“I’ve got more to do than just sit around.”
That’s what Joyce Lindberg told herself after debilitating knee pain forced her to leave her job and apply for disability benefits.
“I couldn’t walk,” Joyce, 62, says. “I was at one point in a wheelchair, and my sweet mama, who was about 79, had to help me dress and even help me go to the restroom.”
At the time, Joyce had a restaurant in Oregon, one of several she had owned in her 35-year career. There was a catering business, too, but she had to sell it, along with the restaurant, because she couldn’t work any longer. “I became a recluse and didn’t really talk to anybody. I even distanced myself from my friends,” she says.
Eventually, she decided she was done sitting in what she calls a “pity pool” and started doing tasks around the house. “It hurt like hell, and it might’ve taken me two hours to do it, but I sat on my walker and swept and mopped my kitchen. Once I accomplished that, it was like, OK, I can do this.”
Not long after that, a death in the family brought Joyce to Duncan, Oklahoma, about 80 miles south of Oklahoma City. She fell in love with the area and decided to move there with her mother. In Duncan, she says, she was able to get the medical help she needed.
“I got to where I could walk,” she says. “It took me a couple years, but I was able to do it.” And that’s when, in 2019, Joyce decided it was time to go back to work.
She launched a month-long job search that led her to the AARP Foundation Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) in nearby Norman. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, SCSEP matches unemployed adults — who must be 55 or older and have very low income — with local nonprofits and public “host” agencies so they can increase skills while earning a modest training wage.
After meeting with SCSEP Project Director Cynthia Poston, Joyce was accepted into the program, but her first training assignment proved less challenging than she’d hoped. Then she recalled one of the places she’d visited during her job search: the Association of South Central Oklahoma Governments (ASCOG), a SCSEP host agency that helps local governments plan for needs that range from community and economic development to aging services.
Before she could request a reassignment, though, COVID-19 shut everything down, leaving Joyce at home to take training classes on Zoom and wait impatiently for pandemic restrictions to be lifted. Once they were, she called Cynthia Poston and asked to be assigned to ASCOG, where she learned how to do insurance billing and insurance coding.