By Gary A. Officer

We are a nation that enjoys a good celebration. We rightly celebrate our nation’s Veterans. We cheerfully celebrate the lives and legacies of past Presidents; and, with somber observance, each year we now celebrate the life of Dr. Martin King.

There’s also a group of Americans, who transcend race, religion and geography, with whom each of us, can relate: Our nation’s older Americans.

May is Older Americans Month, established in 1963 to highlight conditions of extreme poverty among our older citizens. The month serves as a reminder of the unique role they have in the daily lives of our families, communities and our nation’s economy.

According to the Administration on Community Living, when Older Americans month was first introduced by President Kennedy, only 17 million older Americans lived past their 65 birthday. About a third of those older Americans lived in poverty and, there were few programs to meet their needs. Many of those affected by poverty and exclusion emerged from a group we commonly refer to as our “greatest generation:” The men and women who had lived through the great depression, served in our nation’s armed forces and, helped to build our nation’s economy as civilians.

Successive Presidents have issued proclamations continuing May as Older Americans Month. At its core, the month provides a well-intended opportunity for us to celebrate our older neighbors and family members within communities across the nation. But we can do more than simply issue proclamations. We need to recognize the continued contributions of Older Americans within our nation’s economy. Indeed Older Americans – hereafter defined as 50 and older – are a demographic group that is vital to our nation’s economic success.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, those that are 50-years plus represent the largest segment of the workforce. Older workers bring high levels of skills and emotional maturity that are essential to the long-term well-being of their employers. Yet in spite of their obvious workforce value, Older Americans remain the victims of continued age discrimination, and are often denied opportunities for job openings and advancement.

One of the greatest barriers for workforce opportunity is the perception that older Americans lack the necessary technological skills to bring value into the workforce. Not true. At Senior Service America, we have found through a recent study of older workers in Tennessee that 87% of those that remain employed demonstrate high levels of technological proficiency if they remain in the workforce.

A recent study by AARP, “Getting Connected Older Americans Embrace Technology to Enhance Their Lives,” confirms that Americans over the age of 50 have fully embraced technology in their daily lives. According to a national survey, 90% of adults over age 50 own a computer, 70% have a smartphone and, over 40% own a tablet. Among adults over age 50, 90% say they use their smartphones to send instant messages, texts or emails and over 75% find them handy for getting directions or traffic information. This age group also uses them for purchasing apps, surfing the internet, getting news and accessing social media, the AARP research found.

The successful integration of older Americans into the Labor Force requires real employment opportunities. For low-income Americans the one program that serves this purpose is the Senior Community Service Employment Program or “SCSEP.” Established under Title V of the Older Americans Act, SCSEP is the nation’s only workforce development program targeted to our nation’s Older Workers. Though not in the headlines, SCSEP is also one of the crown jewels of the great society anti-poverty programs.

Through SCSEP, a former Harvard University instructor who had fallen onto hard times found an opportunity to engage in community service within her local anti-poverty agency in Eastern Massachusetts. She later became SCSEP Program Director at the agency.

Through SCSEP, a former government minister and refugee from war torn Liberia, was provided the opportunity to serve her new community in Belleville, Illinois. After a successful stint working with her host agency, Caritas Family Solutions, this person transitioned into the agency as a staffer – assisting those, like her, who are seeking the opportunity to re-enter the workforce.

Older Americans Month provides us with the opportunity to express our appreciation to the thousands of employers who continue to provide opportunities for our older workers, and to the many community based organizations who provide care for those in need.

Older Americans Month is a time to express our appreciation to the many who have served our nation. It is also a time, according to Merrill Lynch, for us to acknowledge Older Americans for contributing over $78 billion to the economy through acts of volunteerism.

Let us continue to honor and celebrate our nation’s older Americans. However, while doing so we should also recognize – through job action and real employment – their continued role as a vital segment of our nation’s economy.

By Cecilia Garcia

The very first Net Inclusion Summit was held last May in Kansas City, and several Senior Service America staff were there. Convened by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, the gathering brought together more than 200 various organizations from across the country working to ensure that all Americans can reap the benefits of 21st century communications technology. We have been working on digital inclusion for older Americans since 2009 and wanted to represent the voice and concerns of this important segment of the population at the summit.

We found ourselves in good company. Wanda Davis of the Ashbury Senior Computer Community Center attended our summit breakout session entitled, “Resources for Getting Seniors Online.” We highlighted Wanda’s senior center in an article published by the Benton Foundation’s Digital Beat Blog entitled, “Federal Funding Fosters Senior Digital Learning.” Also at the summit was Kami Griffith of Community Technology Network, whose work with the City of San Francisco’s Department on Aging was also featured in our article.

At our breakout session, Bob Harootyan, SSAI Manager of Research, presented our analysis of data published by the Pew Research Center, indicating that income and education are as important as age in determining whether a person is online or not. We first published this analysis in another Digital Beat Blog article, “Disadvantaged elders: Least likely to be online.” He also presented his findings on how digital learning in a cordial low-pressure learning environment promotes mental well-being, based on data from our Digital Inclusion Initiative.

Session participants told us that they planned to share our research and analysis as they reach out to funders to support digital literacy and computer training for older Americans.

With so much attention being paid to make sure children have Internet access at home for schoolwork, it’s easy for funders and policymakers to overlook the needs of senior citizens. In Kansas City we found that older Americans have some important allies across the country working to eliminate the digital divide for everyone.

Making SCSEP Visible

June 13, 2016

By Tony Sarmiento

If you’re a subgrantee of Senior Service America, Inc., you are focused every day on delivering programs that are efficient and effective. But you won’t be able to accomplish your goals unless older people in your community come to your door.

Some of that happens already because more older Americans are looking for work today more than ever. But many more people could take advantage of SCSEP and your other programs if they only knew about them.

Here are some hints about how and where to generate publicity. These ideas are not foolproof; no media strategy ever is. But they are designed to reach the people who can benefit most from your programs.

NEWSPAPERS: They are still around, and they are particularly alert to local stories if they are small or small-ish. Don’t just mail in a press release. Call the primary local columnist (every paper has one). He or she will always be looking for stories about your community, which are exactly what you can provide.

TELEVISION: Local TV stations often are desperate for human-interest stories on weekends. You’ve got plenty of them. Call the assignment desk, or a reporter you might have seen on the screen.

RADIO: Three avenues are talk shows, all-news stations and public radio. Don’t scoff at the staying power of radio. Research shows that even a one-time “listen” to a radio story stays with a person longer than a TV story.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook or Twitter alone will accomplish very little, but using one or both can support your other visibility efforts. While you might reach more older adults on Facebook, you might reach more reporters on Twitter.

ETHNIC NEWS MEDIA. Over 57 million ethnic adults in the U.S. can be reached through 3000+ ethnic media outlets that include newspapers, radio/TV, and social media. For more information about this fastest growing sector of American journalism, go to New America Media.

We know that for every SCSEP participant, there are another 100 more older workers who are eligible for our program. Let’s do our best to make your program visible in your community.