Experience Works helps train seniors to find meaningful employment in their communities

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

P.J. Booten, Little Falls, lost her job about five years ago. She was partially disabled, unable to twist or lift much weight and was let go because of her restrictions.

“I sat home for four – five years because I couldn’t find a job,” Booten said. “No one wanted to hire a person my age with partial disabilities.”

That is, until she met Kathy Hennek.

P.J. Booten has been with Experience Works for a little more than a year and is gaining work experience and confidence to get a job of her own. Booten, left, and her supervisor, Kathy Hennek, both have learned a lot from the program.

P.J. Booten has been with Experience Works for a little more than a year and is gaining work experience and confidence to get a job of her own. Booten, left, and her supervisor, Kathy Hennek, both have learned a lot from the program.

Hennek is a supervisor for Experience Works, formerly called Green Thumb, in both Morrison and Todd counties. She works with people 55 years and older who are low-income and who need a job. Experience Works partners non-profits with people willing to work and willing to learn a new skill, at no cost to the company or agency. Priority is given to veterans.

These people typically perform tasks which would otherwise not be accomplished because of lack of funding.

“Some of our local host agencies include the Little Falls, Staples Motley and Royalton school districts, Oasis of Central Minnesota, the Boys and Girls Club of Morrison County, St. Gabriel’s Hospital and the Family Medical Center, the Clothes Review and the Little Falls Care Center,” said Hennek, who lives in Upsala and is also a participant in the program.

Booten has been with Experience Works for a little more than one year. She started with the Boys and Girls Club and is now working at Lindbergh Elementary School in Little Falls. There are three others who work at the district.

Her mornings are busy. Booten starts at 7:30 a.m. straightening the lost and found area. She then patrols the parking lot for about 30 minutes. When back in the building, she cleans the hallways, putting away coats and mittens left on the floor by the younger children.

“I love my job,” said Booten. “I greet people who enter the building. I run items to classrooms that parents bring in. Others I take to the office.”

Booten loves the added job of listening to, and helping, children read to her. During the approximately four hours she spends at the school, she also finds time to cut and bag box tops for the school.

Experience Works helps low-income seniors with multiple barriers to employment get training and find good jobs in their communities.

“Not only training, we give them experience and confidence to find non-subsidized employment,” said Hennek.

Experience Works is funded through the United States Department of Labor. The participants, like Booten, receive their paychecks through the department and they receive their training at no cost to the business or the agency.

“This job is awesome,” said Booten. “Without it, people may not survive. I had no place to turn until I saw the ad for Experience Works.”

The goal of Experience Works is to assist employers to full advantage of the talents of older workers; to help older people who are low income; build strong community relations and address the challenges facing older people in rural America.

Hours typically do not exceed 21 per week and no participant can work more than eight hours per day. There are monthly meetings to discuss the program, learn how to write a resumé, how to interview and more.

Green Thumb, the original name of Experience Works, started in 1965 as a small rural project, part of Lady Bird Johnson’s beautification program. At that time the workers mostly concentrated on cleaning up the local parks across the country. They beautified their cities while earning a minimum wage to put food on the table for their families.

For more information about the program, contact Hennek at (320) 631-8194, Monday – Thursday, between 7:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.

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