One year since it first opened its doors, Windsor's Hand in Hand Support is launching a new program to help those battling addiction get back into the work force.
A new tree service business, plus a new property and skilled-trades training opportunities all mark a new chapter for the non-profit organization.
"We want to have the men and the women back to work, but gradually, learning how to deal with life in a work environment, but still being supported through Hand in Hand," explained Robert Sandwith, the co-founder and co-director of the organization which has three transitional homes in Windsor for men and women in recovery.
The Helping Hands Tree Service launches this week, offering services like tree removal, trimming and hydro line cleaning throughout Windsor-Essex. Program members will learn from and work with certified arbourists with decades of experience.
Beyond the tree service itself, the organization has recently acquired a two-acre property in the town of Essex with a 10,000 square foot shop that they're in the process of renovating to turn it into a space for pre-apprentice training. It also has the capacity to house up to 16 people.
WATCH | Hand in Hand Support co-founder Robert Sandwith and Hand in Hand resident Devon Orton explain how the tree service will help individuals in recovery:
Sandwith explained that the Crossroads Centre for Personal Empowerment gifted them a program called 'Moving Beyond Addiction,' which is a life-skills program that they've also incorporated to help connect their clients with jobs and training.
Plus, Hand in Hand is partnering with Women's Enterprise Skills Training of Windsor to bring their female clients into the trades as well.
"That will give individuals more purpose in what their day is and goals to reach while they're here," Sandwith explained.
A life-changing place
Devon Orton hopes to join the Essex program soon.
"It's the next step to my recovery," he explained.
Orton arrived at Hand in Hand Support on January 29 after a battle with drugs and incarceration. He said the home has transformed his life and has helped him reconnect with his family.
"This is one of the biggest supports in my life," Orton said.
"I went from being in a position where I thought I was at the end of my rope, and now I have everything. It's amazing here."
He's looking forward to re-entering the workforce thanks to this new avenue Hand in Hand is offering.
"It's my future. It's what I want. It's structure. It's my life," he said.
"I just had a daughter. I want to be a father, and I just want to live a happy normal life again with no pain, no hurt."
One year of support
Orton is one of more than a hundred people who have been helped by Hand in Hand in the last year.
Demand for services has been "insane," Sandwith explained.
He said they're currently at capacity at their homes for men and they're getting six or seven applications a day. Right now they're housing about 60 men and women at their locations.
It's reflective of a community struggling with a drug epidemic, with opioid overdoses spiking in Windsor-Essex, particularly since the onset of the pandemic.
Since Hand in Hand first opened up in March 2021, it's obtained charitable status but has yet to secure government funding, Sandwith explained.
That's why the group still heavily relies on community support and donations. Over the weekend they held a car wash with all proceeds going to its Women's Home.
"We're still applying for grants and hopefully that comes through," Sandwith said.
As for the tree service business, it's not just a way to get individuals back into the workforce, it'll also raise funds for a local charity chosen by each individual client.