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Working in the golden years

This is the second of three stories examining the business of aging. The final story runs in Friday’s Gazette and looks at how to prepare your finances as you grow older.

Marva Hicks retired from her 27-year career at Verizon very deliberately. She left the day she turned 591/2 because it was when she would continue receiving her full health insurance benefits.

But after “sitting on my fanny and enjoying life” for a few years, boredom set it, she said.

So, she re-entered the work force.

More West Virginians are choosing to work longer. The share of workers in the Mountain State 65 and older increased from about 2.1 percent to 2.5 percent between 1997 and 2002, according to the report “A Profile of Older Workers in West Virginia” issued by the U.S. Census Bureau in July.

Some seniors are going back to work to cope with the increasing costs of prescription drugs and health insurance. Plus, they have a strong work ethic, the desire for a little extra cash and are bored with retirement, experts say.

Hicks didn’t intend to work after retiring.

After working for at least three decades, she figured it was her time to rest.

That was four years ago.

Now, she works part time as a receptionist at the Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center on Charleston’s West Side. She answers phones and questions from people filtering in and out of the building.

She’s been there since June 2003.

“I wanted to do something to get out of the house instead of getting old and feeling all my aches and pains,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Senior Community Service Employment Program funds her job. The program provides older, low-income people with federally subsidized, part-time jobs and develops new skills and talents toward new careers.

Karen Edwards of the Putnam County Aging Program has coordinated the senior training program for Boone, Clay, Kanawha and Putnam counties for 12 years.

Of her clients, 16 are between 55 and 64 years old. The other 50 are 65 and older.

When she started her job, most people in the program were 60 to 64.

The senior employment program has been in West Virginia since the mid-1970s and serves close to 900 seniors, said Chuck Conroy, director of special projects with the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services.

Program participants must be 55 or older and fall at or below 125 percent of the poverty level.

A family of one could only earn a maximum of $11,637 a year to qualify.

The Department of Labor pays each senior $5.15 an hour for up to 20 hours of work. The program’s goal is for the seniors’ employer to eventually pay the wages, instead of the government, Conroy said.

Edwards aims for 14 of these transitions a year. So far, she’s been successful, she said.

She places her clients in jobs with nonprofit organizations, because the groups have limited budgets and are community oriented.

Some of her clients hold clerical jobs, cook meals at senior nutrition centers or work in day-care centers.

Geraldine Bratchet, 67, works 20 hours a week at the YWCA’s Past and Present Clothing Store in Charleston’s East End. She sorts and steams the donated clothes and then hangs them on the racks.

Bratchet has worked at the shop for three years. She held various jobs throughout her working life and retired from Shawnee Hills five years ago after working there for about a decade.

Like Hicks, Bratchet tired of sitting around, being bored.

“So, I decided to take on this little job and make a little money,” she said.

Bratchet receives a Social Security check and uses the money she earns at the store for extras like visiting two of her children who live in North Carolina and spoiling her grandchildren and great-grandchild.

Like Hicks, Bratchet never planned on working after retiring.

“You don’t get enough money, so you have to get something else,” she said. “It’s terrible — you retire and still have to work.”

If a person qualifies for the Senior Community Service Employment Program, they can also qualify for the Senior Works program. The Human Resource Development Foundation of Morgantown runs the program and serves seniors in the following counties: Calhoun, Clay, Jackson, Mason, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Wirt or Wood.

“This is a steppingstone to get them from where they’ve been in the public sector into the private sector,” said Carol Feathers, the foundation’s director of education, employment and training programs.

Seniors must be enrolled with the community service employment program for at least two weeks and have gained job skills. Then, Senior Works places them with a private employer. The program pays the employer for half or all of the senior’s wages.

Workers receive the prevailing wage and there’s no limit to the number of hours seniors can work. Many of the seniors go into retail and health-related fields, Feathers said.

There are 55 people in the program and the foundation just received a federal grant to pay for 50 more. This program is the only one like it in the state, Feathers said.

Plus, under the new grant, seniors will receive training in basic computer skills, résumé writing and basic academics, if needed.

Because Senior Works and the Senior Community Service Employment Program have strict age and income guidelines, Conroy and Edwards refer seniors who make too much money to one of the state’s employment offices.

Statewide, there are 2,316 people 65 and older who receive job search or résumé assistance through the Governor’s Workforce Investment Division, said Director David Lieving.

Plus, 145 receive job-training services through the division. Some of the training received includes commercial vehicle training, computer and information sciences, general business management and administrative services and general office and clerical training.

Some of the popular fields for West Virginia seniors include health, business and social services and restaurants, according to the Census report released in July.

Edwards’ clients often ask her to find them a job in an office or day-care center rather than in sales or fast food. About 90 percent of her clients are women, many of whom are widows who are having a tough time making ends meet.

Hicks’ husband of 45 years died two and a half years ago. It was a big adjustment going from two incomes to one, she said.

She’ll probably retire for a second time one day, but for now, she’s content.

“It doesn’t bother me at all to work a half-day,” she said. “I like it. I can do anything I want to do — there’s no pressure.”

To contact the Senior Community Service Employment Program, call Karen Edwards at 755-2385.

To learn about jobs and job training programs in your area, visit Workforce West Virginia’s Web site at https://www.work

forcewv.org or call (877) 967-5498 for a list of the One-Stop Centers in the state.

To contact Senior Works, call Rebecca Laughery at (888) 273-0323.

To contact staff writer Jennifer Ginsberg, use e-mail or call 348-5195.


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