The last time Betty Collins worked was 15 years ago at the Veterans Administration in Dallas.

Collins retired to spend time with her ailing husband. Before that job, Collins worked at the General Services Administration office for 8 1/2 years. She worked other jobs such as a customer service representative, gas station clerk and Tupperware saleswoman.

Now the Joshua resident wants back in the work world.

“I enjoy being out. I enjoy meeting people. I got so bored being at home,” Collins said.

Collins is training for a job with the local Red Cross office through the help of Experience Works, an organization dedicated to putting senior citizens to work.

Collins grew up in Tucson, Ariz., and moved with her family to Sulphur Springs when she was 10. When she was 12, she got sick with polio. She had the first case of polio diagnosed in Hopkins County in Sulphur Springs.

Polio crippled her and Collins was forced to use crutches and braces until 1985, when she began using a wheelchair. When she was 15, her family moved back to Tucson. While she was working at her grandfather’s grocery store, she met Gordon L. Jordan, who was stationed at Davis-Mothan Air Force Base. They were married in 1956 and moved to Seattle. Jordan was killed in 1966 when a race car he was working on fell on him. After his death, Collins moved to Texas to live close to her mother.

Later, she returned to Seattle and met Gordon Collins. They were married in 1968 and moved to Texas. After many years of marriage, her husband’s health began deteriorating. Collins retired in 1990 and the two began traveling across the country in a recreational vehicle. The couple visited more than 30 states from 1991-1998. Her husband used to say they had been in 32 states and never left home. After traveling, his health declined, and he died in 2001.

Although Collins has faced many difficulties in her life, such as her paralysis from polio, the death of two husbands and two of her children, she has overcome them all.

About her paralysis from polio, Collins said: “I think it’s made me a better person. I’ve learned to do things and to not depend on others. I’ve had to face a lot of challenges, but a lot of people would have given up — I’ve known some that would.

“It’s just given me more of a challenge to prove I can do something rather than to sit back and wait for someone to do something [for me].”

Collins said she would not let her disability stop her. “I wouldn’t let it. I have too much to do. I enjoy getting out and doing things and feeling like life is worth living again.”

In May 2005, Collins began seriously looking for a job. She contacted the North Central Texas WorkForce office in Cleburne, and they referred her to Experience Works, also known as Senior Community Service Employment Program, a government-operated organization that helps people 55 and older find work and gain job training.

Experience Works assists senior citizens who are within specific income brackets by providing them with paid job training. Experience Works pays the participant $5.15 an hour, up to 20 hours a week, while he or she works at the host agency. Host agencies must be a nonprofit organization or a government office. Some examples of host agencies in Johnson County include the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Meals-on-Wheel and the Cleburne Senior Center.

“It’s a win-win situation for the host agency and for the participant,” said Garnette Blanton, Experience Works field operations assistant. “The host agency gets free help.”

Experience Works began in the 1960s under President Johnson’s administration. It has branches in 126 counties in Texas, and there are 20 participants in the Johnson County Experience Works program.

Collins met Jerry McDearmon, Johnson County Experience Works representative, and McDearmon helped put Collins to work in a host agency. Collins interviewed with the Red Cross and decided to train there for a job in data entry.

Experience Works field operations assistant Pat Cunningham said the Red Cross “is a gold-star facility” because of the variety of training it provides.

Collins began work in July 2005, just before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Before the disasters came, the Red Cross trained Collins in computer software, CPR, first aid, disaster training, phone and communication skills and family services like case work management.

“She really got thrown into it when we had Hurricane Katrina. Our phones were ringing non-stop, and people were coming in non-stop,” Lisa Ortner, Red Cross branch manager, said.

More than 230 people came to the Cleburne office of the Red Cross for relief after Katrina.

“It was very challenging and very interesting,” Collins said. “I enjoyed being able to do it and to help.”

Collins also said she has enjoyed meeting people and working in the different aspects of the Red Cross.

“She’s been wonderful help, and we don’t know how we could have done half of what we’ve done without her,” Ortner said. “She’s always here early, eager to help, dependable.

“I’ll get her trained just the way I Iike her and I’ll have to send her off.”

Collins’ training will end around September, unless she gains employment before that time. The job training Collins experienced will be something she can add to her resume.

“She’s updated her skills,” Blanton said about Collins’ training experience. “Many times we find that this program will actually change people’s lives.”

Collins responded, “It has mine. It’s given me a different outlook on life. I enjoy getting up and going to work.”

Collins applied for several jobs last week and is hopeful about a getting her first job in 15 years.

“I like the Red Cross. I like what I’m doing there, but I’m ready to move on,” Collins said. “I’m looking for something that will give me a challenge.”



Allison Davis can be reached at 817-558-2855, ext. 2338, or at features@trcle.com

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