Celebrated since the passage of the Older American Act in 1965, May is Older Americans Month, acknowledging older residents' contributions and encouraging them, through action, to remain healthy and active.

Originally known as Green Thumb, Experience Works was established by the Act as a nation-wide, charitable, and community-based organization. From its inception, the intent has been to provide training, employment, and community service to low-income, older Americans.

Across the country, Experience Works impacts over 50,000 people every year, coordinated by more than 300 employees in 30 states. The organization's stated beliefs are that "older people should have the opportunity to learn new skills and contribute to their communities throughout their lives" and "people who are productive and active throughout their lives will have better health, increased longevity, and a positive impact on their communities."

To those ends, its programs are offered to help mature individuals become employable, enter the workforce, move into new career fields, and earn a decent wage.

As part of the West Texas region, Experience Works operates an office in Brownwood, which currently serves 14 clients. Liz Cox, the employment and training coordinator for the entire region is based in the Brownwood office, but is responsible for many other offices, including west to El Paso in Hudspeth County and Terlingua in Brewster County. 

Cox explained the organization basically trains older workers in a variety of skills, including computer technology so prevalent in the current jobs market. She said, by providing in-house training and on-the-job training in the public sector, older workers are prepared to become productive and valuable employees in the private sector.

"Our clients can work at positions in any non-profit organization, or local, state, and federal government agencies," Cox said, "while Experience Works pays their salaries for six months."

Because these organizations and agencies are not required to pay salaries, both employer and employee benefit. Employees gain current experience to add to a resume and the employer is able to train a person, without expense, who may develop into a valuable asset as a paid employee, at the end of the training. This benefit allows the employer time to evaluate the employee and the employee to determine if they are suited for a potential paid position.

Recognizing the necessity of job specific training in many private sector jobs, Cox added that short term salary assistance is sometimes also available.

Klaus Szabo and Melissa Alward both began their involvement with Experience Works as clients, but have utilized their newly gained experience to become employees of the organization. Szabo works as the local job developer, providing training on basic computer skills, necessary even for completing online job applications, as well as matching employers with compatible employees. 

Alward originally worked for Salvation Army, as an Experience Works client, but now audits the organization's accounting and is in the process of transferring their paper files to their computers.

Rosanelle Jedlicka had a long career in sales and became a client to return to the workforce.

"I don't want to stay home," she said, "I enjoy working and talking to people."

She now works next door to the Experience Works office, as a receptionist for Central Texas Opportunities, helping connect low-income families to case-workers and available services, from which she said she gets much satisfaction.

On Monday afternoon, Szabo was helping fellow veterans Donald Engle and Michael Thomas learn the basic functionality of a computer. Both are currently working for the community garden and earning wages through Experience Works.

Thomas, 62, said he learned of Experience Works, while searching for employment at Texas Workforce. Since moving to Brownwood in 2002, Thomas has worked for Girling Health Care, where he helped patients with everyday tasks, and as a greeter at Walmart. According to Thomas, the most important thing about having a job is being a productive citizen, not reliant on entitlement programs. As to the type of employment he prefers,

"I'm an outdoors person," he said, "and I'd like to work outdoors."

Engle, 76, has over 40 years experience in carpentry. His preferred job is working outdoors, as well, in an environment like the state park, where he could apply the skills he developed over his life and the new ones he is learning in the program. He recognizes the importance of computers in today's job market.

"If you don't know anything about computers," he said, "you're on the outside of everything."

Engle said he stays physically fit by walking, but is discouraged about not being able to have a job to supplement his Social Security income, which he described as being insufficient to maintain even a subsistence level lifestyle.

"A little bit of wages makes a lot of difference," Engle said.

He added that he believed putting older people to work helps the overall economy, by providing even just a small disposable income.

Cox said they are currently driving to enroll more clients in the program, identify additional partner organizations and agencies to employ clients, and expand their volunteer base. Volunteers are needed to teach job skills, assist with creating resumes, and any of a number of important functions to make clients attractive to employers. 

For more information or to become a part of Experience Works in any of these capacities, call toll-free(855)307-1171, the local office at (325)641-1319, Liz Cox at (325)203-0536, or Klaus Szabo at (432)352-2106.