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Willing and ABLE: Arkansas' senior workers get second chance with encouragement and training.

Many retirees are waking from a frightful dream.

The promise of blissful relaxation proves hollow.

Self-esteem withers with loss of responsibility.

They are lonely, they are fed up and they want out.

That's why they and other seniors are showing up at Arkansas Abilities Based on Long Experience, a non-profit group that finds jobs for Arkansans above the age of 50.

"More and more people are finding out that retirement is not the way to go," says Phyllis Haines, executive director of Arkansas ABLE. "It's the idea that they don't like being out of the mainstream."

Haines says most people don't realize how closely they identify with their work. But the realization comes quickly when a stranger asks the heretofore innocuous question, "What do you do?"

She stresses the diversity of her clients. That's because they often encounter prejudice in the work place due to stereotypes of the elderly.

"We have people who have been laid off from $60,000-a-year-jobs," Haines says.

Founded in 1982, Arkansas ABLE serves a variety of people -- retired, divorced, widowed, bored and otherwise inclined to try a change of life. It has placed 7,000 Arkansans in jobs since its inception.

A senior placed through Arkansas ABLE can offer numerous advantages to employers, Haines says. The benefits include reduced training costs, increased sales and productivity, reduced absenteeism and less turnover.

Seniors often have a special sense of pride in personal service that sometimes is lacking in younger counterparts.

Age Discrimination

It is difficult, however, to convince employers to take a chance on the elderly.

"Age discrimination is evident out there," Haines says. "A lot of companies are looking for young people, someone who will be a hustler."

Some employers believe older employees are too expensive because of their health care costs, she says.

The obsession with youth and appearance is illustrated in one of Haines' anecdotes.

A senior lady who had not worked in quite some time suddenly found herself in the job market following a divorce. Pounding the pavement with her "sensible shoes" and gray hair, she was finding no takers. When she dyed her hair and donned a pair of high heels, though, she was hired within a week.

With ABLE, such capitulations are rarely necessary. Two clients have good stories:

* Frank Fischer, 75, of Bryant was a World War II bomber pilot stationed in Italy. Following the war, he sold insurance but was recalled as a pilot in the Korean War.

When he rejoined the civilian ranks, Fischer began a long career as a property insurance field representative. Later, he worked for oil companies, tracing property ownership so leases could be arranged.

Fischer moved from Texas to Arkansas to partially retire. But he became bored and needed money to supplement his Social Security check. That was when Fischer discovered Arkansas ABLE, which tested him for occupational preferences and aptitude.

"I didn't realize that the background qualified me for substitute teaching," Fischer says.

He was hired last school year by the Bryant School District, and his hard-nosed ways earned him the assignment of containing the mischief of sixth- and seventh-graders.

* Carolyn Spann, 57, of Little Rock was laid off in December by TCBY Enterprises Inc. after almost four years as a franchise agreement coordinator with the company and a long, continuous work record.

"I was kind of devastated," Spann says. "It makes you feel like you aren't quite up to par. Once you get older, it's harder to get yourself psyched up for getting a job."

Her husband was employed so she was not in desperate need of work.

"But I was not ready to retire," Spann says. "I had a grandbaby coming, and I wanted to contribute. I picked up a community newspaper, and there was an article about Arkansas ABLE. It told about a workshop. I decided I had nothing to lose."

Finding Work

Spann attended Arkansas ABLE's Job Shop, a two-week workshop offered for clients 50 years of age and older living in central Arkansas.

She was interviewed by the staff and received assistance in preparing a resume. Spann says the workers at Arkansas ABLE didn't look down on her for being unemployed or seem skeptical about her chances of finding a job.

"You could just sense their desire to help," she says.

A couple of months later, Spann earned an interview with the Arkansas Retired Teachers Association in Little Rock. She was hired as office manager on July 1.

ABLE believes in building clients' self-confidence, an attribute often lacking.

Older Arkansans grew up and worked at a time when almost anyone with a high school education could get a job. It frightens them to enter a job market flooded with college graduates who can't find work.

These seniors often remained with the same company for more than 20 years. They were not forced to learn the modern art of self-marketing.

"They were taught never to brag about themselves," Haines says.

ABLE gave Spann a little of that confidence and let her skills do the rest.

"All I can do is praise Arkansas ABLE," she says. "I think they are deserving of every penny that can be spared."

Money is a problem, though.

Under the federal Job Training Partnership Act, ABLE received about $345,000 during the past two years. The organization was notified in June it would no longer receive the money, even though JTPA had recognized Arkansas ABLE for outstanding performance.

The loss of federal funding whittled away one-fourth of ABLE's annual budget, forcing it to charge small fees for some services.

During the past 12 months, the central Arkansas ABLE office has made 84 job placements with wages averaging $7.46 per hour. The average client works 32 hours per week, and ABLE estimates the clients' work provides more than $5 million per year to the central Arkansas economy.

ABLE has employment centers in 11 cities -- Harrison, Fayetteville, Batesville, Jonesboro, Helena, Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Hot Springs, Russellville, Magnolia and Fort Smith.

The regional centers are administered through the Area Agencies on Aging.

Fischer, the substitute teacher, says he is indebted to Arkansas ABLE for getting him a job.

"It made all the difference in the world," he says.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Arkansas Abilities Based on Long Experience
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 3, 1992
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Next Article:Building a nest egg: Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System tops list at $1.55 billion.

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