With bright multicolored posters proclaiming “Celebrate the Elderly,” the city of New Haven kicked off National Employ Older Workers Week with an awards ceremony Wednesday.
The event honored local businesses that have gone out of their way to hire or help train elderly workers. National Employ Older Workers Week is celebrated from Sept. 21 to 27.
“It is really amazing to see this in a country that covets youth,” said Pierrette Comulada Silverman, director of elderly services for the city of New Haven.
Senior aide programs help to introduce the elderly workers into the workforce — even some people who have never worked outside of the home before. The two agencies in New Haven with these senior aide programs are the Community Action Agency and the South Central Connecticut Agency on Aging. Both received special awards at the ceremony.
“These programs provide training and expertise for seniors to allow them to go into the workforce,” Silverman said.
She described how, in order to be useful in office settings, many elderly people need to learn such skills as computer literacy and how to use a fax machine. She said she herself has gone through step-by-step instructions to teach some of the elderly employees how to fax documents.
But the program does not place its participants in full time positions, as seniors are limited to working 20 hours a week by state and federal law.
Marilyn Braginsky, a representative of the Westriver Senior Center, spoke in glowing terms about the success of senior aide programs.
“I’ve had three senior aides in my 27 years working for the center and they were wonderful,” Braginsky said.
She said one of her favorite parts about working with the senior aides is the long interview process before hiring an elderly worker, as it gives both worker and employer an opportunity to see if they get along with each other.
Among those local businesses recognized with a certificate for hiring elderly workers were the Hillhouse Center, Jewish Family Services, the Jewish Home for the Aging, Shaw’s Supermarket, and the New Haven Public Education Fund.
The audience and the speakers at the ceremony all received a gold and silver ribbon for attending. Silverman said the silver ribbon represents the aging process, the gold represents the milestone of reaching 50, and together, they signify the value of experience.
An audience member had another take on the meaning behind the ribbon.
“They’re for the gold and silver years,” she said, laughing.
There were several mentions of how state budget cutbacks have especially hurt programs supporting the elderly. Currently, there are only two active programs for senior aides in New Haven, and both are limited in the number applicants they can accept, a fact that Braginsky lamented. She said the programs give the elderly a chance to earn some extra revenue, but there are other benefits as well.
“These programs keep people connected,” Silverman said. “We have someone who is 83 and is still coming to work every day.”