving to empower Kentuckians with the tools and resources they need to achieve personal success.

Our one-stop-shop approach at the Career Center is designed to provide comprehensive assistance. We've forged partnerships with various organizations to offer a myriad of services aimed at facilitating a smoother transition for those seeking a brighter future. From substance and recovery programs to employment assistance, educational opportunities, healthcare support and vital documentation procurement, our goal is to break down barriers and pave the way for a more promising path forward.

However, success in this endeavor requires a commitment from those we aim to assist. Individuals must take responsibility for their journey toward self-improvement. This involves consistent attendance at counseling sessions, support groups and continued engagement with the Career Center to ensure their evolving needs are met.

The addition of a peer support retention specialist has been instrumental in our efforts. This specialist plays a pivotal role in assessing individual needs, conducting workshops and providing ongoing support to every client, addressing barriers and offering guidance along their journey. Our collaboration with Addiction Recovery Care/Destiny Workforce Solutions—Crisis to Career has been particularly fruitful, emphasizing the possibility of working while in recovery. 

Central to our achievements are the partnerships we've cultivated. Regular meetings with our partners ensure a coordinated approach, where every client's needs and aspirations are discussed and addressed. Michael Uptegraff, navigator for the Putting Kentuckians First Initiative, has been a driving force behind this collective effort, ensuring each stakeholder contributes to the success of our justice-involved population. We also owe immense gratitude to our Marion County and Washington County employers for their commitment to offering opportunities for individuals committed to a new way forward. 

The support from the Lincoln Trail Health Department and coalitions such as the Marion County Heartland Coalition and Washington County on Wellness Coalition has also been invaluable in providing resources and hosting essential events for justice-involved individuals. These collaborations have been integral to our success stories.

Being the first in the Lincoln Trail Region to be selected for Putting Kentuckians First speaks volumes about our readiness and commitment to the program's objectives. However, our aim is to extend this initiative's reach across the entire Lincoln Trail region, ensuring that as many individuals as possible have access to these vital resources. And though we are proud of our efforts so far, we are dedicated to expanding services to further address persisting challenges revolving around issues such as transportation, childcare and housing barriers.

Our commitment to Putting Kentuckians First remains unwavering. We're dedicated to empowering individuals, fostering self-sufficiency and ensuring a path toward a more promising future. As a unified team with community partners and employers, we're making a tangible difference in the lives of those transitioning from justice-involved situations and fostering a more robust regional workforce in the process. 

If you or someone you know may benefit from services offered through the Putting Kentuckians First Initiative, call 270-692-6870 for assistance.

Terri Thomas serves as director of the Kentucky Career Center-Lincoln Trail in Lebanon. She can be reached at Terri.thomas@marioncountyky.gov

The Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail helps match job seekers with local employment and training opportunities. Our business solutions team offers employers of all sizes and industries personalized support to build a competitive workforce. We are an equal opportunity employer.

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Program is funded with Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I funds through the Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet and the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board.