Before beginning their jobs at Craig's Independent Life Center, neither Jean Son nor Maggie Holland knew much about operating computers.
Since then, both senior citizens have broken through the technology barrier and learned to send e-mail and use several computer programs.
Son and Holland's work and education has been made possible through Rocky Mountain Service Employment Redevelopment, a federally funded program that employs and trains low-income senior citizens in secretarial work. The program provides ILC with three staff members and the Craig Chamber of Commerce with two staff members.
"They're really essential. That's a significant chunk of our budget that we don't have to support," said Evelyn Tileston, executive director of ILC.
Most of the staff members at ILC are disabled in some way. For example, the executive director is visually impaired. The staff works to empower other individuals who are disabled to live on their own. But as a secondary goal, ILC strives to enable senior citizens to live independently.
Neither Holland nor Son is disabled, but they say the job has helped them greatly.
The SER employees work as receptionists, answering phones, making copies and filing paperwork. Last year, Son prepared ILC's files for a state-required audit.
Tileston estimated that each SER employee saves ILC about $20,000 annually.
But the program is an economic boon for participants, as well. The money the seniors earn while working for Rocky Mountain SER is not counted as income when they apply for other benefits or support, such as housing subsidies or Social Security disability income, which means they aren't in danger of losing other forms of financial support.
Son most recently worked at the Museum of Northwest Colorado. She wasn't ready to retire. Rocky Mountain SER enabled her to work 20 hours a week and supplement her income while learning new skills.
"When you're low-income, your obligations go on. This has helped considerably. It gets us out and makes us feel like we're contributing to the community," Son said.
"I've always enjoyed working with people, but I've been out of the work force for quite a few years," Holland said.
She re-entered the work force last month. Rocky Mountain SER allowed her to break back into work slowly.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at email@example.com.