Gloria Santos is used to working hard and doing whatever it takes to get by. No matter the challenge, she finds a way to thrive.
Whether it was picking seasonal crops as a child after migrating from Mexico, forgoing high school to babysit eight younger siblings so her parents could work, or earning a GED and starting her own business while pregnant and raising a child, she has never shied from a challenge.
But when she was forced to close that business – a Dallas radiology temp agency she had run successfully for 25 years – when clinics pulled back in the wake of the 2008 recession, that’s when she experienced her first waves of self-doubt.
She had no college degree and, remarkably, absolutely no computer skills. Yet she had managed to place as many as 150 radiology techs on job assignments in a single week, with extensive paper records, a fax machine, pager, and a cellphone the size of a shoebox.
“We lost thousands and thousands of dollars, as clinics and hospitals closed down without paying us,” she said. “How could we recuperate from that? Here I am without a job and I’m thinking, ‘Now what I do?’”
In today’s Internet-based economy, basic computer skills are a requirement for entry to the workforce. But, Gloria says, “I was totally afraid of computers; I would not even touch them with a 10-foot pole! I could hear my husband saying ‘My computer has a virus,’ and usually you only hear that about people. So I didn’t want to get close to it!”
AARP Foundation’s Back to Work 50+ program is designed to help out of work and underprepared older Americans like 61-year-old Gloria adapt to today’s workforce, by providing coaching, mentoring and training for in-demand jobs.
In some instances, the program is able to provide scholarships to allow recipients to pursue classes, certifications and licenses at community colleges.
After working as a nanny on a temp basis, Gloria registered for the orientation session at Tarrant County College, and was the first person to show up that day – resume in hand. She applied for an $1,800 scholarship to take classes toward office assistant certifications.
Because she was there early, she happened to meet Debra Sykes-West, the woman running the college’s Plus 50 program, funded in part by AARP Foundation.
“She said she had been looking for someone who was bilingual to help her around the office part-time, and I told her I would love to work for her,” even though the Plus 50 program was designed to place people in other jobs around the Dallas Metroplex. “But the first thing I had to tell her was ‘Here’s how much I know about computers: zero.’ I just know there’s a computer and a mouse.”
Gloria’s computer classes started a month later, providing her the skills she needs to build spreadsheets and databases to keep track of the students, job openings and job candidates in the Plus 50 program.
Gloria plans to earn additional certifications, and has applied for an additional scholarship from the school to do so. “I am proud of myself, and I always push my family to not stop there and to just continue growing,” she said. “I am really excited that the more I take classes, I learn a little more,” she said.
Debra describes Gloria as “an exceptional role model and a fierce champion of the AARP Back to Work 50+ program” and the opportunities it provides.
“I am so excited about the program,” Gloria said. “I encourage everyone who calls here to sign up for the program, because it is a huge help. If it wasn’t for this opportunity, I wouldn’t be learning computers and the Internet.”
Call 855-220-9731 today to order AARP Foundation’s free job search guide and find out if there’s a Smart Strategies for 50+ Jobseekers Workshop near you.