New beginnings

Employment program helps seniors return to the workforce with new skills after hard times of the recession

Joe Miller helps keep the shelves stocked at the Habitat For Humanity store. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Joe Miller helps keep the shelves stocked at the Habitat For Humanity store.

A truck driver, a wrangler and a jack-of-all trades all found a new start through a federal job training program for older workers.

Joe Miller, a former truck driver, lost his job during the recession and went on to battle a type of cancer associated with trucking. When he became well enough to return to work, he was looking to change fields and stay closer to home.

He found the Senior Community Service Employment Program, at the Cortez Workforce Center and the agency placed him with the Habitat for Humanity store in Cortez. While there he learned how to price retail products and how to use accounting software. The job gave him renewed confidence.

“If you go in there slump-shouldered, they aren’t going to look at you,” he said.

After six months, with Habitat for Humanity he was offered a job with The Geeks, a computer store in Cortez.

Judy Campbell manages the program in the region and places unemployed people 55 and older in jobs where they can learn new skills. The program is under the umbrella of Service, Employment and Redevelopment funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, which pays trainees minimum wage for maximum of 18 hours a week, while they work for nonprofits.

The program draws people who spent a lifetime working in a physically demanding field and those who can’t live on their fixed-income. Almost 100,000 people are trained every year across the country.

“People are trying to live off their social security and they realize they can’t,” Campbell said.

The program tends to have more participants from the Cortez area than Durango. But Campbell has noticed the number of phone calls seems to have slowed down in recent months, as the unemployment rate statewide has dropped.

In general, most people come to the program looking to learn computer skills.

Katherine Taugelchee, a Durango resident, spent most of her 57-years working three or four jobs at the same time. She was an overnight stocker, a waitress, and a janitor among other things.

It got harder for her to find work as the applications moved online and she struggled with computer basics. But working in Campbell’s as an office assistant since November has given her experience with Microsoft Word, Publisher and Excel.

“I was a zero on the computer, now I think I’m a whiz,” she said.

Every nonprofit who hosts a trainee must provide a short plan of the skills the person will learn that will help with their job search and future. The trainee also interviews with the nonprofit so that both can decide if it will be a good fit. While in the program, the trainee may be moved multiple times so they can have varied experiences and set new employment goals.

For Taugelchee, that goal is stability.

“I want to find a job where I stay for a long, long time,” Taugelchee said.

For Jn’e Delmonego, 61, the program helped her settle into a new community and find purpose. She came out to the Lizard Head Pass area from South Carolina in 2012 to be a wrangler and help pack hunters in and out of the wilderness. She had been promised steady employment. But at the end of the season, she was left without a job.

“SER was a saving grace for me,” she said.

Delmonego is now training with the Cortez Welcome Center, where she works with the inventory and helps tourists plan itineraries.

“It lets us bring what we know to the table,” she said.

Campbell is currently in need of nonprofits to host trainees.

For more information, call (970) 385-3995.

Taugelchee Enlargephoto