Marielena Bencomo’s professional life has been anything but boring.
Marielena, 64, was born in Venezuela, where she studied computer engineering. She started her career working for the state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), where she had the opportunity to benefit from a wide range of on-the-job trainings. The company also paid for her to study in the United States so she could obtain a master’s degree in business administration and a project management certification. “I was exposed to the best training,” she says about her job at PDVSA. “I got a lot of experience from my work, and we were always a state-of-the-art company.”
But things took a turn in 2002 when PDVSA underwent a leadership change that favored those allied with the government, marking an end to the meritocracy that had characterized the company for many years. After two decades with PDVSA, Marielena decided it was time to leave.
She moved to work on several projects overseas and, over the next 20 years, managed IT projects for various private and public companies doing business in Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, Belize, Guatemala, and the U.S. In 2006, she relocated to South Florida to live with her grown children, who already had their master’s degrees and were establishing their own careers. Marielena continued to manage challenging projects, but by 2018, she was ready to retire.
She wasn’t ready to stop working entirely, though. “I really like the feeling of work and having a job and being independent and productive,” she explains. “If I had a lot of money and didn’t need to work, I still would. I feel responsible to share my knowledge, skills, and love with the next generation.”
And so, Marielena says, she decided to search for a different path — one she hoped would lead to a job at a nonprofit organization. A friend recommended that she connect with AARP for guidance, and that’s how she learned about AARP Foundation’s BACK TO WORK 50+ program through Youth Co-Op, Inc.
BACK TO WORK 50+ has been doing just what its name says — putting people over 50 back to work — since 2013. The program connects older jobseekers with community colleges and local nonprofits across the country that provide training, career coaching, and access to employers. More than 55,000 people have gotten the resources they needed to find a job through BACK TO WORK 50+.
“The structure of the training was very helpful,” Marielena says. “They help you to prepare yourself.” Whether crafting a 30-second “commercial” for herself, participating in mock interviews with her coach, or learning how social media can help or hurt a job search, “You empower yourself. I love that.”
A core element of the BACK TO WORK 50+ training is résumé revision. “The résumé, oh my goodness! My résumé was eight pages long!” Marielena says. With her coach, she learned to highlight her most valuable skills and identify the ones that could be transferred to a new job. “In 40 years of working, I had a lot of transferable skills. I didn’t know that, but putting them in my résumé was amazing. It empowers a person. I would absolutely recommend the program to other people.”
After completing the BACK TO WORK 50+ program, Marielena took contract jobs while looking for a more permanent position. At the completion of one of those jobs, she returned to her coach for help updating her résumé again.
“He provided me with ongoing support,” she says. “Through COVID, it was hard. I took a training at Johns Hopkins University to be a COVID tracer. Every time I was between projects, I decided to learn something new.”
In August 2021, she had accepted a new job when her coach called her about an exciting new opportunity: a full-time position with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County, just 15 minutes from her home. Following Zoom and in-person interviews, Marielena was offered the job, which she happily accepted.
As a customer relations specialist for the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program, she receives families’ inquiries and guides them as they move through the application process, making sure the children are matched with a mentor. “I am responsible for the children,” Marielena says. “All my life, I have been a people- and customer-oriented person. I love to help people.” She loves her job and they love her back, bestowing on her the “Star of the Month” employee recognition award only four months after she started.
With the support she received through BACK TO WORK 50+, Marielena landed the nonprofit job she wanted — and something more.
“I found that the free, amazing coaching could guide, educate, and empower me,” she says. “I think not everybody understands the importance of that. Not everyone gets the opportunity. Not everyone believes it works.”
Call 1-855-850-2525 or click the button below to register for a free workshop with virtual interview tips, supportive coaching and a jobseeker guide hosted by AARP Foundation or by a community partner in your area.
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