Resilience and Rising to the Opportunity – Denise’s Story

Denise is a participant in Vantage Aging’s hands-on job training program for older adults and is the second participant to complete all certifications in the Digital Inclusion program, gaining basic and intermediate technology skills for her career goals.

Often when we think of amazing stories of perseverance, we look towards celebrities or famous athletes. But many times, the real heroes that show us just how resilient we can be are the people we see every day at work, riding the bus, or helping a neighbor. We had the privilege of talking with one of these extraordinary individuals who proves time and again that you can accomplish your goals at any age.

Meet Denise Tsibouris, who currently participates in Vantage Aging’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) in Hamilton County, Ohio. 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.

Tackling today’s challenges

Many older job seekers face barriers to employment, including a need to update their skillset and experiencing ageism in the workplace. While our job market is always changing, stereotypes about older workers still exist and prevent many individuals from reaching their full potential in the workforce.

Like many of her peers, SCSEP participant Denise began to encounter more and more ageism in professional settings as she got older. The experiences were unsettling and frustrating, but also played a part in what attracted her to Vantage’s job training program.

“Vantage’s target market is one that has been pushed aside and not given the respect or funding that it deserves,” said Denise. “I look at the workplace and see the youth and the talent, but not the experience. When I saw that Vantage was an age-specific training experience, I wanted to try it.”

Denise went through the SCSEP enrollment process and prepared to begin the next step in her career path. She met one-on-one with the Cincinnati program director where they discussed her goals and came up with a plan to achieve them. Unfortunately, shortly after being placed in her training position, everything closed because of the pandemic.

During a long shutdown period, SCSEP participants continued their training from home. They received training packets in the mail to complete each week and were regularly checked on with phone calls from Vantage SCSEP team members.

“The fact that Vantage kept their word and continued with their education and training throughout pandemic spoke a lot about them,” said Denise. “They found a way to continue and when we returned to in-person training, they were very successful in placing participants at training sites.”

Training as a bridge to career goals

SCSEP participants were able to return to their on-site training positions in the summer of 2021. Denise currently receives job training at a nonprofit in Cincinnati that provides community services for people who need assistance with housing, clothing, obtaining IDs and birth certificates, clinical services, managing utilities, a pantry, and services for mothers and children.

Denise helps intake community members and connects each person to the programs and services that best meet their needs.

“I like to provide services to the community because I get to be situated in the heart of the community,” said Denise. “We call each other neighbors here and I like that.”

Digital learning as a trajectory towards success

 As part of the SCSEP program, Vantage launched the Digital Inclusion project in 2021. 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.

“Vantage gears the digital inclusion program towards people’s strengths,” said Denise. “They covered the basics, which you need to get in the door of an employer. You can focus on areas you’re interested in or need some more work on at your own pace.”

Resilience through tough times

With Denise’s positive perspectives and determination, it’s hard to believe life has not always been easy. She has experienced difficult times, but it hasn’t stopped her from continuing on to better herself.

Denise noted that when she was enrolled in the Digital Inclusion program, she was sleeping outside. One morning on her way to her training site, she fell on ice. Bystanders helped her and called paramedics. Denise insisted that she still would go to her training site because she did not want to give a bad impression. She convinced the paramedics to take her to the site, rolling up to the front doors in a fire truck.

Staff members at her training site and SCSEP Project Director Mercedes Bello noticed Denise’s determination. After talking with her, they worked together to support her in improving her skills and help her find more permanent housing and resources. Looking back at how far she has come, we can’t help but be so proud as a team to have worked with a woman of so much resilience.

“I went through this and understand now that I am able to give back,” said Denise. “My goal is to rise up to meet my opportunities for myself, my family, and my community.”

Reflecting and moving forward

Denise said that her biggest accomplishment in the Digital Inclusion program was getting over her fear of re-learning digital skills. She took a leap of faith and started to find her way through different modules with the help of a digital navigator. She enjoyed learning and remembering skills she had used in previous roles and incorporating them into the work that she does at her training site.

“Vantage’s Digital Inclusion program gives you the opportunity to learn with teachers who know your situation and tailor your education to who you are and your experiences,” said Denise. “It’s an ideal environment to learn at your pace.”

Denise was so successful in the Digital Inclusion program that she became one of the first learners to complete every certification.

“I felt a confidence that I didn’t have before,” said Denise. “Getting to your ‘I can do this’ – That is what the program gave me. It’s the confidence to try, then the fear is gone, and then I can do it.”

Denise’s future knows no boundaries as she continues to work towards her goals. Among them, she aims to be an entrepreneur and start her own business. She continues working on self-education to be in control of her destiny. A justice advocate or role that incorporates teaching are also in her sights.

“I am someone who loves to serve and give back,” said Denise. “God gave me gifts for a reason – to use them. Therefore, being able to serve others should be part of my employment. From the lessons I gained at Vantage, I’ve found I have a knack for technology and know that part of my future will contain something to do with it. I’m not going to stop or give up my goals.”

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