AARP program offers assistance to unemployed seniors in Isabella County

The AARP Foundation Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) has changed the odds for local unemployed seniors.

Operating out of the William and Janet Strickler Nonprofit Center in Mt. Pleasant, the program works to pair unemployed seniors with host agencies to gain work-based training and skill development through community service activities. The program has become crucial in fighting the lasting financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My outlook was bleak and there were many uncertainties,” says Elaine McKeown, a SCSEP volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Isabella County. “The personal impact of these businesses and people is astonishing.”

COVID-19 had taken everything away and left little hope, says McKeown. She found survival in SCSEP, signing up as soon as she became eligible at 55 years old. She says the program has left her humbled and feeling grateful for a second chance.

“I had been out of work for two years after the university I recruited for shut down without warning, and then COVID hit my age group,” says McKeown. “Many got sick while others like myself struggled to do essential work without normal staffing.”
The AARP Foundation Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) works out of the William and Janet Strickler Nonprofit Center in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

She gained experience at the Salvation Army and the SCSEP recruiting center, however, the pandemic and resulting closures brought her to the ReStore which remained open to serving the community.

AARP’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity Restore has successfully employed several Mt. Pleasant residents. Habitat is a global nonprofit housing organization, with the ReStore offering affordable furniture, home accessories, and building materials.

“We build hope, community, and a brighter tomorrow,” says Cynthia Clark, Operations Manager at Habitat for Humanity Isabella County. “We want everyone to have a safe and affordable place to call home.”

The sense of community at Habitat is especially heartwarming, says McKeown. The nonprofit became a second family with a common goal to help the community.

“The Habitat community is the most selfless group of people I’ve ever met,” says McKeown. “Cynthia Clark’s family even came in during COVID to volunteer and keep things running.”

Clark says stories like McKeown’s are the most rewarding aspect of her work and that SCSEP and Habitat’s missions are embodied in McKeown’s perseverance.

Older citizens are often overlooked and this offers them a sense of purpose,” says Clark. “Their drop of happiness radiates to everyone and creates a sense of joy to watch these seniors flourish and climb back up in life.”