Many people across our nation feel called to serve others. This could mean in the form of our armed forces, volunteerism, teaching, or even simply taking an active moment in your day to make your community a better place.
For Ronnie Wright, serving was never a question – only a calling. The Elyria native comes from a large family as the seventh of 11 siblings.
Throughout his career, he has served in two branches of our military and learned countless skills to build a diverse professional background. But as he grew older, wear and tear on his body made it harder to work. Ronnie turned to Vantage’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) to help him reach his career goals and has recently graduated from the Digital Inclusion program.
Funded by the Department of Labor and Ohio Department of Aging, SCSEP 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.
In the SCSEP program, Ronnie trained at various community partner sites and worked towards improving his digital skills to reach the next chapter in his career.
A background in service
Ronnie is 66 years old at the time of writing and from Elyria, Ohio. He comes from a large family as the seventh of 11 siblings.
When Ronnie graduated from Elyria High School, he joined the Marine Corps two weeks later. During his service, he spent three years outside of Jacksonville, Georgia.
Once his service was over, he moved back to Elyria and worked in the insurance market. He soon had an itch to return to the military and decided to enlist in the United States Army. His service took him to many places, including Paris Island, Columbia, South Carolina, Indianapolis, Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Korea.
After his Army service was complete, Ronnie once again returned to Elyria to work in accounts payable and as a lab technician. Ronnie attended Ashland University and earned an associate degree. He continued to work on his bachelor’s degree and worked as a warehouse supervisor.
Ronnie’s last job before entering the SCSEP program was at VA hospital. He worked as a journeyman electrician and then when on to line distribution.
Ronnie has a total of 19 years of military service. He has always continued to be self-motivated and open to trying new skillsets, which has led him to his diverse professional background.
Reinventing Ronnie – Finding a new path
Ronnie faced some barriers to employment as he got older, including ageism. He had some physical limitations that needed to be addressed. While Ronnie says he feels better after letting his body rest, he can’t do electrical work anymore because of arthritis.
When Ronnie turned 66 years old, he decided that he was going to go back to work. He wanted to reinvent himself.
After hearing about Vantage Aging’s SCSEP program from a neighbor, he decided it was a good way to find a new career path. Once he applied, he quickly heard back from the project director and was enrolled.
Ronnie’s first training assignment was at home due to the pandemic. Once places began to open back up, he trained at Habitat for Humanity and now trains at an Ohio Means Jobs resource room helping other job seekers.
Learning digital skills for today’s workforce
Like many older job seekers in Vantage’s Digital Inclusion program, Ronnie was a little hesitant in the beginning.
“I was a little bit apprehensive,” said Ronnie. I had my schooling and work history, but I knew I needed to upgrade my computer skills. The Digital Inclusion program and Digital Navigators gave me the confidence to learn these new skills.”
In partnership with the Ohio Department of Aging, the 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.
Digital training modules provide a basic skill set that helps older job seekers be more competitive in today’s market. Some topics learners work on include Microsoft Office, Google Docs, navigating the internet, email etiquette, database management, career searching, and social media. By having these skillsets available, employers can more easily train candidates on the specific digital tools they use at their businesses.
Ronnie did have some experience with digital devices prior to the Digital Inclusion program. While he enjoyed picking up new skills, many of his digital experiences were outdated for today’s workforce. The Digital Inclusion program helped keep Ronnie on a focused pathway of learning to help him reach his goals.
“I needed some direction and guidance and a formatted plan for my study,” said Ronnie. “I didn’t know all the aspects of these new digital applications and tools.”
The Digital Inclusion program has also provided Ronnie with access to affordable, safe, and secure internet through a personal hotspot. Ronnie said, “I love the hotspot from Vantage Aging for privacy and security.”
Ronnie enjoyed working towards manageable goals while in Vantage’s Digital Inclusion program.
“It’s formatted perfectly,” Ronnie said. “Vantage starts you out easy and you work your way up opportunities to grow. It surprised me that I got back into the workforce through this training.”
While working through his digital training, Ronnie appreciated the one-on-one aspect of the program. He worked with a digital navigator to improve on and grow his digital skillsets.
“My Digital Navigator is a special person,” said Ronnie. “A Digital Navigator is very necessary to help build an older person’s confidence. It’s so easy to just give up. It’s nice to have someone tell you that it’s ok.”
The feeling was mutual for Ronnie’s Digital Navigator, who helped him through all of the training modules.
“Throughout the Digital Inclusion Program, Ronnie was driven and always eager to learn more,” said Digital Navigator Delaine Sambenedetto. “He put in the time and hard work every week to accomplish each of his goals.”
Ronnie’s Project Director John Roberts, a fellow veteran, also spoke highly of his hard work, saying, “Despite his barriers, Ronnie has always been determined to be successful. Instead of finding ways around his barriers, Ronnie drove through them on his way to accomplishing his set goals, while personifying the grit and determination of a United States Marine Veteran.”
Never stop learning
Ronnie currently attends online classes through Ashland University. Vantage’s Digital Inclusion program has helped him prepare for online classwork and feel comfortable navigating virtual learning.
“Without a doubt – If I hadn’t been in the Digital Inclusion program, I would not have been able to go back to school,” said Ronnie. He will graduate in December of 2023.
Ronnie is proud of the progress he has made with Vantage’s Digital Inclusion program. When asked what stands out as the thing that he is most proud of, Ronnie talked about how the skills he learned are now helping others improve and find meaningful work.
“I love the training site that I’m working at right now,” said Ronnie. “I get to instruct and guide a lot of people, even SCSEP participants, and I’m proud that I’m able to help them.”
Digital Inclusion’s lasting effects
The value of the Digital Inclusion program continues to grow long after a Learner graduates from the program. Older workers like Ronnie share their new skills with others, serve their communities, and contribute to their local economies.
“The digital training prepared me to help and work with others,” said Ronnie. “I would like to thank all of you at Vantage Aging and the Digital Inclusion program for your patience, guidance, and passing on your knowledge to me.”