A couple of years ago, Betty Northcott found herself at a turning point in her life. Her husband had passed away, she had been disabled and couldn’t perform the housekeeping work she’d done to that point, and was forced to live with her children.

She responded to an ad by Experience Works, and was put to work at the North Central Texas Workforce as a resource person stationed near the front door.

“They had to show me how to turn on a computer!” Northcott said. “I trained in data processing, then was put up front as a resource person, where I greeted people, helped them register on the computers, answered telephones, directed calls, answered questions, directed clients, and pulled work ads from newspapers.”

She also made sure data was entered correctly in the computer system, filed and helped with mail-outs within Workforce. After about five months in that position, the gentleman who served as the SCSEP (Senior Community Service Employment Program) assistant retired, and suggested Northcott try the job.

“I’m still training; it takes a long time to learn this job as there are many things involved in this,” she said.

As the SCSEP assistant, Northcott goes out to “field” for places to train Experience Works participants, which must be non-profit agencies or public agencies run by the government. She must also locate businesses willing to hire Experience Works clients once they are fully trained, and conduct job fairs to recruit people for the program, with help from newspapers, radio stations and cable television.

Candidates for the Experience Works program must be 55 years of age or older, and a resident of the state where he or she is enrolled in the program; have an annual family income of no more than 125 percent of the established federal poverty income guidelines; be eligible to work in the Unites States; and be currently unemployed. The SCSEP program is the largest program offered by Experience Works, and is funded under Title V of the Older Americans Act, as well as state and local grants. In the United States during the 2002-2003 program year, Experience Works trained and placed nearly 30,000 Americans 55 and older in jobs.

Northcott has served for just over a year as SCSEP assistant, and her territory covers Navarro and Freestone counties. Her applicants are given approximately four months to train at the government or non-profit agency where they are placed, then must search for a permanent job placement, which Northcott assists them with.

“I have people exit the program due to health or moving,” she said. “It’s been a challenge, and is a challenge each day.

“The most rewarding part is to bring someone hope — to let them know they are not ‘thrown away’ just because they’re older. It changes them, they ‘come back.’ I certainly did.”

Some clients seeking employment have physical limitations which may keep them from lifting, or standing for long periods. There is also the income ceiling, which limits how much a participant can earn.

“When I got here, I was a dowdy little old lady who was scared of her own shadow,” Northcott said. “I looked 80, and was afraid to talk to men. I wore my hair on top of my head. Now, I feel alive — and I’m not afraid to walk into an office and ask anything. I did a play for the first time in 45 years.”

Augustina “Tina” Lerma entered the program in September 2006. She had not been able to work because she was caring for a critically ill daughter. When her daughter passed away, Lerma found the Experience Works ad looking for people 55 and older, and contacted Northcott.

“Tina came in needing a job, and had done home health care,” Northcott said. “She wanted to try office work, and a plus for her is that she’s bilingual. We needed her! She is one of the few (if not the only) bilingual people at North Central Texas Workforce. She has learned a lot of new things, and really blossomed. She is very smart.”

Lerma agrees, saying she didn’t even know how to get in or out of a computer when she started. She is now doing the resource person job at Workforce that Northcott did when she first became involved with Experience Works.

“I feel more confident, and I’m able to speak to anyone who comes in,” Lerma said. “I’ve helped a lot of Spanish-speaking people. I’ve always been outgoing, and as I become more confident in my abilities, I know I am able to help more people.

“I just wish I could speak yet another language!”

Lerma also translates paperwork which is submitted in Spanish, and enjoys her new work environment. At first, she was terrified of the computer, but now operates it like a pro.

“Everybody is real friendly here,” Lerma said. “Betty has become like a sister to me. It is a calm, safe, steady, pleasant work environment. It’s comfortable here. This job has really helped me a lot. I needed some income, but mostly I needed to work, and I love this place.”

Experience Works and SCSEP are not part of North Central Texas Workforce, but are allowed to office in that building. Stuart Schoppert, center manager, is happy to have both Northcott and Lerma available.

“Betty could be the poster child for the Experience Works program,” Schoppert said. “She fits the profile perfectly. Her husband had passed away, she hadn’t been in the work force in years ... this program gives them a chance to see how business is done these days.

“Our center is very personalized,” Schoppert continued. “I love having Tina here because it enables us to give more personal service to all our clients.”

North Central Texas Workforce functions very differently than the old Texas Employment Commission, which was formerly in the same location. Workforce does not dispense unemployment money, nor does it handle unemployment benefits any longer. The entire focus of Workforce is to help people find work, and Schoppert teaches classes on doing job interviews and resume writing to reach that goal.

“We have people travel here from other areas because of our personalized service, and the way we treat people,” Schoppert said. “Before Tina came here, we were not taking the best care of our Hispanic clients. Even Betty had a hard time greeting the job seekers when they came in the door — and now she’s running the program.

“It works really well, from my perspective,” he said.

For more information about Experience Works or the Senior Community Service Employment Program, contact Communications at (703) 522-7272, or info@experienceworks.org, or call toll-free (877) 781-9953.


Deanna Plemons may be contacted via e-mail at deannap@corsicanadailysun.com

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