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A Love of Tinkering Turns Into a Career

Eileen Cooper bounced back from unemployment by helping others.

spinner image Eileen Cooper Story Image

Eileen Cooper loves fixing things, especially computers. “You can ‘break’ anything in technology and it’s never really broken,” she says. “I like working in this field because I get to tinker.” 

Eileen chose a career in IT because the field was always growing and offered opportunities to advance. She never imagined that after 25 years of working her way up the ladder, she’d be part of a mass layoff of nearly 250 people.

“It was such a shock,” Eileen remembers. “I came in one morning with a job and I left at noon unemployed.” It took a day or two to process the abrupt change, but once she did, fear set in. “I felt so alone. I didn’t know what to do next.” 

Hitting the Pavement

Eileen’s former employer provided job search training to its laid-off employees — not much consolation, but helpful all the same. But for Eileen, weeks of searching became months. “I had a lot to offer but didn’t get any calls,” Eileen remembers. “Each time I tried, I was met with a big ‘no.’” So she formulated a new plan. “I started going door to door, just walking into buildings and putting in applications.” 

One of those doors belonged to an AARP Foundation SCSEP (Senior Community Service Employment Program) office in Pennsylvania. SCSEP matches eligible jobseekers who are over 55 with local nonprofits and public agencies so they can increase their skills and build self-confidence while earning a modest income.

Lisa Quinby, the project director at the time, saw Eileen’s potential. “She said, ‘I have something for you,’” Eileen remembers. “I thought, what could she have? The same thing everybody else has for me: nothing. But she made good on it.”

“There’s Life After Layoff”

Eileen enrolled in the program and started training as the SCSEP office’s IT specialist. The new role echoed her lifelong commitment to helping others bounce back.

SCSEP participants can spend up to four years in the program. When Eileen’s time was up, she stayed on as a volunteer, continuing to expand her skill set under the guidance and encouragement of current project director Veronica Brown. With Veronica’s help, Eileen soon found full-time work in IT.

Unemployment was a dark time for Eileen, but the experience showed her how resilient she is and strengthened her ability to counsel and encourage others. “You’re going to have challenges,” she tells others who are out of work. “You’re going to get doors shut in your face. But you can choose to focus on it, or you can pick yourself up and say, ‘Let’s go forward.’”

Eileen credits Lisa, Veronica and SCSEP for their motivation and support. “They helped me realize that there’s life after layoff, and that’s been my motto ever since,” she says. “If you can’t find a job, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Go to AARP Foundation and ask for help.” 

Learn more about AARP Foundation SCSEP and how to apply.

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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