May 24, 2001

Green Thumb Program Providing Opportunities For Area Seniors

When the public hears that the Scotland County Courthouse is benefiting from the services of a federally funded Green Thumb worker, one might assume the work will entail lawn mowing, planting flowers and other landscaping activities. The Scotland County R-I High School Library also was the beneficiary of a green thumb worker this year, but the facility doesn't maintain an indoor greenhouse or even a house plant or two for that matter.

While Betty Shelley and Ruth Bryant both say they enjoy that kind of work, the Green Thumb program is not specifically designed to offer employment in those sorts of fields that might be brought to mind by the name.

Green Thumb, Inc. operates the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) which provides training and employment opportunities to low-income, older Americans residing in primarily rural areas. SCSEP allows individuals to remain productive and independent by contributing their talent and services to their communities while earning a modest income.

Green Thumb was first chartered to make use of the "green thumbs" of retired farmers in improving the nation's parks and highways. Launched in 1965 as a small demonstration program in four states, the initiative evolved into SCSEP, now a major federal workforce initiative success story.

Shelley was hired at the Scotland County Courthouse to work three days a week and rotate between the various county offices. She will work answering the phones and performing other office work.

However that schedule might take a while to be put into place as she currently is being monopolized by the enormous project of microfilming the Scotland County Associate Circuit Court's probate court records.

The county is currently sorting through records from as far back as the 1840's to prepare them to be sent to Jefferson City. The records will be copied and made into permanent microfilm records before being returned to the courthouse.

Shelley spends three days a week working with the probate records. She said she is on the 34th drawer of approximately 256 total drawers where the records have been stored over the years. She estimated there are anywhere from 35 to 40 folders per drawer.

She removes the files from each folder, straightens and unfolds them and then sorts the files into chronological order. The records are then filed in shipping boxes to be sent to Jefferson City.

The microfilm process is time consuming as Betty will tell you. She averages one to two drawers per week. She currently is filling the 18th shipping box and must complete 50 before the first shipment will be made to Jefferson City to be microfilmed.

Shelley praised the Green Thumb program and the effect it's having on her life. "This is a very special opportunity," she said. "It allows an older person on a fixed income a chance to add to that by working at a job that also is benefiting the community."

Bryant works in the high school library checking in books, cleaning, repairing books and making sure the shelves are in order. She said she really enjoys her work, especially being able to work with the kids.

Bryant worked several jobs in the community before becoming the administrator of the Scotland County Nutrition Site for 16 years before retiring. She worked part-time at the site before taking the Green Thumb position in December, 2000.

Participating seniors in Green Thumb find fulfillment, add to their skills, train for further employment, and stay off public assistance

SCSEP is the nation's oldest employment, training and community service program for disadvantaged mature Americans. Over the last three decades, nearly half a million low-income older workers have participated in, and been helped by, the program.

The pay back to the American economy has been significant; for example, Green Thumb's 28,000 mature workers contributed an estimated 16 million hours of valuable community service while working with more than 10,500 nonprofit and public organizations in 45 states and territories.

While developing the skills and self-confidence needed to secure private employment, participants in Green Thumb's SCSEP program also make valuable contributions to their communities in roles as varied as teachers' aides, computer operators, emergency dispatchers, child care providers, and library aids, among many others.

Based on the highly successful "Green Thumb model," the national Senior Community Service Employment Program annually provides training, employment, and community service opportunities to almost 100,000 seniors across the country.

SCSEP is designed to accomplish these four objectives:

Foster and promote useful part-time community service opportunities for economically disadvantaged persons who are 55 years of age or older and who have poor employment prospects.

Enhance the abilities, skills, and aptitudes of participants to increase their opportunities to obtain jobs offering improved income and benefits.

Change negative attitudes and stereotypes about older individuals through public education and demonstrated success.

Conduct projects that promote innovative work alternatives, second career training, and the placement of enrollees into employment.

Green Thumb is one of ten national organizations that, along with Governors of every state, operate the SCSEP under grants with the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration. Green Thumb's program is the largest of the national programs.

SCSEP participants are 55 years of age or older and meet federal income guidelines. Participants are assigned to local nonprofit or public agencies, host agencies, for an average of 20 hours per week and paid at the prevailing minimum wage.

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