The Catholic Commentator


August 26, 2009--Even though some economists talk about the recession coming to an end, thousands of people in this area do not have a job and have no way to pay their bills. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge has ways to help.
Wendy Hellinger is the senior employment outreach specialist at Catholic Charities. She focuses on getting jobs for people who are 55 and older, especially those who have poor employment prospects.

Catholic Charities employees Constance Houston and Garry Sam are employment services counselors, providing employment counseling for unemployed or underemployed clients of Catholic Charities with access to job training and also connecting them with potential employers.
Hellinger explains that the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) was authorized by Congress in 1965 with the passage of the Older Americans Act in Title V. This act access to the SCSEP services as well as other employment assistance available through the One-Stop Career Centers of the workforce investment system, according to Hellinger.
One-Stop Career Centers are designed to provide a full range of assistance to job seekers under one roof. Established under the Workforce Investment Act, the centers offer training referrals, career counseling, job listings and similar employment-related services. Customers can visit a center in person or connect to the center’s information through PC or kiosk remote access.
Initially SCSEP participants work an average of 20 hours a week and are paid the highest minimum wage or the prevailing wage. They are placed in a wide variety of community service activities at non-profit and public facilities, including day-care centers, senior centers, schools and hospitals, explains Hellinger of the potential. “It is intended that these community service experiences serve as a bridge to other employment positions that are not supported with federal funds.”
The funds available for the SCSEP are based on a formula: 22 percent of the funds are allocated among the states and 78 percent is provided to 18 national organization that compete to provide services.
To maximize resources for older workers, SCSEP grantees have established agreements with other service providers incuding One-Stop Career Centers, the private sector, adult education and literacy agencies. Recently, the federal government allocated $120 million nationwide in additional employment stimulus funds to the SCSEP. Hellinger tells many stories of men and women with varied work experience who have received job offers for part-time and permanent positions through her program.
An 81-year-old woman whose husband had been dead for six months came to Hellinger’s office. She had not worked outside of the home in 30 years. Through SCSEP she received training, and after a period of part-time work, she got a permanent job. “This really built her confidence,” said Hellinger.
A man who had been retired for 15 years went to work at the library. Hellinger said his work ethic, his patience and willingness to help library patrons made him so valuable to the library that he was offered a full-time job with benefits.
Hellinger relates the story of a man who had his own business but lost it because of the recession. She found a position for him within a couple of days of his visit to her office.
She reminds people looking for work that the job they are offered might not be on the level of responsibility or pay of where they have been. But, when you can’t pay the bills, you have to be realistic, she says very matter-of-factly, and take what is available.
“You never know where it might lead,” she adds cheerfully.
To be eligible for the SCSEP participants must be at least 55 and have a family income of no more than 25 percent over the federal poverty level. Enrollment priority is given to persons over age 60, veterans and qualifi ed spouses of veterans. Preference is given to minority, limited English-speaking and Native Americans persons who are eligible. Preference is also given to eligible individuals who have the greatest economic need.
Hellinger says she works closely with the Chamber of Commerce and Louisiana Association for non-Profit Organizations since the program she works with provides the money for non-profi ts and public facilities to hire these older workers on a temporary basis.
Participants in the SCSEP receive an Individual Employment Plan (IEP) development, orientation, community service placement, training specific to community service assignment, other training as identied in the IEP, supportive services, wages, fringe benefits, annual physicals,assistance in securing unsubsidized employment and access to local One-Stop Career Centers.
“This program is designed for folks ith difficulties or barriers to employment,” Hellinger says. These difficulties might be language, sight or Employment hearing. She adds that through Catholic Charities those participating in the SCSEP are able to get assistance learning English, getting hearing aids or glasses. Since many jobs require the employee to use a computer, Hellinger says Catholic Charities also has computer classes for people looking for employment.

To contact a Senior Employment Counselor, click here or call 225-336-8700. 

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