As the pandemic loosens its grip on our country, a federal program that trains seniors to re-enter the workforce is expanding in four Kentucky counties.
Ten nonprofit organizations in Daviess, Henderson, Hopkins and Mclean counties are currently active in the federal Community Services Senior Citizens Employment Program, or SCSEP.
Adults 55 and older are paid $7.25 an hour, up to 20 hours a week, while training at schools, food banks, youth programs and centers for the elderly.
At Hopkins County Senior Center in Madisonville, WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller discovered how SCSEP training led to permanent employment for a woman who traveled four thousand miles to settle in Kentucky and how the program has helped deepen his roots in his community.
It’s a typical Tuesday at the Madisonville senior center, with people chatting and having lunch. Also typical is that staff member Faith Polley is constantly on the move.
She comes out of the office where she does clerical work to help the center coordinator. She helps at the serving table, scoops some yoghurt and garnishes it with fruit. Then she prepares bingo, one of the many activities she helps coordinate.
“I love it. I’ve always been the kind of person who wanted to help people, all my life,” Polley said. “And then I don’t have a family here. So, you know, I don’t have a grandmother here. I don’t have a mother here. I don’t have a father here. So they take the place of all the others, all.
She pulled out her own roots years ago to plant new ones in Kentucky.
“Actually, I moved from Hawaii. Born and raised there. I came here in 1996,” Polley said. “I came here originally because I was going to be on vacation.”
She came from Hawaii to Madisonville, Kentucky for a vacation? How did she choose Madisonville?
“Because that’s where my ex-husband’s family is from here,” she said.
Polley lives with her daughter and granddaughter in Madisonville and said her job at the senior center is more than just a job.
“It’s like a family unit here for me,” Polley said. “You know, you have grandmothers. We have a 90-year-old lady here and we recently had a birthday party for her. So she’s like my great-grandmother.”
“I don’t have a family here. So, you know, I don’t have a grandmother here. I don’t have a mother here. I don’t have a father here. So they take the place of everyone, everyone.”
Polley has worked with special needs children in Hawaii. When she arrived in Kentucky, she worked at Kroger for 20 years, including some years in customer service.
“Then I retired and stayed home for two years and was bored,” Polley said.
She first came to the senior center as a volunteer and heard about the SCSEP program. She perfected her computer and administrative skills during three years of training.
As she was about to be transferred to another site for more training,
The center’s senior coordinator, Wendy Simms, said she stepped in because she didn’t want to let Polley go.
“I begged and begged her, because I thought they were going to move her. And I said, ‘No, we want you here,'” Simms said.
Because she is a good worker and she interacts very well with the elderly,
So here is…”
Now Polley, who is 59, is a permanent employee.
SCSEP Kentucky Employment Specialist Alyssa Warner is at the Madisonville Senior Center today. She said Faith Polley is a great role model for the SCSEP program because she had work experience and computer skills, and with training she landed a new job she loves.
Warner said the SCSEP program works with a wide range of skill levels.
“I had a lady, she honestly thought the computer would explode if she turned it on,” Warner said.
The SCSEP Regional Program is headquartered at Goodwill in Evansville, Indiana.
Warner is based at Goodwill in Owensboro, Kentucky. She says computer skills are a major part of the training program.
“In my office in Owensboro, we have a small lab that our participants can use. And we have, we call it ‘Lend Laptop’ and I have four,” Warner said. “So they’ll get the laptop and a little hotspot that they’ll take, and we’ll get them show how to use it. And they can borrow the computer for up to three months.
Warner said she sees people benefiting from the program in many ways.
“You work, you know, for 50 years and then you sit at home. It’s lonely and they’re depressed. Some of them had to come out of retirement because they can’t pay their bills “Warner said. “So this program helps them get the skills they need or overcome the ageism and the stigma that comes with it.”
With 16 people currently in training, and a maximum of 33 in management
program, Warner is looking for 17 older adults who want to improve their skills and hopefully, like Faith Polley, land a new job they love.