Service Finds Work for the Older Job Applicant

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Five years ago, 70-year-old Gloria King retired from her longtime government job distributing airline tickets and travel money to public workers.

At first, she busied herself by caring for her sick mother. But after a while, she found that gardening and cleaning were the only activities that filled her days.

Her mood soured.

"You feel like you're just not doing any good for anybody," the Thousand Oaks resident said.

So she decided to go back to work.

King, who lives in a mobile home park for senior citizens, took a part-time position in October as a job developer to help people like herself enjoy their retirement.

She works for the service that placed her, Action for Seniors, earning the minimum wage of $4.25 an hour for 20 hours of work a week.

"It does help to stretch from one month to the next," she said, adding that she lives on a fixed Social Security income.

"We have many qualified seniors in our files," she said.

In 1990, Action for Seniors placed 200 people older than 55 in entry-level and management positions such as clerk, typist, cashier, receptionist, office helper, retail sales worker and general manufacturing laborer throughout the county. The 8-year-old service has offices in Ventura, Oxnard and Thousand Oaks.

The number of applicants looking for work has doubled this year, but with the recession, Executive Director Barbara Davidson believes the service will place fewer seniors in jobs.

"I'm hoping it will pick up after the first of the year," she said.

Jobs pay $5 to $12 an hour, and most applicants are 57 to 64 years old, she said.

But recently, Action for Seniors placed a 72-year-old at a mortgage company as a bill collector.

She said the free service was also getting many calls for security guards, as the malls experience more crime during the holiday season.

Some people call and ask whether they should quit their jobs before applying to Action for Seniors. "Stay where you are," Davidson warns. "A bird in the hand is better than one in the bush."

Although the program's name advertises its purpose, Davidson has turned away some employers for discrimination.

A Westlake Village import-export company called, seeking an employee for two weeks--until the firm could find a younger adult to hire permanently.

"That's total ageism," she said.

By working for Action for Seniors, King feels she is helping herself and contributing to the welfare of others. "It's rewarding. Very rewarding," she said.

King said she knows some senior citizens who feel abandoned by their families, unloved and worthless.

"It's only because they don't get out and do something about it," she said, adding that the best thing for those people is to "get up and get your mind working again."

" . . . Nobody's going to hand you a loaf of bread that's buttered."

Action for Seniors also helped James Dugger, 61, of Thousand Oaks find a job.

Dugger, who has worked most of his life with computers, was forced out of his job four years ago by the city of Concord because of budget cuts. After a long employment search that involved moving to Florida and back, he found work in a store that eventually closed. Between jobs, he lived on his savings and on unemployment benefits.

Referred by Action for Seniors, Dugger landed a job as a bookkeeper at The Shell Center of Thousand Oaks, which sells camper shells and truck accessories. He makes $8.40 an hour, working 30 hours a week.

"Yeah, well, it's better than sitting around," he said. "A lot of times it's a pressure job, but it's OK."

He ranked the service far higher than the state employment office. "When I was with the state unemployment, they never even suggested a job," he said. "They never sent me anywhere for it. And Action for Seniors . . . they would call me and say at least there's a possibility, and suggest I go places."

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