For 14 years, 69-year old Washington Armstrong worked odd jobs and volunteer work. His primary focus: helping raise his grandson, who has cerebral palsy, while his daughter continued her military career.
“My daughter needed me. In 2004 I left (my job) and went to Fort Lewis, Washington, and I helped out my daughter,” Armstrong said.
Upon returning to his native city of Washington, D.C., Armstrong noticed an advertisement in an employment office about a program from the Jewish Council of the Aging (JCA).
“They had classes for seniors on how to approach world for seniors. I’m a certain (age) and they tell you what you’re going to do when you’re out there and how to approach it,” Armstrong said.
According to Yonette Williams, the Director of Employment Services at JCA, the program is called the Senior Community Service Employment Program, or SCSEP. The U.S. Department of Labor funds the program to provide job training for residents over 55 years old with low income.
“We provide an opportunity for seniors who are unemployed to gain skills and experience that they can use to build their resume for permanent jobs,” Williams said.
Williams also said the types of training they provide depend on the “intern’s” skill, experiences and goals, which they put together on the resident’s “Individual Employment Plan.”
“In that plan are educational goals, community service goals, job preparation and employment goals,” Williams said.
SCSEP has partnered with several companies for specific training. Williams mentioned as an example a company who trains interns who have worked with or are interested in working in IT.
“We have partnered with a company called Per Scholas and they provide for free 12 weeks of intense IT training that gives the students or the interns an A-plus certification,” Williams said.
To participate in the SCSEP, residents have to fill out a one-page application. Williams said after they receive the application, there is a prescreening done on the phone followed by an in-person interview
“It requires a complete transparency of one’s finances and work experience. That’s getting into the program, because we have to make sure that we have people that fall within the income limits,” Williams said.
Residents cannot make more than $14,850 if they are the only ones in the household in order to qualify for the program. They also cannot be employed when they enroll in the program.
Upon enrolling, Williams said they assess the intern’s skills and experiences. They give the resident a community service assignment based on the results of the assessment where they work for a nonprofit or government agency for a year or 1 ½ years.
“The community service assignment is a win-win situation because while the intern is providing community service they are also receiving training,” Williams said.
“The ideal scenario is that at the end of that year or 18 months, they have developed skills and have become reliable to that organization.”
Williams also said there are situations in which they will reach out to local employers they know to help the residents find a job.
In Armstrong’s case, upon finishing his community service assignment after 1 ½ years, a JCA staff member told him about an AlfredHouse Eldercare employment advertisement for a bus driver. He has been working there for the past three months.
“They told me about some advertisements and I applied for it. I’m working with elderly people. We take them out to dinner or lunch and recreation and we take them to the park and you just have to be patient. You’re getting older so you’re moving a lot slower so you just have to be patient,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said the reason he can’t settle for retirement is because the income will not be enough to support him.
“Things didn’t work out where they were supposed to. I’m under social security. So in the senior citizen building where I live, social security is not enough,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said he plans to continue working with AlfredHouse now that his daughter has finished her military career and can look after her son more.
“Everything worked out fine,” Armstrong said.
According to Karen Jackson-Knight, Certified Activity Director for AlfredHouse, though the organization is new to SCSEP, the program has been “great” in bringing Armstrong, also known as “Hawk,” to them.
“We very thankful for the SCSEP bringing Hawk to us. Hawk is awesome. Because of him, our residents can do scenic drives, go out to eat at local restaurants and go to places (like) the Montgomery County Fair. Everybody loves Hawk,” Jackson-Knight said.
Jackson-Knight said the parntership between AlfredHouse and JCA was “natural” given that the owner of AlfredHouse, Dr. Veena Alfred, has a close relationship with the Jewish Social Services Association (JSSA).
“The owner has worked with JSSA for many years and other agencies within. Plus we have an all-Jewish house and it is called Shalom. So working with the one Jewish house, we’ve had connections with the JSSA and all their programs,” Jackson-Knight said.
Though the two organizations have been in partnership for only five months, Jackson-Knight said she would go back to them for any candidates if they have another job opening.
“I would definitely go back to the SCSEP program for any new jobs that are open,” Jackson-Knight said.
Williams said since the beginning of the year, the program has helped 11 residents obtain full-time jobs.
“I think the most important thing is that we have several skilled interns. They are up to date on their computer skills (and) they provide a sense of stability because they’re not looking (to go) from job to job,” Williams said.
“These individuals are kind of on their last career, if you will, so they provide a sense of stability and a lifetime of knowledge. We have former lawyers, we have former physicians, we have former business owners (and) we have former engineers that want to prove themselves valuable in their community.”