2019 Award Recipient

When two of her 13 grandchildren were set to graduate from high school, Shelia set a goal for herself: to finally get her GED. If she could do it at her age, she knew it would inspire her grandchildren to never give up on their dreams. Two and a half years later, at age 56, Shelia achieved her goal and then some: Selected valedictorian of her class, she was one of the graduation speakers. Her three sons and all 13 grandchildren were there to celebrate with her.

LGBWA Award Winner SheilaIt was after a back injury had left her unable to work at her job as a manager of the photo lab at Wal-Mart that Shelia decided it was a good time to start working on her GED. By the time her doctor cleared her to return to work, she had already passed 3 of the 5 GED tests—she just couldn’t give up on her goal. So she started going to school in the evenings after her shift.

Her biggest challenge was the math test. With little chance to study, it was hard to retain what she learned. Adding to the challenge was continuing back pain, which led to lack of sleep. But her brother kept telling her “You can do it!” In the end, it was her faith and the encouragement from her family, teacher and volunteers that helped her conquer her nerves and cross that last hurdle. Finally passing the math test meant Shelia had earned her GED.

As a participant in the Senior Community Service Program (SCSEP) at SSAI’s partner organization East Side Neighborhood Services in Minneapolis, Shelia is currently receiving on-the-job training as a Field Rep for SCSEP. When the staff told her she’d be perfect for the position, she said, “I don’t know anything about being a Field Rep, but if you think I’d be good at it, I’m ready to give it a try!” She loves her work, which includes using a computer program to recertify enrollees, conducting safety checks at work sites and creating Individual Employment Plans. Best of all, she’s learning skills she can apply to a future, permanent position.

What’s next? Shelia plans to continue to pursue her many creative interests: making jewelry, drawing, painting and writing. And she looks forward to landing a job as a medical receptionist. What Shelia would like potential employers to realize is that she and other older workers like her have up-to-date skills that employers can use. Plus, older employees show up on time and can pass on good work ethics to younger colleagues. “We want to stay and better the place where we work.”