Loretta Boyd never imagined she would leave Colorado Springs. Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the city regularly tops lists of the best places to live in the United States. Her mom was there, her friends were there, and Loretta had a job she loved as a reading tutor in a big school district.
“And then,” she said, “my mother got sick.”
Loretta quit her job and spent the next few years as her mother’s full-time carer. Her children, who were adults by then, helped out as much as they could when they weren’t working. But even with their support, Loretta experienced physical and mental stress, as well as financial hardship and sleep deprivation. “The greatest [problem] was isolated from the rest of the world,” she adds, “and no time to take care of myself.
And yet, she said, it was worth it. “The time I spent with my mother…I wouldn’t have traded that.” And after he passed away in 2013, I thought, OK, well, I’m going to get back into the workforce.
It turned out to be a bigger challenge than she expected.
“There you go, the squad had changed!” she says. “It was so competitive, and I just couldn’t get a job. I came across some really, really tough times.
During her time as a caregiver, Loretta had to dip into her 401(k) to cover expenses. But now, still grieving the loss of her mother, she was forced to leave the home they had shared because she couldn’t afford to keep it. Unemployed, she says, “I had nothing else to use, so I had to short-sell the house. »
Her daughter had moved to Arizona and her son couldn’t take her in, so Loretta’s only option was transitional housing: temporary housing that gives displaced people a roof over their heads until they can move into permanent and affordable housing. But one of the requirements for transitional housing is to find gainful employment, something Loretta has been unable to do, despite her best efforts. She was kicked out of transitional housing with nowhere to go.
She thought she could stay with friends for a little while, but they couldn’t. “This is where you find out who your real friends are,” she says.
Expansion into new areas
With all of her options exhausted in Colorado Springs, Loretta made the difficult decision to move to Denver, about 70 miles and a world away from the hometown she knew and loved. She moved in with her brother and tried to navigate her new surroundings. It didn’t go well at first. “I was so upset,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I just can’t do that.
She managed to get a job at a daycare, but shortly after starting, she fell and injured her back. “It was a long journey,” she explains. “I had to see a doctor specializing in pain management and give myself injections in my back.” Just like that, she was unemployed again.
Once she started to feel better, Loretta visited a labor center to get help finding a job. She saw a flyer for the AARP Foundation Community Service and Senior Employment Program, or SCSEP, a work-based training program for very low-income adults over 55. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, SCSEP conducts training missions with local nonprofits and public agencies that help participants learn job skills and earn a decent income while giving back to their communities. . The vast majority of participants end up with permanent, unsubsidized employment.
Loretta already had basic computer skills, but SCSEP helped her expand her capabilities into new areas. “I was able to attend job fairs and teach a few courses,” she says. “I had no idea I could teach anyone anything!” Her computer skills have improved considerably and her various responsibilities have also helped her gain experience in customer service.
More than anything, however, Loretta has gained confidence. “I was still pretty stomped at the time,” she says, but found her footing thanks to “the trust my manager had in me…which she knew I was capable of and how she brought it out.”
The confidence to keep moving forward
Loretta was able to move into her home in 2018, and in January 2022, she landed a full-time job as a health screening officer for a company that operates multiple hospitals in the Denver area. But as coronavirus-related mandates were lifted, the need for health checkers diminished, and Loretta was fired just weeks after starting.
This time, however, she had the confidence to keep going. She let the human resources department know that she was interested in pursuing other opportunities within the company. And when a hospital recruiter offered her a position in accounts receivable, she took it, even though she had no accounting experience. The recruiter told him, “With the skills you have behind you, you can definitely do the job.” And, it turns out, she could.
When Loretta thinks about how much her life has improved more than a decade after leaving the workforce to care for her mother, she gives much of the credit to the AARP SCSEP Foundation.
“I was in a dark place,” she said. “But the SCSEP program helped save me. I don’t know where I would have been if I hadn’t found this program. That’s how much it meant to me. It transformed my life.
Learn more about the SCSEP Workforce Program
Read more stories about how our programs have helped people find hope and about the volunteers who give so much to help others.