Educate October 2016

The Back to Work “Dream Team”

Written By: Chris Eversole

“Everyone who has a work history and is unemployed has been smacked down in some way. Their identity has been devastated, and their confidence level is low.” —MICHELE LEAVITT


Jeraldine Mcmillan endured several tough years. The national company for which she worked downsized and moved her position out of town three years ago. In February 2015, an auto accident severely damaged her face and teeth.

Mcmillan has rebounded, and she thanks a Santa Fe College program called Back to Work 50+ for helping make it possible.

The program covered many topics, including resume writing and computer skills. “We had professional people come in and help us prepare for interviews, including talking about how to dress,” she said.

The staff went so far as to help Mcmillan find affordable dental care to restore the damage from the accident. “My face is my brand,” she said. “I got my brand back, and I got my swag back.” And she has a job she loves, working in Santa Fe College’s Financial Aid Office. Back to Work 50+ is funded by a three-year grant from the AARP Foundation. Other grants have come from the Women’s Giving Circle at the Community Foundation of North Central Florida, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and the Social Innovation Fund.

“For the past 10 years, the Women’s Giving Circle has supported programs benefitting women and girls in Alachua County that focus on economic empowerment, job skills and life skills,” said Barzella Papa, the Community Foundation’s president and CEO. “When we reviewed the grant application for this program, we knew it would be a great investment.”

A total of 125 people have completed the six-week program, said program specialist Michele Leavitt. To qualify, participants must have at least ten years of job experience.

They are either unemployed or are making a career change. “Some of them have taken a hiatus to care for family members or they were disabled and getting back on their feet,” Leavitt said.

“Everybody who has a work history and is unemployed has been smacked down in some way,” she said. “Their identity has been devastated, and their confidence level is low.”


Pamela Hnyla is participating in a work-based learning experience through the program – in Santa Fe’s Communications & Creative Services. She’s also taking a class on web coding. Hnyla is making a career change, from teaching to graphic design. “I never had to look for teaching jobs; they always found me,” she said.

That wasn’t the case when she completed training in graphic design. “I didn’t have a network in graphic design,” she said. “If you don’t know anyone in your field, what do you do?”

Hnyla found the help she needed from Back to Work 50+. “I don’t think most people are good at job-hunting, and you get conflicting information on the Internet,” she said.

The program’s staff provided practical tips. For example, they emphasized the importance of tailoring a cover letter to a job description. “They suggested creating columns, with the duties on one side and my related skills on the other side. I never would have thought of that,” she said.

“We had a wide variety of great people in the program,” she said. “The program only reaches the tip of the iceberg of people who could benefit from it.”



Bobbie Durr retired from a clerical position at the University of Florida a year and a half ago, and she’s ready to get back to work.

Her chances have improved, thanks to the help of Back to Work 50+. “The program helped me gain confidence, improve my computer skills and update my resume,” she said.

Durr’s professionalism impressed Jenna White, who was recruiting workers for Enterprise Holdings at a job fair that Back to Work 50+ held in August at CareerSource North Central Florida.

“We want employees who mirror our wide spectrum of customers in terms of age and demographics,” said White,who is the generalist manager for the car rental company’s Damage Recovery Center in Gainesville. “We’re looking for people who have work experience and who have unique life stories that relate to our customer base.”

White applauded CareerSource for hosting the event – one of the first held at its new office in midtown Gainesville. “The value of having this location available is amazing,” she said.


Sam Brown was full of confidence at the job fair. He credited the Back to Work 50+ staff with helping him prepare to change careers after 42 years in a manufacturing job.

“They’re my Dream Team,” he said. “I was old school, and I never thought I would get involved with computers, but they made it an easy transition,” he said.

The program helped him create a resume and improve his interviewing skills. “I’m willing to take anything and work up from the bottom,” Brown said.

While in the program, Brown got to know the 25 other participants. “I found other people in my same situation,” he said. “I overcame my fear, and I’m pursuing my dream. I’ll never give up.”


Senior Writer CHRIS EVERSOLE has been a keen observer of business, government and culture in the Greater Gainesville Area while living here over the past two decades. His experience includes work with the University of Florida and Alachua County Government. He also has been a journalist and public relations professional in the Tampa Bay and Sarasota-Bradenton areas, as well as in Michigan, Ohio and New York.

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