Recovery-to-Work Cohort Learning Academy

Applications Now Closed

Overview and Important Information

Proposals Due: July 16, 2021 6:00 pm EDT

Bidders’ Call: Recording

Selection Announcement: August 13, 2021

Period of Performance (tentative): August 16, 2021 – April 15, 2022

About the Project:

In the Recovery-to-Work Cohort Learning Academy, regional teams will convene with subject matter expertise and facilitation support to develop plans aimed at addressing the local substance use disorder (SUD) crisis. Substance use recovery efforts require collaboration to help people with SUD become stable contributors to the workforce and to engage employers in providing jobs that are critical to long-term substance use recovery and economic revival. This project supports regional efforts to develop stronger networks to fight the crisis — successful “ecosystems” of regional organizations working together to help those recovering from substance use disorder find and keep jobs. The success of these individuals is vital to companies suffering from labor shortages or concerned about labor turnover.

Local Development Districts (LDDs)[1] are vital assets to these regions, but they have not been as active in helping to find solutions to the substance use disorder crisis. The Development District Association of Appalachia (DDAA)[2] received funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to leverage its facilitation and subject matter expertise to help LDDs take a more active role and develop the leadership skills to convene and leverage emerging networks of support organizations in economic development, workforce development, education, and other wrap-around service organizations.

Through a ‘peer academy’ process, DDAA will support four regional initiatives featuring multiple stakeholders working together to help individuals with a history of substance use disorders to successfully navigate sustained recovery through meaningful employment. DDAA recently completed a year-long virtual peer academy process with four regions completed between March 2020 and April 2021. For this round, the Recovery-to-Work Cohort Learning Academy will be a nine-month process in which a team of organizations from four additional regions will collaborate to improve their working relationships, identify and adopt best practices, and access dedicated technical assistance that will enhance the lives of individuals and communities impacted by the substance use crisis affecting Appalachia. With public health travel and meeting restrictions being lifted, we hope to conduct several in-person meetings, both within region and convening four travel teams (also known as core teams) during the 9-month cohort learning period.

DDAA encourages teams from regions across the Appalachian Regional Commission service area to apply to participate in this unique opportunity. DDAA’s facilitators will guide the core team through a planning process and will provide access to subject matter expertise. The planning process will provide an opportunity for regional leaders to come together to develop plans to improve their region’s efforts to enhance the career success of individuals with a history of substance use disorders. The cohort academy process will provide structure and natural accountability to help maintain momentum.  The peer learning integrated into the process will provide an opportunity for local leaders to benchmark progress against other regions going through the planning process. Participants will also have the opportunity to share good ideas and lessons learned with one another through both in-person and virtual cross-region peer exchanges, including learning from alumni from the 2020 cohort.

Eligible applicants may include any government, academic, nonprofit, or private organization that is seeking to help lead a multi-organizational effort in their region. Local development districts serving some part of the 420 counties of the Appalachian Regional Commission are encouraged to apply. Other organizations are also eligible, but they must be sponsored by a Local Development District and include that LDD as part of the team. The proposed effort and team members should serve a portion of the ARC region, but not all team members need be located within the region. The ARC geography and LDDs eligible to sponsor an application are defined at:

Benefits of the Academy Process:

The Recovery-to-Work Cohort Learning Academy will offer selected regions the following activities and assistance:

  • Two multi-region joint meetings for up the “core team” defined as four project team leads; this meeting is planned to be in-person assuming public health conditions continue to improve.
  • Two visits to the region by an experienced facilitator who will help the region move its work forward, engage a broader team of partners, and guide the region’s broader ‘recovery-to-work’ home team forward as the region works through strategic planning or implementation issues.
  • Access to national subject-matter experts to help guide key issues.
  • One “report out” meeting of the regional team leaders at either the national ARC and/or NADO training conference to share lessons learned.
  • Ongoing technical assistance through monthly conference calls and peer-to-peer learning opportunities, such as webinars.
  • Access to ARC leadership and access to potential future funding to execute successful regional plans.

Videos are available that feature past Cohort Learning Academy participants reviewing their activities and reflections at the conclusion of the process.  Hear in the words of past cohort participants how this process helped move their regional recovery-to-work ecosystem forward.

Cohort Learning Academy Background and Purpose

Substance use disorders are an acute crisis in Appalachia: a recent report from the National Association of Counties (NaCO) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) found that the death rate for opioid overdose in Appalachian counties was 72 percent higher than outside the region.[3] The Appalachian Regional Commission has taken a leadership role to help address the crisis in Appalachia. In 2019, the ARC convened the Substance Abuse Advisory Council, a 24-member group of leaders from law enforcement, recovery services, health, economic development, private industry, education, state government and other sectors. This group provided recommendations[4] on a robust recovery-to-work ecosystem model, with recommendations including:

  • Developing a recovery ecosystem model that (a) addresses stakeholder roles and responsibilities as part of a collaborative process that develops infrastructure and operations, (b) funds deployment of local planning and implementation of the model, and (c) examines funding models to sustain the recovery ecosystem.
  • Developing and disseminating a playbook of solutions for communities addressing common ecosystems gaps and services barriers.
  • Developing model workforce training programs that incorporate recovery services with appropriate evaluation measures.
  • Convening experts to develop and disseminate an employer best practices toolkit to educate employers and human resource experts in recruiting, selecting, managing, and retaining employees who are in recovery.
  • Funding local liaison positions across Appalachia responsible for promoting a recovery ecosystem by building bridges between employers, workforce development agencies, and recovery organizations, and disseminating an employer best practices toolkit.

The recovery-to-work ecosystem model presented by the Appalachian Regional Commission calls for coordination between three key types of stakeholders and activities: substance use disorder treatment, job training, and employment. While employment has often been touted as an important component of recovery, the recovery-to-work model emphasizes the importance of connecting people in recovery with training and employment opportunities as a central focus of the ecosystem’s development. Employer engagement and support are vital elements of a successful effort.

LDDs are uniquely positioned as a regional network that brings together municipalities and counties to solve public challenges collaboratively. Substance use disorder has significant impacts across political boundaries and the answers require resources that few individual communities can muster. LDDs have a long history in stepping forward to convene local partners to solve regional challenges, and this proposed effort relies on the premise that LDDs are important lynchpins in helping to coordinate intensive local efforts from rehabilitee to recovery-to-work. Further, LDDs and their partner in the Appalachian Regional Commission serve a key role in advancing regional economic development, which aligns with the business and workforce challenge posed by the substance use disorder crisis.

The purpose of the Cohort Learning Academy is to guide regions through a planning and implementation process to identify ways to support and expand their efforts to address the SUD crisis and get people back to work.  The outcomes of this effort will likely be new or enhanced initiatives that advance your region’s workforce and economic development resiliency by addressing the barriers that prevent working age adults in recovery from participating in the labor force.

We will help you customize your planning process and goals to build on your existing efforts by:

  • Providing ideas about how to improve the performance of your program design.
  • Organizing access to national subject matter experts.
  • Creating structure for your team to discuss and think through ideas, sharing those with colleagues from other regions as they struggle with similar challenges and identify common opportunities.

Cohort Learning Academy Activities

Selected regions will receive facilitation help through a robust process that will clarify their goals and proposed actions, ensure that they are engaging appropriate partners, and provide insights about what other regions are doing and what subject matter experts are recommending as the best approaches to addressing the issues that the region has identified. During the process, the regional team will create an action plan and/or begin implementing policies or programs formulated during the effort that are designed to improve their region’s recovery-to-work ecosystem. Each region should propose the policy or programmatic areas it chooses to focus on based on local needs, challenges, and opportunities.

The Cohort Learning Academy process will be accomplished through the following steps:

  1. Multi-region Meetings: Selected regions will participate in an initial kick-off call in early September 2021, convene as a group in the Washington, DC, area in late September to kick off the nine month-long Cohort Learning Academy with all participating teams and a group of Learning Academy alumni, and a closing meeting in Washington, DC in Spring 2022 (provided continued improvement in public health conditions – otherwise activities will be held over Zoom). These events will provide access to policy experts, dedicated regional team time for discussing issues and making decisions about next steps, and issue-specific, facilitated peer-to-peer exchange. These meetings will also constitute important accountability moments during the Cohort Learning Academy.  Travel and lodging expenses associated with multi-regional team meetings will be reimburse for up to four (4) team members to attend opening and closing multi-region meetings.
  1. Facilitated In-state Strategic Planning Meetings: Each region’s lead facilitator (a subject matter expert selected from the DDAA team) will conduct two site visits during the Cohort Learning Academy process (provided continued improvement in public health conditions – otherwise activities will be held over Zoom). The goal of these site visits will be to lead the region through an action plan that starts with the specific challenges or opportunities identified in each region and results in an implementation plan to improve recovery-to-work ecosystem in the region.
  2. Ongoing Technical Assistance: DDAA will coordinate technical assistance to participating teams throughout the Cohort Learning Academy process. In addition to the on-site visits, on-going technical assistance may include webinars, video/phone consultations, and background research designed to help the core team and team lead to maintain the planning process’ momentum.
  3. Team Lead Conference Calls: Team leads from each region will participate in regular videoconference calls throughout the Cohort Learning Academy to keep one another briefed on their work and experiences to date.

Team Composition

Teams are to be comprised of leaders within the applicant region that have identified substance use disorder as a critical workforce challenge and seek to move a regional initiative forward.

Applications will be reviewed on the strength of their teams.  Strong teams will include a cross-section of leaders and policy makers from relevant agencies, organizations, and stakeholder groups and will reflect the proposed direction and issues that the region is considering. All team members should be willing to commit to working together on a regular basis throughout the nine-month Academy timeframe from August 2021 to April 2022.  For most team members, at least 2-3 hours per month for meetings and follow-up may be required.  For regional team leaders, the commitment may be higher, depending on the specific role.

In the application, each region should identify (1) a core team, which will consist of up to four members who have the most direct involvement in the Cohort Learning Academy and who will travel to multi-region meetings, and (2) a larger home team, consisting of no more than seven to ten members whose input is critical for the success of the region’s plans. The core team will serve as the travel group for the meetings in Washington and will serve as the team’s ‘executive leadership’.  The home team will serve as an advisory and implementation working group, helping to move various aspects of the planning and implementation forward. Applicants are encouraged to document team member commitments.

One member of the core team should be designated as the team lead, who will play a leadership role throughout the process, take responsibility for managing the team’s activities, and ensure the regional team meets its proposed goals and objectives. Team leads will be expected to participate on regular phone calls with their lead DDAA facilitator as well as monthly calls with team leads from all participating states.

The core team also must include a senior leader representing the region’s Local Development District executive management team (preferably the LDD executive director). Regions that have multiple Local Development Districts should designate one of the entities as lead and include a clear plan for coordination between agencies in their application. Further, applicants should consider who will provide staff support to move forward project activities such as partner coordination, grant writing, or event planning.

Considering the emphasis on the business and workforce challenges facing recovery-to-work ecosystems, it is important to orient projects toward engaging the business community and workforce development system. Therefore, core teams should include a representative from an employer or business-facing intermediary such as a local Chamber of Commerce or economic development organization. Core or home teams would also benefit from a representative from the workforce development system. Other recommended team members to fill out the core and/or home team might include:

  • Workforce development organizations such as community colleges workforce investment boards;
  • Major employer(s), chambers of commerce, or economic development organizations in the region;
  • Community leaders including community action agencies;
  • Providers of wrap-around services including housing and transportation;
  • Representatives from the justice system such as courts or police departments;
  • Treatment providers or public health agencies including hospitals; or
  • Local official, legislator, or senior legislative staff person.

Home team members are expected to participate (along with the core team) in the site visits conducted by the region’s lead facilitator.

To facilitate the region’s participation in the multi-regional stakeholder meetings, DDAA will cover transportation and lodging for up to four (4) people from each selected region’s core team to attend the two multi-region meetings (orientation and final). Regions may send up to three additional members from the home team at their own expense.

Regions that have current ARC INSPIRE planning or implementation grants are encouraged to apply, but applicants need not already have a grant in hand.  All four regions that participated in the first cohort were successful in their INSPIRE applications because they had clear plans that contributed to strong applications.

Required Application Content and Selection Criteria

Only one application per sponsoring Local Development District will be accepted (applicants do not need to be an LDD, but an LDD in the footprint of the applicant’s region must serve on the core team). Successful applications will identify the relative development of the region’s recovery-to-work ecosystem and describe how the Cohort Learning Academy process will help the region to improve the ecosystem and its outcomes. Preference will be given to applications that demonstrate readiness and commitment to implementing strategies developed during the Cohort Learning Academy.

Application Content

To apply for the Cohort Learning Academy, regions must submit a proposal that includes the following:

  • A letter of application that articulates why the region is interested in participating in the Cohort Learning Academy and what it expects to gain from the process. Preference will be given to regions with letters signed by the chair of an LDD Board.
  • A list of confirmed core and home team members, as described in the Team Composition section. Please include each team member’s name, title, email address, and a short description of their ability to assist in strategy development and implementation. Please also identify the counties included in the applicant region and the Local Development District that is participating in the core team.
  • A narrative of 5 pages or less that describes the history of the region’s work to address the substance use disorder crisis and addresses the assessment described below.

Each region should make a strong case for the most significant gaps that will be addressed and the most compelling opportunities that could be pursued through the Cohort Learning Academy process. While the reviewers are open to a variety of ideas, the reviewers are particularly looking for applications that focus on (1) encouraging employer outreach and participation in recovery employment programs; (2) scoping, organizing, and executing a defined recovery-to-work program; (3) fostering collaboration among stakeholders such as law enforcement, public health, and workforce development; (4) addressing wrap-around services required for long-term recovery, especially those services available to employed individuals in recovery, and (5) identifying sustainability strategies including funding support and lasting partnerships. Each region should identify specific strategies for addressing these issues, but they examples might include efforts such as:

  • Educating employers on the opportunities and risks related to employing workers in recovery from SUD.
  • Coordinating programs for workers that facilitate recovery such as housing, transportation, job training, and other key support.
  • Developing detailed roles and responsibilities for regional stakeholders in the recovery-to-work ecosystem.
  • Building a legislative and/or philanthropic strategy to secure funding for recovery-to-work ecosystem sustainment.

The regional application to strengthen the recovery-to-work ecosystem should also take care to focus on issues that are important to the signatory elected official and other local leaders.

Assessment Criteria

Applications will be evaluated according to how well they address the following criteria:

  1. The presence of energetic individuals who want to serve as project champions (i.e., a “core team”), including demonstrated commitments from:
    1. Local development district leadership
    2. Business community (e.g. an “employer champion” or Chamber of Commerce)
    3. Workforce system
  2. Demonstrated staff support for action plan development and implementation
  3. Home team engagement from an array of organizations, including partners that provide support services such as:
    1. Community action agencies
    2. Treatment providers
    3. Housing providers
    4. Transportation agencies
    5. Other social service organizations providing wrap-around services
  4. A documented synopsis of local need and the nature of the substance use crisis in the LDD’s region;
  5. Experience in undertaking efforts to foster addiction recovery and efforts to support participants through the job search and placement process that could be used as a potential foundation on which to build the ecosystem;
  6. A preliminary assessment of how well existing Recovery-to-Work efforts are faring in accomplishing their goals
  7. A clear sense among the core team’s champions of how an external advocate (such as ARC, other federal agencies, regional leaders, and/or other partners) might help them move forward; and
  8. Demonstrated commitment to Recovery-to-Work Cohort Learning Academy efforts from core and home team members.


Applicants may be any organization involved in addressing substance use recovery in which employment is seen as a vital part of the solution and leaders have come together to develop a regional plan. Each application must have a local development district sponsor the project and must serve a portion of the ARC region, but the LDD does not need to serve as the lead nor do all team members need to be located within the region. A key purpose for this effort is to identify the role for the LDD in a recovery-to-work ecosystem. Therefore, the core team must include a member of the local development district’s executive management team, but the LDD is not required to serve as the lead. Regions that have multiple local development districts should designate one of the entities as lead and include a clear plan for coordination between agencies in their application.

Up to four regions will be selected from the eligible applicants. Questions regarding eligibility should be directed to Brendan Buff (703-504-2871/

Selection Process

DDAA and ARC will collaborate to name an independent panel of subject matter experts to review and score the proposals based on the criteria outlined above and make recommendations about which regions will be invited to participate in the Cohort Learning Academy. Regions will be notified of their award status by August 13, 2021.

Bidders’ Call

A conference call will be held June 10, 2021 at 10:00 am EST.

Submission Information

Using the subject line “Application: Recovery-to-Work Cohort Learning Academy,” please email applications in a single .pdf document to Brendan Buff (

[1] Local Development Districts are multi-jurisdictional planning and economic development organizations that provide administrative, professional, and technical assistance to local governments and citizens throughout Appalachia.

[2] The Development District Association of Appalachia (DDAA) is a membership organization of the 73 Local Development Districts serving the 420 counties of the Appalachia Region. The DDAA works to strengthen LDDs and their member governments and to provide leadership to support the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) federal-state-local partnership.

[3] National Association of Counties, Opioids in Appalachia: The Role of Counties in Reversing a Regional Epidemic May 2019

[4] ARC Substance Abuse Advisory Council, Report of Recommendations: ARC’s Substance Abuse Advisory Council August 2019