Charlie Bickford has been working for Maine Paint since he got sober two decades ago, and, as general manager of its four locations, he tries to open that door for others newly sober.
“If somebody comes to me looking for a job, or I meet somebody at a (recovery) meeting who is looking for work, I would consider giving them a shot,” Bickford said. “I like people who are putting in the work in their own recovery. I kind of lean toward people in recovery because I like people who are following the path of rigorous honesty.”
Maine Paint is just one of a growing number of Maine employers who welcome workers in recovery, even those whose recent pasts may be riddled with the consequences of long-term addiction.
“People who have lengthy histories of addiction have often had gaps in employment and brushes with the legal system and may perhaps have felonies” said Bob Fowler, executive director of Milestone Recovery.
Several Milestone Recovery employees in recovery themselves, Fowler says, approach their work as a “personal mission” and a way of “paying forward.”
That’s how Bickford sees it, too. “I couldn’t have gotten where I am if I hadn’t been where I’ve been, and then I wouldn’t be equipped to help others,” he says. “That’s from the Bible.”
In hiring candidates in recovery, Bickford says he’s had both successes and failures, but, all in all, he’d do it again.
“Frequently, when people come into recovery, it ends up being the end of a career,” said Steve Danzig, executive director of ENSO Recovery. “That’s how I got into this field. My former career ended By Amy Paradysz Past history not a roadblock to getting a job Charlie Bickford of Maine Paint likes employees “who are following the path of rigorous honesty,” including his daughter and employee Tania Margate. Photos by Brian Delaney MAR 2019 7 because of my use. I understand people who have gone down that road—and some of the roadblocks and barriers they face. I was making a lot of money as a plumber in the mid-1980s through the late 1990s, and I was chronically addicted.
My life got to a place I never would have imagined. I ended up homeless, living in a train station, unemployable.”
Danzig got sober in 1997-1998 and has spent the decades since helping others out of addiction. He leads ENSO Recovery, which offers outpatient opioid addiction programs in Southern Maine. In 2018, ENSO Recovery hosted two job fairs for people in recovery, including one at the Portland Expo Center that drew nearly 200 job seekers and a couple dozen employers, including The Holy Donut and PeopleReady.
“We go with their character and how they represent themselves, just like anyone else applying for a job,” said Leigh Kellis, founder and coowner of The Holy Donut, the popular doughnut maker and retailer in Portland and Scarborough.
“We have found that they seem to have a better stick rate—less turnover—maybe because they’re so grateful for a second chance,” said Lauran Franciose, human resources manager. “For the most part, people in this community have been and are some of our longer-term rock star employees.”
PeopleReady, which has offices in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor, is “a second-chance employer,” said recruiter Anne Ballard, who places workers in short-term labor positions, everything from construction to housekeeping.
“You don’t have to jump through a lot of hoops. We’re one assignment at a time. You’ve heard the saying, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ One bite at a time. It’s the same thing with getting to your dream job, one step at a time,” Ballard said.
“We have folks come in and say, ‘I used to make six figures, but life has taken some turns and I’m not too proud for you to just assign me to a job.’ Sometimes they want to prove to themselves and to others that they’re ready for a temp to permanent position,” she said.
Another Portland-based business known to hire people in recovery is Coffee by Design, which happens to be neighbors with a Milestone Recovery facility on India Street in Portland.
“What we have learned is that, if you bring someone in and you know they are in recovery, make sure you have a support system in place—for example, that they have a sponsor and housing that supports their sobriety,” said Mary Allen Lindemann, co-founder of Coffee by Design. CBD has four coffee shops and a Portland roastery along with a wholesale and mail order business.
“We go with their character and how they represent themselves, just like anyone else applying for a job.” — Leigh Kellis, Founder & Co-Owner: The Holy Donut
Even as a small business, Coffee by Design offers health insurance— available for purchase after 30 days— and also an Employee Assistant Program (EAP) to all employees. “We pay for Unum life insurance for everybody when they join us,” Lindemann said. “And, connected with the life insurance plan is this really comprehensive EAP, with unlimited phone counseling.”
She says it’s critical that employers cultivate a work environment in which employees “are comfortable enough to let someone know if someone is in trouble.”
In another recovery community connection, Coffee by Design’s Diamond Street location was renovated by MaineWorks crews. “And they did a great job,” Lindemann said.
Nearly a decade ago, MaineWorks founder Margo Walsh turned her history with addiction into a mission—and an award-winning $2.8 million staffing company with an unusual niche: putting convicted felons to work in construction, masonry and landscaping. But the workers start their days with a 6 a.m. fire circle, putting the focus on their recovery first.