The last full week in September, September 23-29, 2018, is designated as National Employ Older Workers Week (NEOWW). The purpose is to raise awareness about the benefits of hiring older workers as well as their need to continue employment. Help us advocate for the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) through the Area Agency on Aging of West Alabama by sharing this story of how SCSEP has benefited local host agencies as well as SCSEP participants.
By Michelle Carter
Public Information & Human Resources Manager
West Alabama Regional Commission
Area Agency on Aging
When people think about what they want to be when they grow up, they probably don’t consider what they want to be after they grow up. But for thousands of seniors over 55, retirement isn’t a realistic part of their American Dream because they fall into the bottom of the income ladder and need employment to afford their longevity. No one should ever have to make a choice between food, shelter or necessary medications, yet many older Americans face that dilemma during what should be their carefree golden years.
The struggle faced by the elderly needing to make ends meet isn’t a new one. For several decades, through a series of advocacy and grant funding from the Department of Labor, the West Alabama Area Agency on Aging, in partnership with Senior Service America, Inc. and the Alabama Department of Senior Services (ADSS), has been able to operate the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). The federal program helps unemployed, low-income adults age 55 and older by partnering with local nonprofit, government and faith-based agencies. SCSEP participants are given part-time community service assignments where they receive on-the-job training in roles vital in today’s workforce with the goal being to boost their knowledge and confidence and ultimately land a permanent job placement outside of SCSEP. Locally, seniors are tapping into the SCSEP program through the West Alabama Area Agency on Aging and it is yielding positive results for both the participants and host agencies.
For over three years, Lorine Patton has been a participant on the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) through the West Alabama Area Agency on Aging. She is assigned part time at United Way as a 2-1-1 Call Specialist and Office Assistant. Prior to her time on SCSEP, Lorine said she worked in local offices. She was out of work about nine months when she found information about SCSEP at the Tuscaloosa Area Career Center. She said the program was a good fit because she was looking for part time work at her age and found a lot of potential places of employment were seeking applicants willing to work full-time.
The Tuscaloosa native said she enjoys her friendly co-workers at United Way. “It’s more like a family to me. I feel comfortable here. I work with good people and that means a lot to me.” Lorine said the staff at United Way is mature and knowledgeable about their jobs which has helped her learn a lot as well. She said it has given her a way to get involved and learn more about what United Way does in the community.
The feeling of being welcomed in a work environment also appeals to a former SCSEP participant who received permanent employment at her host agency. Sharon Spencer was a SCSEP participant at Easterseals for a few months before being hired on as a Representative Payee and File Clerk.
Prior to her employment at Easterseals, Sharon had worked seasonally assisting with tax prep. She said she tried to find work after being out several years but could tell potential employers were interested in hiring someone younger. A relative recommended she try the SCSEP program.
She had been a participant of the program for over a year when she was assigned to the front desk at Easterseals West Alabama. Sharon said one thing she valued about SCSEP was that she was able to get out of her house and take her mind off stress. She was able to strengthen her resume writing and improved her computer skills. Now in a new role at Easterseals, Sharon said she is excited about her employment. “I like the place and the people. I feel welcome every day.”
Her direct supervisor at Easterseals while on SCSEP, Sherri Davis-Drummond, said the position requires more than just answering phones. They are a “gatekeeper” and the first face seen by someone when they come in. The person working the front desk has to be cognizant of who is entering and why. Sherri said the worker has to deal with a lot of different personalities and it takes certain skills to fill the role. Sherri said SCSEP participants have a vital role at Easterseals, “They bring a level of maturity with them.”
Tamika Alexander, Director of 2-1-1 and Information and Referral for United Way of West Alabama, echoes Sherri’s sentiment that the SCSEP participants bring a strength to the host agency. Lorine is the third SCSEP participant assigned to United Way of West Alabama over the past five years. Tamika said the program gives an extra set of hands in their office. One of the strengths they have found in hiring an older worker is reliability. “We can count on her to be here on time… [and] She can pick up on how to complete a project very quickly. She also brings a wealth of customer service knowledge to our office because she has years of experience working with the public.”
The role SCSEP participants have at Easterseals, United Way of West Alabama, and other host agencies, requires commitment and essential skills which are often a strong point found in the generation of older workers. Ronny Johnston, executive director of Easterseals of West Alabama, said the non-profit has had several great SCSEP participants over the years and some have led to employment like in Sharon’s case. Ronny said the participants are considered part of the Easterseals family and are offered the same opportunities for advancement as any of their employees on the payroll. He also understands the huge impact SCSEP makes in the lives of its participants. “Working is like exercising. When you stop its hard to get back into it. It’s (SCSEP) a great re-entry point into work.” Ronny said.
If you are interested in more information about becoming a participant, host agency or are looking to hire one of our qualified participants please contact the West Alabama Area Agency on Aging at 205-333-2990 today! For a listing of our Host Agency partners and additional information visit our website at www.westalabamaaging.org/scsep