First-of-its-kind job fair to help Mainers in recovery find jobs

A first-of-its-kind job fair Thursday will pair Mainers in long-term recovery from drug and alcohol misuse with employers looking to hire those hoping for a second chance.

The Recovery Workforce Job Fair kicks off at 9 a.m. at Biddeford’s Pepperell Mill.

"I went two months being denied job after job due to my criminal history,” said Phil Aldrich, 32, who is in long-term recovery.

After two months of searching, Aldrich was able to land a job at Hyperlite Mountain Gear in Biddeford. The company makes high-end backpacks and camping equipment.

Aldrich said it was hard for him to find a stable job because he was convicted of a felony. He said his battle with substance misuse disorder fueled his criminal past.

"I want to be a productive member of society,” he said. “It was very hard being let down and denied so many times."

Aldrich collaborated with State Rep. Martin Grohman, I-Biddeford, on the job fair.

It is estimated tens of thousands of Mainers are in recovery from substance misuse disorder, whether the substance in question is drugs or alcohol.

"If we can give someone an opportunity to better themselves and create an opportunity for them, that's probably one of the most rewarding things we can do,” John Schafer, director of operations at Hyperlite, said.

Hyperlite is one of about two dozen businesses that will be at Thursday’s job fair.

Schafer said he has no job application and there is no box to check “yes” or “no” when it comes to prior felonies – a roadblock for many Mainers in recovery.

"The barriers that people encounter, that our clients encounter, are employment, because there is discrimination because there is stigma,” said Timothy Cheney, president of Enso Recovery, a treatment program with locations in Portland and Sanford.

Cheney, who is also in recovery, is taking part in the job fair.

"I'm very grateful, because I think they are the pioneers,” Cheney said about the businesses looking to hire Mainers in recovery. “And once they step up, many more hopefully will follow."

"People know that you're in recovery -- that you want a new start,” Grohman said. “And they want to work with you."

"We're building a very strong team,” Schafer said. “It's a team environment. If the folks of the floor enjoy working with the person, I'll hire them."

Aldrich said he is a dedicated employee and he is no longer the person he was when he was in active addiction. Getting the job at Hyperline turned his life around.

"It made me want to come to work every day and feel a part of that community,” he said.

The fair starts at 9 a.m. at the mill, which is at 40 Main St. in Biddeford.

At 8 a.m., free haircuts and resume help will be offered.