The couches and books aren’t the only things that have been given a new opportunity through the Idaho Falls Habitat for Humanity store. So have many of the employees, retirees looking for a chance to start working again.
When she was younger, Bonnie Chapple had worked as a beautician in Rigby while she raised three children with her husband Gerald. Now the 81-year-old great-grandmother drives into town from near Ririe twice a week to work at the cash register. On some days she is the only employee in the store, coordinating pickup for new items and cleaning the display room in between helping customers.
Chapple said she’s enjoyed the work, which she started as a temporary worker until she was hired as a permanent employee two years ago.
“Working keeps you sharp. I’m ringing up prices at the register, answering questions about what we have and we can get for people,” Chapple said.
Chapple is one of the four staff members at ReStore who was hired after being placed there by Experience Works. The company helps people over the age of 55 find part-time work in 11 states across the country, with the goal of eventually transferring them to a more permanent position. Over the last year, 268 retirees have been placed at jobs in Idaho through the program.
Experience Works employment and training services are through the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which is funded by U.S. Department of Labor and the Idaho Commission on Aging. It works with local 501©(3) not-for-profit and public agencies to offer the training and job experience that older workers need to easily return to the workforce.
Margie Alexander, Experience Works coordinator for eastern Idaho and western Montana, said the company was the only senior community service and job placement company in Idaho. Many of the people who got in touch with her were retirees who were unable to live on their savings and Social Security.
“They believed Social Security would provide the income they needed to live on, and it didn’t. They have to go back into the workforce, with the extreme cost of living nowadays,” Alexander said.
Nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity and the Red Cross are a frequent partner for Experience Works but other workers have ended up at car dealerships or more traditional office jobs. Karen Lansing, executive director of the Habitat for Humanity store in Idaho Falls, has seen a steady stream of workers come through the program since she started.
“They’re used to dealing with people and customer service. Office workers we see are historically hard-working and want to be actively engaged at work,” Lansing said.
Alexander said that employers she worked with were partially swayed by the financial incentives she was able to offer — the company reimburses the employer for half of the wages of the newly placed worker and provides technical training for the new position — and partially convinced by the enthusiasm and skill of the new hires.
“Our seniors need to keep going and employers see the drive that exists in them,” she said.
Chapple first got in touch with Experience Works in 2006. The first job they set up for her was in the kitchen at the Rigby Senior Center, which also got her involved with the school lunch program in Jefferson Joint School District. Chapple said she has enjoyed being able to talk to people while working both jobs.
“I know the people that come in here. Even if they’re not interested in talking, you get to know them and everyone enjoys talking,” she said.
Workers can be sponsored through Experience Works for up to four years unless they get hired, which meant that Chapple was soon retired again. After a few years at home, Chapple became restless and reapplied to the program. Her second job placement was at the Habitat for Humanity store in 2013 and at the end of this four-year span, Lansing decided to hire her on a more permanent basis.
Four of the store’s staff members had gone through a similar journey after being placed by Experience Works, including one of the pick-up drivers. Currently, the store doesn’t have any temporary workers, which Lansing said was unusual.
Now that she has the job, Chapple said she had no plans to retire in the next few years. If anything, she would be willing to work more if the hours didn’t push her out of the part-time range.
“I could just stay at home if I wanted to and pay my bills but what kind of life would that be?” Chapple said.