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A Painful Job Loss Brings Unexpected Rewards

BACK TO WORK 50+ helped Tamara Burchette think outside the box and find a job she loves.

Tamara Burchette was depressed about losing her job. So she found a creative way to pull herself out of her funk: She joined a dance team.

“It’s called the Louisiana Ladies,” says Tamara, who is 56 and lives in Slidell, Louisiana. “We perform in parades and charity events. I’m not a dancer, but they took everyone who tried out. We encourage each other at all ages, and I’m not even the oldest one!”

Encouragement was exactly what Tamara needed when the company she had been with for more than a decade was bought. “The new owners brought in their own people and got rid of us. It was awful,” she remembers. Dancing helped her cope with the loss, but she knew she had to find another job.

Tamara, who grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi, is no stranger to job hunting; in fact, she’s been working full-time jobs since she was 19. She had planned to go to college and study design, but when her son was born just after her high school graduation, those plans had to change.

She found a position as a buyer for a construction project, where she was the only woman in the office — and the only employee with a baby in tow. “I had to bring him with me,” she says. “I remember carting him around the office in his car seat.”

Finding a new job at 56 was different, though, and Tamara was unsure of what to do next. She visited Tri-Parish Works, the local employment office. The career specialist there told her about AARP Foundation’s BACK TO WORK 50+, which provides unemployed older workers with a suite of tools and coaching resources to help them compete with confidence for today’s high-quality, in-demand jobs. Tamara signed up right away.

“I went to all the meetings and learned everything I could,” she says. “The classes are so well designed. They teach you exactly what you need to do, step by step: interviewing, keywords to use for your skills, how to dress, what to include on a résumé. Everything you need to know.”

Navigating a job search in her 50s was intimidating, but BACK TO WORK 50+ helped Tamara update her digital literacy skills. “I had to relearn the computer,” she says. “Everything is online now — unemployment, job search, everything!” She learned the importance of active and accessible social media accounts. “Even though you don’t think so, people are looking at you online. When I was growing up, you didn’t worry about that stuff.”

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Tamara took what she was learning in the coaching sessions and applied it to her job search. She kept coming back to one piece of advice her coaches had given her. “They would say, ‘Don’t be afraid to try something different,’” she remembers. “‘Don’t be stuck just because you did the same kind of work all this time.’”

That advice inspired Tamara to apply for her current job as a buyer for the New Orleans Job Corps, which helps young adults complete their GEDs, learn skills, and find jobs. “It was different in a lot of ways,” she says, “but it looked like fun.” Now, Tamara buys everything for the facility and the students; even better, “I get to work with the kids on any outside activities. I love working with them.”

And even though she found a new job, she’s still dancing. “It’s a really great group of ladies to be around,” she says of her dance team. “Being empowered with these women … just being around them is positive.” 

“Positive” and “empowered” could also describe Tamara’s feelings about BACK TO WORK 50+. Though she learned many valuable skills, it’s the emotional support from the coaches that really stands out. “Looking for work is a hard thing to go through, but they were always telling us to stay strong, not to get discouraged,” she says. “It’s important to hear 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. 

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