Evealean Stewart could easily (and happily) be the poster child for Chattanooga Goodwill’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). She minces no words: “That program is my heart.”
Goodwill’s SCSEP is a community service and work-based job training program for older Americans. Participants must be 55 years or older and, for the Chattanooga program, they must live in Hamilton, Bradley, McMinn, Meigs, Rhea or Polk county. Funded through Department of Labor grant monies, the program has been in operation since 2013 at Chattanooga Goodwill, one of only 20 Goodwill agencies to host SCSEP. SCSEP provides paid job training and job placement assistance to lower income older Americans.
Today, Evealean, 71, is a property manager for Dodson Avenue Properties and for complexes in Hill City and St. Elmo. With 21 years of experience at the Chattanooga Housing Authority, several years’ experience at Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE) and with more certifications than she can name, Evealean had built a good resume since moving to Chattanooga in 1984.
That is until 2009 when, under new leadership, CNE made some staff changes – and Evealean was one of those changes. She was terminated. Not ready to retire, Evealean sent out resumes and procured interviews. But, she said, “The first thing they did was look at was my white hair.”
There were no job offers.
Then Evealean heard about SCSEP. She inquired, filled out the forms and, before she knew it, she was at work in the SCSEP office in the Goodwill building on Dodds Avenue. In her four years at Goodwill, she acquired new computer skills, represented SCSEP at job fairs, developed job plans for new SCSEP participants, placed participants with host agencies, coordinated agency meetings and so much more.
“I was determined to get all I could out of that experience,” she said. And she did.
As she neared the end of her SCSEP term, she nervously brushed up her resume – again – and started looking for work. One place she looked was Pacific Properties. And this time the white hair was a non-issue. She interviewed on a Saturday, and by Tuesday, she had an offer. She credits SCSEP for her success.
“At the end, I could have directed that program. That’s how much I learned. (SCSEP) is the best program for anyone who wants to train and refresh skills. It gives you the confidence to get a job, if that’s what you want,” she explains. “That’s what I love about the program. It’s designed to help people, and it can, if they follow the program.”
And she wonders what will happen if, as proposed under the current federal budget proposal, SCSEP loses grant funding and can no longer operate. SCSEP is the only federal workforce program that targets older job seekers with low incomes and that is designed to help older Americans find work.
“It’s an important program to have to help someone get job training at an older age. Don’t sell us short because we’re older. Give us a chance because we can still do it.”
Evealean Stewart, SCSEP poster person, is proof of that.