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A New Job Becomes a Calling

With help from AARP Foundation SCSEP, Joyce Lindberg found her life’s purpose.

spinner image Joyce Lindberg Story

“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.

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After four months, a job opened up at ASCOG for a full-time community and economic development planner and insurance coordinator, and management asked Joyce if she wanted it. “I said, ‘I know nothing about community and economic development,’” she remembers. “They said, ‘Are you willing to learn?’ And I said yes.”

Through her new role, Joyce soon discovered that her passion was managed care: guiding older adults through the Medicaid waiver program, handling insurance billing, and providing Medicare counseling. She also started a program at ASCOG that supplies heaters, blankets, air conditioners, and fans to older adults who can’t afford them.

“Elderly people are very vulnerable,” she says. “I see folks that have worked their whole life and now they need help, but there aren’t a lot of places to get that help. They need someone to advocate for them.”

And that, Joyce says, is why she has no interest in returning to restaurant life. “My job now is to help people,” she explains. And because SCSEP has had such a positive impact on her, she helps older adults sign up for it when they come to ASCOG looking for financial assistance. “There’s no discrimination against age or disability, and you make new friends,” she tells them. “SCSEP can really make a difference in your life.”

Joyce remains thankful that she came across the program. “If it wasn’t for SCSEP, I wouldn’t be where I’m at; I’d still be on disability,” she says. “It shows that getting older doesn’t mean you are through living. There is still so much to offer.”

Learn more about AARP Foundation SCSEP and find a SCSEP office near you.

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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