Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 19, 2013

Program helps the poor, 55+ find jobs

TRAVERSE CITY — Paul Fretheim hasn’t been able to land a permanent job since 2005, but he doesn’t think it’s age that holds him back.

“One thing I know that’s prevented me from getting a job is that I’m a man,” said Fretheim, 60. “I was told that in two interviews. And I know a lot of male employers want to hire a man to do office work.”

Fretheim worked as an administrative assistant for 15 years at Tower Automotive, but lost his job when the company filed for bankruptcy. He found temporary work drawing tax maps on a computer, but after the work was done, so was the job.

To update his computer skills, Fretheim, 60, signed on with Experience Works, which runs a program that pays low-income people 55 years and older to work for area nonprofits. In exchange, the nonprofit must help build the employee’s work skills, which helps in finding permanent work — maybe even with the nonprofit itself.

Fretheim works part-time at the Old Town Playhouse at minimum wage, hardly enough to support himself and his wife, who can’t work. But he’s learning how to use the newer software, finding job leads, and taking required online classes on a library computer.

Fretheim is one of the bright stars of Experience Works, a national nonprofit that began as Green Thumb, created in 1965 to help poor farmers and older adults find jobs and break out of poverty. Its biggest program is the federally funded Senior Community Service Employment Program.

The program gained new vitality this past year when Angela Murphy filled a position in Traverse City as employment and training coordinator; her office is housed in the Northwest Michigan Works building. The 13-county northwest area previously was overseen by the Experience Works state office in Bay City, Murphy said.

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