Finding Reason and Helping Others: Donald’s Story

We’ve all heard that we must take care of ourselves before we can help others. Vantage’s SCSEP Digital Learner Donald understands this, as he has faced his own challenges with grace and determination, then turned those experiences into tools to help others. See how he is using his new digital skillset to impact his community and start new chapters.

Meet SCSEP Digital Learner Donald

Donald is a Cincinnati, Ohio native and at the time of writing, he is 68 years old. He has seen his fair share of challenges throughout life but has never let them stop him from moving forward. In fact, they have played a role in shaping the man he is today and the many lives he has positively impacted along the way.

Donald earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Science from Ohio University and was a drug counselor for 17 years. He worked with individuals beginning their recovery and those on probation at the Cincinnati Drop-in Center, Kentucky Transitions, and organizations in Middletown, Ohio.

The work was personal to him as he had struggled with addiction in his younger years. Working through his recovery, he was inspired to help others on similar paths to healthier lives. January 4th, 2023 marks Donald’s 20th anniversary of being clean. Since then, he has touched the lives of hundreds of people and continues to sponsor and mentor today.

As Donald grew older, he experienced some health issues that put his career on pause. When he learned he needed to start dialysis, the stress of counseling and focusing on his health became too much. He decided to take some time to care for himself after caring for others for so long.

Donald has been through four-and-a-half years of dialysis treatments. He also experienced three heart attacks and blockages during that time. In April 2021, he received a new kidney. This was followed by complications due to rejection and bacterial infections.

Since then, Donald has been on the mend and is getting healthier every day. When he regained some strength, he was ready to start his next chapter and get back into the workforce, but that process was harder than ever before. Ageism, lack of recent work experience, and lack of digital skills made it hard for Donald to secure a job.

Finding Vantage’s SCSEP job training program

While looking for his next work opportunity, Donald was introduced to Vantage’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) through a friend from church who was participating as a job seeker. Donald’s friend encouraged him to enroll in the program and he soon began training alongside him with local school projects and recreation center programs.

Funded by the Department of Labor and Ohio Department of Aging, Vantage’s Senior Community Service Employment Program provides paid, hands-on training to job seekers age 55 and older who are trying to re-enter the workforce.

Vantage provides the SCSEP program in 38 Ohio counties to hundreds of older job seekers each year. By empowering older adults with the skills and confidence they need to reach their career goals, the program contributes to healthier local economies and more independent, self-sufficient community members across the state.

Donald’s training position allowed him to train for employment and gain new skills while being treated with dialysis. His responsibilities included answering phones and relaying messages. The program was able to accommodate his medical needs as he received a new kidney.

When the pandemic began, all SCSEP job seekers, including Donald, were sent home to train remotely. Because of his vulnerable immune system, Donald felt scared and isolated as the world navigated COVID-19.  

When job seekers returned to their training sites and Donald was feeling better, he began in-person training once again. He worked on growing his skillset and refining his goals, all while pursuing his passion for helping others.

“God brought me through all of this for a reason – so that I could help others,” said Donald. “A lot of older people got a raw deal in the last couple of years. A lot of them lost their lost jobs because of the pandemic and it’s hard to get back into the workforce. I recommended Vantage’s SCSEP program to everyone I could. I got a lot out of it, and a lot of other people did too.”

Donald notes that his Regional Workforce Development Director Mercedes Bello understood his health conditions. She helped him with basic computer skills and encouraged him to take them a step further with Vantage’s Digital Inclusion program.

Digital Inclusion training

The Digital Inclusion program improves digital access and computer competencies of older Ohioans through access to digital devices and personalized, one-on-one coaching sessions from trained digital navigators in partnership with the Ohio Department of Aging.

Digital training modules provide a basic skill set that helps older job seekers be more competitive in today’s market. Some of the skill-tested certifications available include Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), Google Docs, navigating the internet, email etiquette, career searching, and social media. With this digital training as their foundation, job seekers can confidently practice their new skills at their training sites and prepare themselves for employment in the modern workforce. By including these skill-tested certifications on their resume, job seekers demonstrate to potential employers that they have digital aptitude and that they’re committed to lifelong learning.

Donald was limited in the kinds of jobs he could do because of his health conditions. But he is motivated to work, and he COULD work with computers and communication networks.  

Donald trained one-on-one with a Digital Navigator for 10 weeks. He improved his workplace-related digital skills such as Microsoft Office, data entry, emails, job searching, and more.

“I thought the virtual, individual learning aspect was very beneficial,” said Donald. “I know there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but to us, sometimes it feels like you’re asking a stupid question. When I would ask my Digital Navigator questions about the computer, she allowed me to be open. I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed and she was very patient and helpful.”

Donald was surprised at how much he did not know as he worked through his training. His Digital Navigator introduced him to more efficient processes that made using technology easier in both work and daily living.

“I want to encourage other people to get into the program because it helps you help yourself,” said Donald. “The more you learn and know, the happier you are.”

Throughout the program, Donald has earned industry-recognized certifications to add to his resume.

“I’ve helped a lot of people through this experience,” said Donald. For me and a lot of older people, it feels good to be able to do things on my own. It made me feel good showing my grandkids the certificates I earned and seeing how proud they were of me. I think this is a very beneficial program to help older people to learn how to do something they never did before.”

Fighting isolation with digital skills

The SCSEP and Digital Inclusion program not only helped Donald improve his professional skills. It also provided him with an outlet to escape isolation. The pandemic and his medical challenges left him feeling isolated in his home and removed from his community. Getting out and going to his training site each week got him back to interacting with others.

“I was living about 18 miles from the office I was training at,” said Donald. “That helped me get out of the house and start to do things. I was able to mingle a little more with people who would come down to the office and get to know them. I helped them use the computer and make resumes.”

Things to be proud of

Donald has a lot to be proud of – starting with his continued resilience and ability to find positive moments and opportunities. In life, Donald is most proud of his recovery and turning the situation into a new purpose of helping others through tough times. 

“God allowed me to turn my life around,” said Donald. “I got off of the drugs and I was put in a position where I could help people. Giving back really makes you feel good. It gave me back my self-esteem and motivated me. I have a lot to be grateful for.”

The SCSEP and Digital Inclusion program has given him new reasons to be proud of himself.

“As my health improves, I want to continue moving forward,” said Donald. “I’m educated with a bachelor’s degree, and I am not finished. I’m proud I had the opportunity to learn all that I did and that I continue to learn new skills.”

Plans for the future

Donald has found employment as a contracted security guard for the City of Cincinnati. He uses his new skills from the Digital Inclusion program for data entry and monitoring security computers, all while keeping the company safe and contributing to an understaffed industry.

While he gives his all to his current role, Donald has even bigger plans for the future.

“I just don’t want to stop here,” said Donald. “This helps me a lot, but it isn’t the end of the story. I’m planning to put a few more chapters in this book. I’m interested in becoming a teacher or making my own hours as a tutor.”

Donald’s words of encouragement

Donald is an advocate for sharing information and lifting up others. He encourages other older adults to enroll in Vantage’s SCSEP program to continue learning and pursuing their dreams.

“Participating in this program won’t do anything but help you,” said Donald. “If I can improve myself, you can too. I would encourage anyone to keep on going and don’t give up. This program gives you not just a second chance in life, but a chance to grow. No matter how old you are, you can continue to grow.”

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