Luther Nolan is working on getting his life back on track.
Nolan is standing behind the counter at Happy’s Chili Parlor, an historic Paducah, Ky., eatery with a history dating back nearly 100 years. It’s morning and a customer’s breakfast is cooking on the flat top griddle. Nolan leans forward, his gloved hands against the counter’s edge, as if he’s comfortable where he’s at and he’s been working there for years.
Actually, Nolan has been working at Happy’s for just the past few weeks, and he’s still early in his recovery from substance abuse issues. But he views his job as one of the first steps on a new path to not only a successful recovery, but to a career doing something he likes.
“I love cooking, that’s what I love to do,” he says. “So I wanted to get my life back, show people out there I can do it.”
Nolan is positive about his future now, but says it wasn’t always that way. A native of Hickman, Ky., Nolan has struggled with substance abuse issues for years. He successfully quit using cocaine 15 years ago, and more recently stopped drinking.
“I’m doing good,” he says. “Got a job, get to see my kids, so I love that.”
But Nolan adds that he knows sobriety is a long road, and he’s happy to have come across an opportunity with the Strategic Initiative for Transformational Employment (SITE). An initiative of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc. and funded by the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort (KORE), SITE is designed to bridge the gulf between recovery and workforce for individuals active in their recovery. SITE provides valuable career, training, and supportive services while actively cultivating second-chance job opportunities.
Nolan first learned of opportunities with SITE during a group meeting in early 2020. He was living in a sober living facility at the time, and while at the meeting met Phyllis Nunn, a SITE job entry and support specialist. Nunn works directly with clients to procure second-chance job opportunities and provides support as they progress.
Nolan is working on turning a corner, but overcoming addiction doesn’t happen overnight. He’ll continue to need assistance as he progresses, Nunn says, but there isn’t any reason he can’t turn that corner if he continues to work at it.
“While Luther is progressively becoming a transformational employee, please understand, addiction has a way of challenging the best intentions,” Nunn says. “We will continue to monitor and assist in his journey towards recovery. I am hopeful the best is yet to come."
Though Nolan says he was unaware of SITE before meeting with Nunn, he’s glad they were able to meet when they did.
“She explained what she was there for, and I was interested,” Nolan says. “Getting my life back, that’s what I wanted.”
Nolan says the assistance he’s received from Nunn led directly to his current job, which keeps him occupied during the day and keeps his mind away from where he used to be. He says that’s also played a role in helping him in his recovery.
Part of what is making SITE work for participants is the initiative’s network of transformational employers like Happy’s Chili Parlor in Paducah that are hiring the people who enroll in SITE and getting them on a viable career path, adds Missie Quillen, SITE program director.
“Without the employer component, we wouldn’t be able to assist the people who enroll for our services nearly like we would want,” Quillen says. “These individuals need these opportunities to succeed, and we’re grateful for our Kentucky businesses that are ready to play their role in overcoming addiction.”
Happy’s Chili Parlor owner Eugene Thomas, whose family has owned and operated the business since it opened in 1929, said he doesn’t see these types of hires as a risk, but as an opportunity to give someone else a chance to lift themselves up.
“Trying to save a life and get a person back on track is worth it because without the opportunity they wouldn’t have the chance,” Thomas says. “If they’re sound with what they’re doing, if they’re sound in their faith, if they’re sound in their business, then that can be effective.”
For Nolan, it’s an opportunity that he’s grateful for. Looking back now, he’s ready to continue walking forward, and a career, he knows, needs to be a part of that mix. It won’t be easy, he adds, but he’s ready.
“I can look back on my past, how good it was or how bad it was, and I think of all the good parts I did right and I want to get that back,” he says. “As long as somebody is there to help me, I’m willing to go for it.”
EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services and operates the Kentucky Career Center JobSight network of workforce centers, which provide access to more than a dozen state and federal programs that offer employment and training assistance for jobseekers and employers all under one roof. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.org, http://www.jobsight.org and http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.