For California native and Air Force veteran Jamie Aranda, 61, joining the military right out of high school was the natural order of things.
“I joined the U.S. Air Force when I was barely 18,” she says. “I come from a military family: three Navy, three Air Force, and one Army. It’s in my blood.”
After four years in the Air Force, Jamie settled into a career as a corporate executive assistant, a field in which she spent decades. When her job was eliminated due to restructuring, Jamie took a leap into the nonprofit arena, landing a position at the ALS Association, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
For Jamie, nonprofit work was rewarding in a way her previous career hadn’t been. “It turns out that’s really what makes me tick,” she says. “Being of service to other people in a job that has meaning.” When the ALS Association moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C., Jamie was offered a new position as a care services associate that brought her to the East Coast. After a year, however, family obligations called her back to California, where she took assignments through various temp agencies before landing a permanent, full-time position at a professional fiduciary firm.
It wasn’t a good fit for her. “The job wasn’t conducive to my mental health,” Jamie remembers. Ultimately, it led her to take a break from the workforce. “I needed to regroup. I did a lot of self-care and self-reflection.”
As much as Jamie needed the break, she also knew it wasn’t financially feasible for her to retire at that point in her life. After three months of rest and recovery, she began a job search on her own, but didn’t see the results she had hoped for. “As an older worker, I didn’t want to just take any job. I wanted something that would fit me, somewhere I could stay until retirement.”
While scrolling through Instagram, she came across a post about AARP Foundation’s BACK TO WORK 50+ program, which helps adults over 50 find work through free workshops, coaching, and resources. She signed up and was assigned a career coach.
“The program was instrumental in guiding me through the process of finding the right job and the right fit,” Jamie says. "I had been submitting applications everywhere, honing my software skills, and attending online job seminars. I was doing the work, but it wasn’t fruitful.”
BACK TO WORK 50+ helped Jamie target her search and hold herself accountable. “The workbook helped me stay focused on what I wanted, as opposed to just finding any job I could get.” Her coach, William Craig III, in addition to helping her with her résumé and her LinkedIn page, checked in on her regularly to see how the search was progressing. She also attended the program’s weekly FriYay video calls, where she found support, encouragement, and information to help her navigate the job market as an older worker.
When Jamie found a job listing that looked promising, for a position as an office technician at the Veterans’ Home of California, she was prepared. She submitted her updated résumé and was called in for an interview. “I went in for the initial interview and they offered me the job that same morning!” The process of landing the “right job” took her about a year from start to finish.
Jamie credits BACK TO WORK 50+ with getting her through the hardest parts of looking for work after 50. “Before joining the BACK TO WORK 50+ program, I felt lost,” she remembers. “I knew there was some ageism that I would encounter during my job search, and I experienced a fair amount of rejection throughout the process.” Her coach and the other participants helped her see the rejection as a normal part of the process, and she found comfort in their shared experience.
The journey to employment wasn’t an easy one, but Jamie is grateful to be at the Veterans’ Home of California, surrounded by people who, like her, answered their country’s call. “I’m happier than I have been at any point in my life,” she says with pride. “I love my work, I love the residents. They’re my people. I’m a veteran and I’m serving veterans. It's so meaningful to me to be able to do that.”
Learn more about BACK TO WORK 50+ and register for a workshop.
Read more stories about how our programs have helped people find hope, and about the volunteers who give so much of themselves to help others.