A Love of Learning Leads to New Opportunities: Shelia’s Story

They say you’re never too old to keep learning, and that’s certainly true for Tuscarawas County native Shelia Jackson. Over the years, Shelia has combined her curiosity for learning with a love of helping others to build a unique career path that has touched communities across the United States.

Now in a new chapter, she is gaining digital skills and working towards her employment goals in the new Digital Inclusion Training as part of Vantage Aging’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).

Building a Career in Healthcare

Shelia started her career in healthcare as an original candy striper. Starting in the 1940s, a candy striper was traditionally a young, female hospital volunteer. The unique job title referred to the candy cane look of the red and white-striped uniforms they wore.

During the 1950s and 60s, the popularity of candy stripers grew. The goal was to make a patient’s stay in the hospital more pleasant. Initially, the young women delivered mail or meals to patients, but as nurses became overburdened, the volunteers took on additional duties. A candy striper might help feed or read to a patient, help with discharge, or deliver messages.

Shelia found she naturally fit into the healthcare field because she loved caring for others and learning.

“You never stop learning in the healthcare field,” said Shelia. “Once I got to the level that I felt I needed to be at, I streamlined my education to do private duty for doctors. I did whatever I needed to do to care for my patients.”

Shelia worked as a traveling nurse, providing care between Georgia and California for many years. While in school, she also took accounting classes. Sometimes, she would take a break from nursing and work as an account manager and manage financial portfolios in a corporate setting.

Enrolling in SCSEP, a Job Training Program for Older Adults

While living in Georgia, Shelia began experiencing strokes. Her condition came with challenges to overcome, but she didn’t let it stop her. She made the decision to return to Ohio to attend to her own health needs, as well as the needs of her family.

Shelia’s 100-year-old mother had fallen and needed care, which Shelia provided when she moved back home. She would eventually move into a nursing home facility, leaving Shelia with more time to focus on herself. As a curious-minded and determined person, Shelia decided to continue educating herself.

Looking for a new employment opportunity, Shelia found Vantage Aging’s Workforce Solutions 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.

Shelia enrolled in Vantage’s SCSEP program in 2020. Due to the pandemic, Vantage shifted how training was provided to keep job seekers safe. Instead of receiving hands-on training at a community organization, job seekers completed training exercises delivered through the mail and benefitted from support via phone calls at home.

Like many other job seekers in the program, Shelia felt the effects of isolation during the shutdown. But, she stuck with the program and was able to return to in-person training when things began to open up in late 2021.

Gaining Skills with Digital Inclusion

As a job seeker in Vantage’s SCSEP program, Shelia learned she had the option to participate in the Digital Inclusion initiative to work on upgrading her digital skills.

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.

“I had digital skills from the past, but that was years ago,” said Shelia. “I was excited for the opportunity because this universe we live in is now digital.”

Shelia worked through the training modules with a determination to succeed. She enjoyed the one-on-one aspect of the program and the ability to work independently with a Digital Navigator.

Shelia’s confidence really kicked in when she understood that each digital program is created with a specific purpose like any other tool. She compared her training to her nursing background because it gave her the chance to pursue different subcategories and something to keep building on.

“You can help yourself rise up,” said Shelia. “Sometimes, you have to let go and trust the training. Once I realized that, I got busy working towards the results I wanted to achieve.”

Besides updating her skills and gaining access to digital tools, Shelia’s biggest gain from the Digital Inclusion program was courage.

“It’s a big failure when you have a fear and are not willing to take a chance,” said Shelia. I felt my skillset during that time was a block. It affected me wholistically, so I decided to take a chance. Now, I’m in a whole different place mentally.”

The Digital Inclusion program offers opportunities to continue learning after graduation. Learners have access to training modules and additional resources forever, and they receive affordable options for digital tools, including hotspot internet connectivity.

Shelia’s training has prepared her to accomplish her future goals in a number of ways. She now networks with professionals on social media and is using new ways to engage with people and employers. She also has developed the skill of troubleshooting technology.

Shelia’s goal is to run her own nonprofit. She knows she wants to serve others at her next opportunity. Her thirst for learning and big heart have no doubt led her to defeat challenges and succeed throughout her life. In her next chapter, she plans to leverage her new digital skills as a springboard to reaching her goals.

“Vantage is a 5-star organization,” said Shelia. “It’s more than just a program. Digital Inclusion initiatives unshackle you from limited opportunities. If you allow yourself to commit to learning, the sky is the limit.”

A Need for Digital Inclusion Initiatives

Shelia wants to let others know about the importance of digital inclusion, especially for older adults. With her new skills, she wants to pay it forward and help others open more doors for themselves.

“People need to be aware that there are opportunities out there,” said Shelia. “It’s not all about me – in my plan to move forward, I will let others know about the program and continue to advocate for programs like this to exist. Our policymakers need to know how important it is to help educate seniors to become as independent as possible and continue to learn. This will give them life.”

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