Baby boomer Mike Ball couldn’t find a job when he moved to Spokane even though he had many skills and a strong resume: college degree, U.S. Air Force veteran, 16 years in the insurance industry working with asbestos litigation and two decades as a professional pilot.
Too old. Not the right skills. Out of the workforce too long. All rejections commonly heard as he applied for more than 175 jobs in a year, while the recently divorced Ball maxed out credit cards to pay the mortgage and feed his two teenagers. Connecting with the Senior Community Service Employment Program saved him and helped him land secure, long-term employment so he can rebuild his life at age 61.
“You can land an airplane on the moon, but if that doesn’t generate any profit (for the company) that talent doesn’t go that far,” said Ball, who now works for Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington, the same agency that runs the senior employment program.
Today Ball helps people figure out Medicare and health care plans through another program run by the regional aging program. His supervisors commend Ball for his ability to work with the millionaire as well as the homeless. Ball said his personal hard times help him understand and empathize with his clients who are often frustrated and upset.
Currently the senior jobs program has 12 people age 55 or older working 20 hours a week for local nonprofits and government agencies, including local food banks and senior centers. About 21 people are on a waiting list for job placement.
The workers are paid minimum wage and have the opportunity to learn job skills; this including taking computer classes through the Community Colleges of Spokane Act 2 program. The goal is to help seniors ease back into the workforce and reconnect with the community. Ultimately the idea is to help seniors find a nonsubsidized job or volunteer work, depending on their financial needs.
The work program also helps area nonprofits expand their programs or help more people, said Jamie McIntyre, who oversees the work program and initially hired Ball to work as her assistant screening senior job applicants.
“He just has a wonderful way with people,” McIntyre said about Ball, adding that when a job opened up in the aging and long-term care agency’s Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors program, he was a natural fit.
Ball isn’t the only graduate from the senior worker program who has been hired by Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington. The agency’s main janitor, an immigrant who was just learning English when he applied for the program, now works full time cleaning the building on North Post Street.
McIntyre said in this economy and with the skyrocketing number of aging adults, it’s important to have programs to help seniors find work so they can live independently.
Besides helping with work skills and resume building, the program can also provide new eyeglass prescriptions and even work shoes or transportation costs, important details people often overlook when trying to find work.
The senior work program is funded by the federal Older Americans Act, which is the main funding source for many of the aging and long-term care agency’s services aimed at helping people 60 and older and those with disabilities living in Spokane and surrounding counties. In 2014, the senior work program received $156,000 while the agency as a whole received $2.3 million.
The agency is hopeful Congress will reauthorize the Older Americans Act that has been fully funded since 2011. Without the additional federal cash, agency director Lynn Kimball said programs such as providing food to the elderly and disabled are in jeopardy. So far the agency has avoided waiting lines for food programs – a problem that has plagued other areas of the country – through private fundraising efforts by groups such as the Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels.
The AARP Foundation also has a Senior Employment Program, which helps low-income people 55 and older to find work and job referrals.
In Spokane County, the AARP employment program has about 28 senior workers at various nonprofits doing everything from clerical and janitorial work to working at SCRAPS. There are about 15 low-income seniors on a waiting list, said project director Steve Reiter. The nationwide AARP work program is also funded by the Older Americans Act. In Reiter’s region, which is most counties east of the Cascades, there are 90 spots for older people having difficulty finding work because of disability, age or other barriers such as previous felony convictions.
“The range of our participants is vast,” Reiter said. He said about 70 percent of the participants are female, often displaced homemakers wanting to upgrade their skills or find their first job outside the home.
Not all seniors who qualify for the programs are like Ball, with strong work histories and education. Many are women who raised children and have no work experience outside the home. Others haven’t been in the workforce for years and don’t know how to apply online for jobs or write a resume. Sometimes people haven’t worked because of illness.
Income from the aging and long term care agency’s program doesn’t count against subsidized housing or food assistance.
Even with the two programs, McIntyre said there are always people on the waiting lists.
“We understand the financial hardships of people,” she said. “We do what we can to support them to be successful.”
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