Every Wednesday, 62-year-old retiree Steve Schrade makes his way from his home near 67th Avenue and Happy Valley Road to a small AARP office in downtown Phoenix.
Schrade is one of 23 volunteers with AARP’s WorkSearch, an all-volunteer program created to help seniors find jobs.
“What we do is we call people who have signed up for the program and walk them through the process of getting a job,” he said. “We teach them the skills they need and hopefully by the end they are gainfully employed.”
Schrade has been doing similar worth with the Glendale Public Library for several years, teaching job search classes. But after he retired last year, he said he felt the best use of his free time would be to do more. So when he saw an advertisement for the WorkSearch program in the AARP newsletter, he went for it.
“I just wanted to be more involved in helping people,” he said. “So I did the training and started job coaching last August.”
Schrade’s career before he retired makes him especially qualified to help others, too.
“I was the director of human resources for Bashas’,” he said. “In that job I recruited a lot of people, dealt with a lot of applicants, and it is shocking to see how many people make the simplest mistakes. They’re out there spinning their wheels. This program, it helps them gain some traction, so to speak.”
Nancy Hecker, site coordinator for the Phoenix WorkSearch office, said she is looking for more volunteers like Schrade.
“People with backgrounds in teaching, in human resources, we could really use them,” she said. “We also want our volunteers to have good computer skills and customer service skills and, most importantly, a passion for helping people.”
Hecker said she has 23 volunteers at the moment and enough shifts to accommodate double that many. She said volunteers are also reimbursed for the mileage they accrue driving to and from the office.
“I’m putting together the next training class probably in the first part of November,” she said. “We would love to get more volunteers in here.”
Schrade said he and his fellow volunteers work with job seekers on pretty much every aspect of the process, from putting together a resume to how to prepare for interviews. They work with clients for 12 weeks, with one phone call a week and usually two or three emails, as well.
“It tugs at your heart strings because during that time you do get to know these people,” Schrade said. “You learn the predicaments they are in, and sometimes they are very serious. I’ve had a couple of clients who were foreclosed on during the time we were working together.”
But as difficult as the coaching can be, Schrade said it can also be immensely satisfying.
“Every now and then you score, and the client gets a job,” he said. “And they have hope again. That feels really good.”
Schrade said it means a lot to him to be able to help fellow seniors in need.
“I take a great deal of satisfaction in it because there’s a huge need,” he said. “And it’s not rocket science. These are people who just need to learn a few things and suddenly their odds improve dramatically. There are so many unemployed and underemployed seniors out there, and they need help.”
Schrade said he encourages others to volunteer their time at WorkSearch.
“One person, with three days of training, can make an enormous impact in many people’s lives,” he said.
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.