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In Her Own Words: Belinda Kizer’s Journey From Personal Hardship to Career Success

Young Arkansan had to overcome many challenges to get to where she is now, enjoying a satisfying career at AARP Foundation SCSEP.


spinner image Belinda Kizer Story

Belinda Kizer is one of more than a hundred AARP Foundation SCSEP staff members across the country who help unemployed adults over the age of 55 get back into the workforce through subsidized community service employment that typically leads to permanent unsubsidized jobs.

I want to find people jobs that are meaningful — jobs that aren’t just for a paycheck, but that are going to make them feel happy.

I'm a coal miner's daughter from Buffalo Creek, West Virginia. I joined the military right out of high school. My first job, which I had for more than 10 years, was in military intelligence, processing security clearances for Middle Eastern linguists heading overseas. I’ve run my own intelligence firm and also worked as a counselor in the juvenile justice system.

My husband and I are high school sweethearts who reconnected later in life, and we’ve been through some really hard times together. Due to a series of health catastrophes and the related medical expenses, we ended up homeless for a few years, staying in shelters and living out of our car as we made our way to North Carolina. We lived in a tent there until we could get into the Salvation Army Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which helped us find a home and got us back on our feet.

Once we were stable, I was able to use military education benefits to (finally!) go to college and get my bachelor’s degree in psychology and addiction counseling in 2021. I took the long way around to working at AARP Foundation SCSEP (Senior Community Service Employment Program). When I first came across the job listing, I thought I wouldn’t be qualified, but my husband convinced me to apply, and thank goodness he did! Three months later I got the job, helping people over age 55 in my area get work experience and eventually secure permanent employment.

It’s not easy, but I love what I do. I work with people in 17 extremely rural counties in Arkansas, in the Delta. I drive hundreds of miles every month to get to my clients, and because many of them don’t have reliable internet service, I converted my car into a mobile office, using the emergency call service my vehicle came with to hook into the internet. I can print forms and get them other information they just don’t have access to.

My clients are up against more than ageism. They face racism and of course are struggling with poverty, and many of them feel they don’t have the skills required for any job outside a kitchen. My job is to help them think outside the box about what they could do with the skills they have. I’ve had applicants tell me they don’t have marketable skills because they are homemakers or stay-at-home parents. I help them see the many skills required for that role — organization, cleaning, bookkeeping — the list goes on!

Having gone through such serious hardship myself, I know what it’s like for the people I work with. To find myself in a position where I can help people get a new start, to be able to see the benefit almost in real time is really special. Some of them give me a hard time because of my age (I’m 40). They look at me like, “What's this little girl doing here?” But I carry myself with confidence and look them in the eye. If you’re honest and straightforward, and you keep showing up, trust happens, and it opens doors. There are some hard days, but I'm the kind of person where if it's easy, I want nothing to do with it. I love the challenge.  

Learn more about AARP Foundation SCSEP and find help with job training and employment opportunities. 

AARP Foundation SCSEP is funded by a $46,889,529 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. This funding provides 90% of the support for SCSEP, with AARP Foundation matching 10%.

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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