Communities across the US are being impacted by the substance use disorder epidemic. Appalachia is being hit particularly hard by this epidemic. With so many families and businesses personally impacted by substance use disorder in our region, ACEnet wanted to find a way to support individuals who are investing in their future through recovery-focused initiatives. A collaboration with the STAR Community Justice Center is providing us with a great opportunity to make this happen.

ACEnet has a proven track record of working to support small businesses, with a specialization in the food sector. STAR Community Justice Center is an accredited male and female community-based correctional facility located in Nelsonville, Ohio with residents from Adams, Athens, Brown, Clinton, Fairfield, Gallia, Highland, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Morgan, Perry, Pickaway, Pike, Ross, Scioto, Vinton, and Washington counties. STAR focuses on providing Structure, Therapy, Advocacy, and Restoration to their residents, and has been working to form relationships with community partners to further the growth and development of their residents.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor provided funding for the HOPES project – Hospitality Opportunities for People (Re)Entering Society. HOPES partners utilize the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF)’s Restaurant Ready training to help people acquire the skills and abilities they would need to pursue jobs in the restaurant industry as a pathway to economic independence.

Restaurant Ready training is currently being delivered to STAR residents through a partnership with Ohio University’s Stevens Literacy Center by Assistant Professor Thomas Stevenson in the Recreation, Sports Pedagogy, and Consumer Sciences Department of the Patton College of Education.

Where does ACEnet fit into this? Chef Thom facilitated the program within STAR, and connected with ACEnet staff to explore placing graduates of Restaurant Ready with ACEnet food business clients. He felt that the pairing of Restaurant Ready graduates with ACEnet clients would be beneficial for all parties: STAR residents would have an opportunity to demonstrate the new skills and abilities they had cultivated, and have a current work reference when applying for employment in their home community upon release, and ACEnet entrepreneurs would have access to additional trained help in ACEnet production spaces, and be given the opportunity to help develop a member of our regional community.

Since the beginning of this collaboration, ACEnet has hosted more than 50 STAR residents!

STAR Community Justice Center requires that residents have on-site supervisors who are oriented to the work that STAR performs. ACEnet supervisors of STAR residents complete a background check, drug screening, review of onboarding training videos, and meet with STAR staff. Currently, ACEnet supervisors are available in both Athens and Nelsonville ACEnet facilities to assist our food clients with receiving STAR residents.

As ACEnet works to grow this program we are seeking additional clients to serve as host sites for Restaurant Ready graduates. If you think you would like to work with ACEnet on receiving a Restaurant Ready graduate, please get in touch with Chris Quolke ( to talk about your business needs.

Community Update by ACEnet Small Business Support Specialist and Trainer, Chris Quolke