Request for Proposals to Participate in a Regional Cohort Learning Academy:

Building a Substance Use Recovery-to-Work Ecosystem in the Appalachian Region

Overview and Important Information:

Bidders’ Call: December 12, 2019 10:00 AM EST (Powerpoint)

Proposals Due: January 15, 2020 6:00 PM EST

Selection Announcement: January 31, 2020

Period of Performance (tentative): February 1, 2020 – October 31, 2020

About the project:

Substance use recovery requires collaborative action to help individuals become stable contributors to the workforce. This project seeks to support the creation of active, successful “ecosystems” of regional organizations working together to help individuals in recovery to succeed in the labor market and help companies to find and support those individuals successfully.

The Development District Association of Appalachia (DDAA)[1] has received a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Federal Co-Chairman’s Fund to leverage the capabilities and partnerships of Local Development Districts (LDDs)[2] as a key facilitator to support these emerging networks. Substance use recovery is a priority for Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas, and ARC has been supporting projects across the region to enhance the ability of regions to support workers in their effort to achieve long-term sobriety and maintain employment.

Through a ‘peer academy’ process, DDAA will support four regional initiatives that involve multiple stakeholders working together to help individuals with a history of substance use disorders to successfully navigate sustained recovery through meaningful employment.  The Recovery-to-Work Cohort Learning Academy represents a nine month process in which a team of organizations from four regions will collaborate both within and across regions 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.

DDAA encourages teams from regions across the Appalachian Regional Commission service area to apply to participate in this unique opportunity. DDAA will provide expert facilitation and technical support for regional leaders that are developing a plan aimed at improving their region’s efforts to enhance the career success of individuals with a history of substance use disorders.

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 to four regional leaders.
  • 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.

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 addresses stakeholder roles and responsibilities as part of a collaborative process that develops infrastructure and operations, funds deployment of local planning and implementation of the model, and 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.

ARC has provided funding to DDAA to help a cohort of four regions to develop their recovery-to-work ecosystem. While a few success stories exist, those stories have idiosyncratic origins that are difficult to replicate in other communities. DDAA believes that the LDDs can be more visible and engaged in helping to develop local ecosystems, but LDD leaders may need mentoring through this process.

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.

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 (1) providing ideas about how to improve the performance of your program design, (2) organizing access to national subject matter experts, and (3) creating a mechanism to discuss and think through your ideas with colleagues from other regions facing similar challenges and 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 will propose the policy or programmatic areas it will 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 mid-March 2020, convene as a group in Washington, DC at the beginning of the nine month-long Cohort Learning Academy, and meet on-site in Appalachia during late summer/early fall of 2020 toward the end of the Academy. These events will provide 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 covered for up to four (4) team members to attend multi-state and the report out meetings
  2. 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 throughout the Cohort Learning Academy process. 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.
  3. 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, phone consultations, and background research.
  4. Team Leader Conference Calls: Team leaders from each region will participate in regular conference 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 a team of leaders within the applicant region that has identified substance use disorder as a critical workforce challenge and seeks to move a regional initiative forward.

For the application, each regions 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 potentially larger home team, consisting of no more than seven to ten members whose input is critical for the success of the region’s plans. Strong teams will include a cross-section of leaders and policy makers from relevant agencies, organizations and stakeholder groups (including employers) and will reflect the proposed direction and issues that the region is considering. All team members should be willing to commit to working together through the nine-month Academy timeframe from February to November 2020.

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 state 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. 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.

Other recommended team members to fill out the core and/or home team might include:

  • representatives from key regional stakeholder groups representing the workforce system, economic development, health care, justice, and social services (e.g., hospitals, public health organizations, addiction recovery centers, unions, police departments, courts, housing, community colleges, chambers of commerce, or workforce development agencies);
  • major employer(s) in the region; and
  • 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.

Required Proposal Content and Selection Criteria:

Only one application per sponsoring Local Development District will be accepted (proposers 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.

Proposal 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 describe 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 proposals 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; and (4) identifying sustainability strategies including funding support and lasting partnerships. Specific strategies for addressing these issues would be identified by the region, but they might include:

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

The regional proposal 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

Proposals 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 engagement of the LDD;
  2. a documented synopsis of local need and the nature of the substance use crisis in the LDD’s region;
  3. 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;
  4. 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;
  5. demonstration that the region has made some past progress toward developing aspects of the Recovery-to-Work ecosystem;
  6. a preliminary assessment of how well existing Recovery-to-Work efforts are faring in accomplishing their goals; and
  7. demonstrated external support for Recovery-to-Work efforts.


Proposers 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 proposal 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 Local Development District in a recovery-to-work ecosystem. Therefore, the core team must include the head of or a member of the region’s Local Development District executive management team, but the LDD does not need 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 (703-522-4980 ext. 1020 /

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 January 31, 2020.

Bidders’ Call

A conference call will be held December 12, 2019 at 10:00 AM EST.

Submission Information

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


[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[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