Retooling for seniors

Baltimore Co. gets low-income residents back into work force

recession tales

March 21, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,

Cynthia Bashore, 64, a longtime homemaker, discovered she was "techno-deficient" just when she really needed a job. Patrice Scott tried unsuccessfully to re-enter the job market at 58 after a several-year hiatus. Dolly Higley, 63, had been searching for work after losing her job at a dry cleaner last year.

All three women have found temporary employment, counseling and on-the-job training working at the Baltimore County Department of Aging through an expanded federal initiative that is drawing seniors back into the job market and providing reliable workers to charities and local governments at no cost to shrinking budgets.

The women say they consider their jobs steppingstones. "This really is job training that lets you network, attend job workshops and do job searches all while you are working," said Scott, a Cockeysville resident. "Without this program, the work force would miss out on the opportunity to hire highly skilled people like we are becoming."

Bashore, also of Cockeysville, said the program is helping her "get my feet wet" as she looks for a permanent job, preferably in the nonprofit area. Higley, of Parkville, who just started her new job after searching for work since September, said, "I just was not ready to stop working yet."

The Senior Community Service Employment Program is designed to assist those 55 and older who are income-eligible, have transportation and can work a 20-hour week. It pays a minimum wage for clerical and other entry-level positions at nonprofits or government agencies. The two-year experience should prepare them for permanent employment, officials said.

The recession has created a greater need for the program, and the federal stimulus package includes $1.5 million to augment the program in Maryland, with about $300,000 going to Baltimore County.

"There are so many older people calling us about jobs, and the unemployment gap is widening for seniors," said Patti Madigan, senior employment and housing services manager for the county Department of Aging. "This program is keeping some of our clients from being homeless."

Baltimore County's share of the additional funds will add 38 positions to the nearly 100 already filled. A workshop offering details at the Cockeysville Senior Center last week resulted in nearly 200 inquiries from potential workers, said Arnold J. Eppel, director of the Department of Aging. "We want everyone who is eligible to apply for this program," he said. To be eligible, an individual's annual income cannot exceed $13,538.

Patricia Hess, 66, of Cockeysville said she plans to apply. After working in retail for many years, she lost her most recent sales job when a linens store went out of business.

"I have worked all my life, and being unemployed is awful," she said. "I wake up each morning wondering what I am going to do that day. There are just no jobs out there."

Besides providing paychecks to older workers, the program also reaffirms the participants' dignity, said Anthony R. Sarmiento, president of Senior Service America, a nonprofit organization based in Silver Spring that provides employment opportunities for older adults. "The money is important, but the giving back and the opportunity to feel like you are contributing is better," he said.

For more information, call the Baltimore County Department of Aging: 410-887-2594.

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