Missouri program pays seniors to go back to work

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Don't call the Rev. Raymond Pool a retired preacher.

"I'm a retired pastor," Pool said. "A preacher never retires."

In February 2003, Pool decided to end his 42-year career as a minister. He decided it was time to leave the pressures of the job, move into a small house on Good Hope Street in Cape Girardeau, and settle into a peaceful retirement of vacations, fishing and occasional fill-ins for local pastors. Those hopes didn't last long.

"We probably drew enough Social Security to pay our bills and just live," Pool said. "But what joy is there in just living when you have to scratch?"

After five months of scratching out a living with Social Security, Pool went to see one of the few people in Cape Girardeau he knew, Good Hope Street neighbor Alvina Glover. Glover works at the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging in Cape Girardeau. There, she is the local director of Missouri's Senior Employment Program, a federally funded program that helps senior citizens like Pool get back into the work force.

"Sometimes Social Security is just not enough," Glover said. "If a person's willing to work and try something new, we're willing to train them."

The program takes applicants age 55 and older with low household income and places them in part-time positions at nonprofit organizations. Many of the agencies are community service organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. The seniors work 20 hours a week for minimum wage, paid out of the Senior Employment Program's budget, while receiving on-the-job training. The idea is to get those organizations to hire them on full time. Similar programs exist in all 50 states.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers over 55 made up 13 percent of the work force in 2000. But that number is rising and is expected to increase to as much as 20 percent as baby boomers age.

After being accepted to the program last summer, Pool started at VIP Industries, a nonprofit corporation established for the employment of area's handicapped. He began as a custodian, but after six months he was hired on as a floor supervisor and a driver.

Pool is a bit of a rarity by getting hired on so quickly. Glover said that every year she has a budget for 37 applicants to start the program. She said her annual goal for full-time placement is seven.

Saundra O'Loughlin is one of the hopefuls currently in the program. She is working as Glover's assistant at the Area Agency on Aging. Although she has never retired, she got in the program two months ago to supplement her income from Chateau Girardeau, where she works as a part-time receptionist. She hopes that the agency can find the funding to hire her full time, or that they can find her another placement somewhere else.

As a stipulation of the program, O'Loughlin has to continue actively looking for another job while in the program. Also, she can stay part time at the Agency on Aging for three years without finding placement. After that time, program participants are moved to one of the other 33 participating agencies in Glover's region, which includes Cape Girardeau, St. Genevieve, Perry and St. Francois counties.

"It's hard for older people to get out there and get a job," O'Loughlin said. "This program really helps."

Although it may be hard for seniors to get their feet in the door, Glover said that the agencies that have hired her program participants have raved to her about the benefits of hiring older workers.

"A lot of them tell me they'd never consider hiring anyone but an older person," Glover said. Employers notice a stronger work ethic in seniors, who seem to appreciate the job more, she said.

"They come to work on time every day, never call in sick and they aren't as lazy as some of the younger workers," Glover said.

Pool definitely isn't complaining. He said his job driving workers to and from work has made him more familiar with his new home of Cape Girardeau. He also said that to him, his job is more important that just a paycheck. The 35 hours a week he spends working at VIP feel like a natural continuation of his previous career as a pastor.

"There's the same satisfaction that you're helping people who need help," Pool said. "I feel like I'm fulfilling a purpose."


335-6611, extension 137

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