Loretta Boyd never dreamed she would leave Colorado Springs. Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the city regularly tops the list of best places to live in the U.S. Her mother was there, her friends were there, and Loretta had a job she loved as a reading tutor in a large school district.
“And then,” she says, “my mother took sick.”
Loretta resigned from her job and spent the next several years as her mother’s full-time caregiver. Her children, who by then were adults, helped out as much as they could when they weren’t working. But even with their support, Loretta experienced physical and mental stress, along with financial strain and sleep deprivation. “The biggest [problem] was isolation from the rest of the world,” she adds, “and no time to take care of myself.”
And yet, she says, it was worth it. “The time I spent with my mother … I wouldn’t have traded that. And after she passed away in 2013, I thought, OK, well, I’ll go back into the workforce again.”
It turned out to be a bigger challenge than she expected.
“Lo and behold, the workforce had changed!” she says. “It was so competitive, and I just could not land a job. I fell upon really, really hard times.”
During her time as a caregiver, Loretta had to tap into her 401(k) to cover expenses. But now, still grieving the loss of her mother, she was forced to give up the home they had shared because she couldn’t afford to keep it. Without a job, she says, “I didn’t have anything else to use, so I had to do a short sale on the house.”
Her daughter had moved to Arizona and her son couldn’t take her in, so Loretta’s only option was transitional housing: temporary lodging that gives displaced people a roof over their heads until they can move into permanent, affordable housing. But one of the requirements for transitional housing is to find gainful employment — something Loretta was unable to do no matter how hard she tried. She was evicted from transitional housing with nowhere else to go.
She thought she might stay with friends for a little while, but they failed to come through. “That’s where you find out who your true friends are,” she says.
Expanding Into New Areas
With all of her options exhausted in Colorado Springs, Loretta made the difficult decision to relocate to Denver, about 70 miles and a world away from the hometown she knew and loved. She moved in with her brother and tried to navigate her new surroundings. It didn’t go well at first. “I was so overwhelmed,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I just can’t do this.’”
She managed to find a job at a day care center — but shortly after starting, she fell and hurt her back. “It was a long journey,” she explains. “I had to see a pain management doctor and get injections in my back.” Just like that, she was unemployed again.
Once she started to feel better, Loretta visited a workforce center to get help finding a job. She saw a flyer for the AARP Foundation Senior Community Service and Employment Program, or SCSEP, a workplace training program for adults over 55 who have very low income. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, SCSEP organizes training assignments with local nonprofits and public agencies that help participants build job skills and earn a livable income while giving back to their community. The vast majority of participants end up with permanent, unsubsidized employment.
Loretta already had basic computer skills, but SCSEP helped her expand her capabilities into new areas. “I got to assist with job fairs and teach a couple of courses,” she says. “I had no idea that I was able teach anybody anything!” Her computer skills advanced substantially, and her varied responsibilities helped her gain customer service experience as well.
More than anything, though, Loretta gained confidence. “I was still pretty trodden down at that time,” she says, but she found her footing thanks to “the confidence that my director had in me … what she knew I was capable of doing and how she brought it out.”
The Confidence to Keep Pushing Forward
Loretta was able to move into her own place in 2018, and in January 2022 she landed a full-time job as a health screener for a company that operates a number of hospitals in the Denver area. But as coronavirus-related mandates were lifted, the need for health screeners diminished, and Loretta was laid off just weeks after she started.
This time, however, she had the confidence to keep pushing forward. She let the human resources department know she was interested in pursuing other opportunities with the company. And when a recruiter for the hospital proposed a position in accounts receivable, she grabbed it, even though she had no experience in accounting. The recruiter told her, “With the skills you have behind you, you can definitely do the job.” And, it turns out, she could.
When Loretta thinks about how much her life has improved, more than a decade after she left the workforce to take care of her mother, she gives AARP Foundation SCSEP a lot of the credit.
“I was in a dark place,” she says. “But the SCSEP program helped save me. I don’t know where I would have been if I hadn’t found that program. That’s just how much it meant to me. It transformed my life.”
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.