Giving Back: Forward Motion
Updated: Mar 22, 2022
Working Fields provides invaluable support for people recovering from substance use disorder through their staffing services and recovery coaching programs
When Stuart “Mickey” Wiles founded Working Fields in November 2016, his aim was to create a mission-driven staffing agency that would help people in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) find purpose and stability in their lives through gainful employment. As a person in long-term recovery, Wiles deeply understood the difficulties that people recovering from SUD faced while attempting to join the workforce. By working closely with people in early recovery and addressing the underlying issues that prevent them from achieving long-term professional success, Wiles and his dedicated team of recovery coaches and staff members have been able to make an incredibly positive impact on their lives.
Working Fields has built strong relationships with dozens of small and large businesses throughout the state of Vermont and beyond over the past five years, and now has five separate offices in South Burlington, St. Albans, Rutland, Springfield, and Manchester, New Hampshire. The staff and coaches at Working Fields don’t just help people in recovery from SUD overcome the barriers that impede them from employment – they also help them to develop the self-sufficiency and executive function skills necessary to ensure continued success in recovery.
According to Wiles, most of the individuals who come to Working Fields are referred to them by other agencies, such as recovery centers, recovery houses, or parole and probation officers. Individuals who find employment through Working Fields are referred to as “Associates” and remain on the Working Fields payroll while on temporary assignment at their jobs. Once referred to Working Fields, every Associate begins a thorough evaluation process. “When we start working with our Associates, we pair them with an Account Manager and a Recovery Coach, and we do what’s referred to as a ‘self-sufficiency matrix,’” says Wiles. Wiles explains that a “self-sufficiency matrix” is a self-assessment that covers 19 different domains, including housing, transportation, education, mental health, physical health, wellness, and relationships. Associates evaluate themselves on a one-to-five scale as to where they see themselves in terms of those domains – “one” being stable and “five” being in crisis. According to Wiles, “The only way recovery is truly successful is if the individual has the ability to recognize that they have a problem and the willingness to deal with it.”
Once potential stressors and issues are identified, the Working Fields Account Managers and Recovery Coaches work with Associates to solve their problems and develop effective plans to navigate future challenges. If additional resources are needed, such as therapy or counseling, the Working Fields staff helps to connect Associates with outside organizations. They also work directly with employers to create seamless pathways to employment for their Associates regardless of their personal histories.
“Our primary aim is to support people with barriers to employment,” says Wiles. “Some of our Associates have criminal histories, which can be a very difficult barrier to overcome. Many of our Associates with criminal records have been rejected several times after filing job applications due to their past offenses, which often makes them lose confidence. We work with employers to remove that potential barrier.”
Whenever Working Fields forms a partnership with a new employer, they sit down and have an honest conversation with them so that they can gain a full understanding of the level of tolerance that the employer has for certain criminal convictions. Wiles elaborates: “An employer might have contracts with organizations where they can’t hire felons in a particular area, and we want to be aware of that. We want to understand who they can hire. Some employers only hire people with misdemeanors. Others are willing to hire convicted felons. Once we understand the employer’s requirements, we then promise them that our staffing agency will never send them anyone who doesn’t meet those requirements. It removes the anxiety and guesswork from the interview and application process, which allows our Associates and employers to form trusting relationships with each other.”
Wiles says that while he understands why employers might be reticent to hire someone with a history of substance use disorder or a criminal background, he believes that the support and services that Working Fields offers their Associates makes them ideal candidates for employment. “If you hire somebody from Working Fields who is working with an Account Manager and Recovery Coach, you know that they are receiving help and support for any of the issues that they are having in their lives. Our Associates are actively working on bettering themselves in recovery, and that puts them ahead of a lot of other people. When you hire someone off of the street, you don’t necessarily know what’s going on in their lives or what issues they’re dealing with. With Working Fields Associates, you get a sense of transparency that’s hard to come by in today’s job market. We work with our Associates to get a real sense of how stable they are in their recovery. We will never recommend an Associate for a job that we don’t think they’re ready for, because we want to make sure that they can be successful. Under those parameters, employers are actually taking less of a risk hiring someone through us than they are hiring someone through another staffing agency.”
Due to the fact that Working Fields Associates work with employers on a temporary basis, the Working Fields staff is also able to intervene and help Associates with any problems that may arise over the course of their assignments. “During that time period that our Associates remain on the Working Fields payroll, the employer is essentially doing a trial run of the individual and seeing how they work. If they ever run into problems, all they have to do is call us up and tell us that they’re having an issue. That way, we can address the problem and work to resolve it so that the employer doesn’t have to worry.”
Over the past year, Working Fields has significantly grown its staff and operational capacities. In addition to opening two new offices in Springfield, Vermont and Manchester, New Hampshire, they have also hired a new Marketing Manager, Daryn Forgeron, and promoted their former Rutland Account Manager, Colleen Hobbs, to the new position of Business Development Manager. Since being promoted, Hobbs has helped to establish relationships with new employers. Their new Chief Operations Officer, Chelsea Bardot Lewis, has greatly improved the efficiency and organizational structure of the entire operation. Their recently-hired Recovery Coach Manager, Brandy Cheney, has helped to streamline their recovery coach program to enhance the services that they provide. According to Daryn Forgeron, Cheney has been able to provide critical insight on how to better serve the needs of their Associates.
“We recently altered our intake process so that Associates meet with their coaches three times in the first ten days instead of just once a week,” notes Forgeron. “In the process of compiling data about our Associates, Brandy realized that they needed more support early-on. Now that we have the resources and insight to make those decisions, we’re able to flexibly adapt and rapidly implement substantial changes to help our Associates succeed.”
Working Fields has also implemented a new transportation program for Associates at their South Burlington and Springfield offices. “The biggest challenges for many people in early recovery are employment, housing, childcare, and transportation,” says Wiles. “We’re not equipped to do a lot about housing and childcare besides refer people to outside resources at the moment, but we are in a good position to do something about transportation.” As a result of a recent state government-
subsidized program piloted by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), Working Fields has been able to procure two transportation vans at 50% of the normal cost. “The VTrans program made it possible for us to purchase our first two vans for our South Burlington and Springfield offices,” says Wiles. “Burlington has the best public transportation in Vermont, but there are certain employers that are not on the bus route. Taking that into consideration, we offer our Burlington-area Associates transportation to work for the cost of the fare that they would pay to take the bus. They pay for their transportation through automatic payroll deductions, and we’re able to help them remove another barrier that prevents them from finding employment.”
Forgeron adds that the transportation program can also serve as a helpful stepping stone for Associates who are in the process of securing a personal means of transportation. “A lot of our Associates who use the van program can save up the funds to purchase a car, repair a car they already own, or work toward restoring their license if it’s suspended. Our aim is to help our Associates become self-sufficient in every sense, and our van program can serve as the bridge that brings them to a place of newfound independence.”
Wiles says that the best thing about working with the Associates at Working Fields is watching them progress in their recovery. “It’s incredibly satisfying to see an individual become successful in their journey. There are these little things that happen along the way, like an Associate getting their first job, getting custody of their children back, or securing safe and stable housing. Every little win is a big win in recovery, and every small victory helps our Associates build the confidence necessary to keep moving forward on the path to future success.”