For nearly two decades, Jackie Nance worked her way through a variety of jobs in the hotel/hospitality industry. Coffee break attendant. Restaurant server. Kitchen manager. Conference center manager.
“I started from the bottom and worked my way up,” said Nance, a Concord resident.
But in 2009, Nance lost the career that was supposed to carry her through retirement.
Nance, who says she’s “over 55,” was concerned that she’d have a hard time finding another job, let alone career, at that stage of her life. “I thought I’d be rejected everywhere,” she said.
Her situation isn’t unique.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), about 40 percent of people ages 55 and older were working or actively looking for work in 2014, the most recent statistics available. That number — called the labor force participation rate — is expected to increase fastest for the older segments of the population through 2024, according to the BLS.
In other words, more and more people are working into their later years.
Longing to help others
From the time she was laid off, Nance knew she wanted to do something in the human services field. She became involved in the lay council at her church, and that led her to take human services classes at Central Piedmont Community College.
Going back to school was difficult at first, she said, but “once I got into the groove, it was good because I was learning so much about myself and how I could help other people.”
Nance worked a variety of temporary jobs to make ends meet before ending up at the NC Works Career Center, where she learned about the federal Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).
The program is part of the Older Americans Act and “provides unemployed, low-income adults 55 years and older with part-time jobs working in local nonprofit, government and faith-based agencies providing services in the community,” according to the organization.
“It’s all about giving you skills to be competitive in the workplace,” Nance said. “Once you’re in the program, they teach you everything from resume writing to proper business attire, interview techniques and more.”
Finding the way ‘home’
She found work with the Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency, an organization that “provides services for individuals, children and families to enhance their quality of life and promote opportunities for self-sufficiency.”
The job, which operates out of the NC Works Career Center in Concord, was a perfect fit. “It just felt like home,” she said. “In a lot of ways, being out of work was my training for this. It helps me be a little more sensitive to people coming in for help.”
She tells a story about one client who told her he was too old to learn computers. “Then he told me his age, and I just whispered, ‘I’m a little older than you, and if I can get it, you can too.’” The man looked at Nance with a smile and promised — no more complaints.
When asked about advice for someone experiencing what she went through, Nance said the most important thing is to deal with your feelings upfront.
“There’s going to be disappointment and hurt, but you have to deal with it in order to move on. You have to know that you’re going to come out on the other side. It’s not easy, but once I realized that it was an opportunity rather than a problem, that’s when I really turned the corner.
“At first I kept thinking ‘God, why did you bring me this far for me to just lose my job,’ but now I see that it was a great change and a humbling experience for me,” Nance said. “And now I can use this experience to help others as well as my family.”
Read more in Journeys
This article is taken from Journeys Magazine Fall 2018. Flip through the digital edition or pick up a copy at any County facility, including the Gov Center, senior centers, libraries and Cooperative Extension office.