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Program pays seniors to learn new job skills

STERLING – Florence Cunningham knows firsthand the benefits of the Experience Works program.

Experience Works helps low-income adults 55 and older get back into the workforce by giving them 18 hours a week of training to help them land jobs. And they get paid for their time.

The program covers 10 counties, including Lee and Whiteside, and it has openings for participants and for businesses or organizations willing to help them.

Cunningham, 70, of Rock Falls, joined the program in 2007 as a participant.

“I was looking for a job. I couldn’t find one,” she said. “This was advertised in the paper; I came and did an interview. It’s very, very exciting. He [Lloyd Pletsch] got me in with Sinnissippi Centers, working with teenagers.”

Pletsch, then the director of employment training, retired in 2010, and Cunningham applied for and got the job. Her title now is employment and training coordinator.

Seniors who participate in the program are provided information and support services necessary to “gain self-sufficiency and obtain regular employment while meeting the needs of local community organizations and employers,” Cunningham said.

“We look for an individual that is looking to go back into the workforce,” she said. “Someone that’s interested and can be on time.”

Participants train at places like the YMCA, YWCA, Red Cross, local libraries and museums. They must meet certain income guidelines to take part, and are paid $8.25 an hour.

They also are trained in computer use. They learn how to create resumes and cover letters, and skills such as speaking and projecting their voice in a professional setting, Cunningham said.

Many people don’t think they have what it takes to be a part of Experience Works and rejoin the workforce, she said.

“Lot of participants tell me, ‘I’m too old.’ I tell them, no, you’re not.’ A lot of participants that don’t have their GED, first thing they tell me is, ‘I’m too old.’ They’re not too old.”

To learn more

Contact Florence Cunningham at 815-535-0034 or, or go to for more information.

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