Learning Gets Better With Age Award Recipient

Darlene is a 71-year-old woman who is a self-described animal lover and very modest. “I’m not the type of person to stand in front of a crowd and say “pick me, pick me,” she says. Darlene just celebrated her 5th anniversary in July working for Walgreens where she started out in the cosmetics department and is now a Front End Cashier.

Darlene was in the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) operated by the Goodwill Easter Seals in Mobile, Alabama when she decided to get her high school equivalency. She saw a job notice at a warehouse for a Forklift Operator position. She thought, “I would love that.” But when she read the job description, she saw that applicants had to have either a high school diploma or equivalency. She said that she went directly to Thelma Matthews, former SCSEP Project Director for Goodwill Easter Seals and said, “This is not going to happen to me again. Enroll me, Thelma.”

Darlene shared that in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, women got married and had kids and that is what she did. She didn’t finish high school and was a housewife and mother and was happy. She fulfilled one dream. She wasn’t thinking about fulfilling future dreams she might have. She didn’t have a diploma stashed away that she could pull out when needed.

Darlene decided to get her GED to show her 6 kids, 11 grandkids and 6 great grandkids that “it doesn’t matter how old you are. If you are determined, you can do it.” And in doing so, she fulfilled another dream. Ms. Smith completed her GED at age 64. At the ceremony, her sister (who went to college, her brother-in-law and her kids where present. “I was so proud for them to see me walk down the aisle. My sister looked at me in awe. I felt like I have achieved.”

“I’m a very determined person,” says Darlene. I was raised to be by my mom. My dad died when I was 7 years old and my mother didn’t remarry. She raised me to believe that I could do whatever I want if I just make up my mind. My mom used to say” don’t let anything hold you back. Only you can hold you back.”

If the opportunity presented itself, would she still want to be a Forklift Operator? “I don’t know. I’m having so much fun at Walgreens. I have great friends in the other staff and customers. I just don’t know.” Darlene says that people often say to her, “you are so awake, so vibrant, so alert.” To which she replies, “That’s just me.”