At Senior Service America, Inc., between 60 and 70 percent of our SCSEP participants are women. Like our male participants, many of these women have done years of work requiring great physical stamina. They have stood on hard floors, in factories and behind cash registers. They have lifted and hauled heavy boxes and packages.
As the years passed, many acquired back injuries and arthritis. Add in all of life’s other disruptions—including divorce or time off from the workforce to nurse a family member’s illness—and even if these women could get the kind of work they’d done before, they wouldn’t physically be able to do it.
Our Digital Inclusion Initiative (DII) was designed with absolutely new computer learners in mind, including new learners who need computer skills to job hunt. But in practice it is also helping some SCSEP participants who already have fairly good computer skills and hope that by sharpening or expanding them, they will land the job that uses their brains, not brawn.
When SCSEP participant Donna Camp first connected with Alexian Brothers Senior Neighbors—our Chattanooga, Tenn., subgrantee that opened one of the first four (DII) projects in October 2009—she was asked whether she wanted computer training.
Indeed Donna did.
My work has been physical, mostly in plant nurseries, she explains.
And as I get older, I can’t do that kind of work anymore.
But nobody needed to coach Donna in learning how to do basic emailing and Web searches. She’d taught herself that a decade ago. And she had her own computer at home.
What Donna very much wanted to learn was the office suite document and spreadsheet programs that she figures she needs to compete for office jobs.
I think I would be fine with any kind of data entry job, and all the entry-level jobs I’ve seen require knowledge of those programs now, she says.
Donna was hoping that her first part-time, minimum-wage SCSEP assignment would be in a host agency’s office, so that she might have an opportunity to improve her computer skills on the job.
But Donna wasn’t about to be picky when it came to contributing to the community while earning some income. She jumped at the first very assignment that came up—straightening merchandise at a Salvation Army store, more manual labor.
I like the people at the Salvation Army and I appreciate that I was hired (in my service community assignment) right away, Donna says.
I have Senior Neighbors to thank for that. I was having trouble finding a job at 57.
Meanwhile, Alexian Brothers Senior Neighbors DII coach coordinator Omaira Gould believes that Donna may make a good peer coach in a growing DII program. To keep the option open, Donna is assigned one hour weekly to Alexian Brothers peer coach and fellow SCSEP participant Willie Ford.
Willie tells me to pay attention and be patient so that I too can learn how to coach. Donna says.
I can picture myself as a peer coach. Being able to assist others in learning something new is a useful skill. Meanwhile, she adds,
I can brush up my own computer skills that are already pretty good.
Donna is now exploring classes in office suite and spreadsheet programs. If she can’t find free classes, she’ll have to teach herself the programs, she says. That’s no easy task, but Donna is ready to tackle it if she must.
In a DII session, when I see how easy it is for others to learn something new, that gives me the encouragement I need, she explains.
I tell myself I can do it too.
In general, Donna feels more
confident and hopeful since she began participating in SCSEP and DII. I get up in the morning feeling better about life, having the job at the Salvation Army and acquiring new computer knowledge, she says.
And Donna frequently advises friends and acquaintances to sign up for DII sessions, to commence their own journey across the digital divide. Some are retired, and some are job-hunting, and all would benefit from DII, she says.
One is a 62-year-old retired man taking care of his elderly mother, according to Donna.
He is always studying the latest information in health insurance and what his mother needs, and he could speed up that process a lot by getting online.
Another individual, with a background in radio announcing, is job-hunting again after losing a retail job at 55.
He is at a loss because he doesn’t have computer skills, Donna said.
I told him about what I was doing, and he said he might like to do something like that.
I think he’s a little bit afraid that he might not be able to master it. I told him he’s a smart person, and he doesn’t need to be afraid.