07/03/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Second Chance at Life

Last week, nearly 200 Goodwill employees lobbied on Capitol Hill on behalf of people who have a great need for job training and career support, particularly people with disabilities, workers over the age of 55, and others facing challenges to finding employment. One of the highest priority issues that Goodwill focused on was the Senior Community Employment Services Program (SCSEP). The Goodwill program matches workers with "host agencies" -- government agencies or nonprofit groups -- for up to 20 hours each week. Participants get on-the-job training and other support services such as bus passes, canes or hearing aids.

The program is part of the national Older Americans Act and helps seniors find work -- giving preference to seniors with disabilities, veterans, spouses of veterans, and others who need job training. The participants gain experience or training, and host agencies benefit from having temporary workers who can learn the skills they need in order to land permanent jobs. It's a dually beneficial program, because host agencies provide new or additional community service opportunities while seniors receive training and a means to "reinvent" their career lives.

Bill Thigpen is one person who was able to reinvent his career through SCSEP. After losing his wife to breast cancer and being laid off from a 35-year IT career just six weeks later, he was not only faced with the emotional challenges of depression but also the financial challenges that come from supporting two college-age sons and a 16-year-old daughter.

While standing in an unemployment line, he was approached by a Goodwill Keystone Area's SCSEP staff member. After Bill expressed that he wanted to get into either public service or nonprofit work, the member suggested that he meet with a case manager who needed an assistant and could help him get into his desired field.

Bill met with the case manager who immediately hired him as an assistant and taught him how to work directly with new SCSEP participants and host agencies as well as process the necessary paperwork. Bill's role also included teaching participants how to use computers and search for jobs. Eventually, Bill was placing participants in jobs with about 30-40 nonprofits in the central Pennsylvania area.

As Bill says, "Goodwill SCSEP was a godsend to me at a time when I was so down that I couldn't really even get out of bed in the morning."

Through the process, he was able to make connections and learn about the number of nonprofits and cause-related organizations in his own community. The experience taught him how to work with nonprofits, including the paperwork involved with them.

Nine months later, Bill learned that one of the host agencies where he had been placing participants had a position opening for a director in one of its main offices. He asked if he could apply and emphasized that he had very little experience in the nonprofit area. After his interview, the agency made an offer, and he accepted the job in April of 2009. That organization was Handi-Crafters and he says that being hired by them "was one of the most perfect things that has ever happened to me, and I look forward to helping others."

Bill, I commend you for taking the step that forever changed your career and your life. Goodwill is fortunate to have testimonials like yours to demonstrate the success of SCSEP.

Each week, Gibbons will highlight success stories about how people helped by Goodwill have earned jobs and learned to support themselves and their families. Hear Bill's story in his own words.