For children at Troy’s W.F. Morrison Elementary School, getting to work on extra projects with Tim Pomeroy is a reward for good behavior.
“He has built a relationship with students so they want to come here,” said Jennifer Higgins, student intervention coordinator and after-school program supervisor.
Pomeroy works at the school as part of a U.S. Department of Labor program that seeks to employ and train people over 55 who are struggling to make ends meet. Participants work at host sites such as the school or 501(c)3 nonprofits in fields to which they are matched.
Aside from meeting the immediate needs of participants, a goal of the program is for participants to build a current resume from their experience that can lead to long term employment, said Western Montana SCSEP Employment and Training Coordinator Russ Johnson.
“The end goal is as simple as a job that makes sense for our participant, that puts them in a better place than where they were when they entered the program,” Johnson said.
Though the Senior Community Service Employment Program only pays minimum wage for 15-18 hours a week, the financial difference has been significant for Pomeroy, he said. He had been looking for work when he was directed to the program about two years ago, as his Social Security benefits were spread thin.
“This opportunity for training for reemployment right now is essential for my financial well being,” he said.
A lot of people living on only Social Security find themselves going backwards, dependent on government assistance such as food stamps just to survive, Johnson said.
“With this, we hope that they’re relying less on those services, because they’re going to be transitioning back to employment,” he said.
But the benefit goes beyond finances, Pomeroy said.
“It gives me a reason, a very purposeful reason, for getting up in the morning,” he said.
The children put a smile on his face, and he enjoys working with the school staff, Pomeroy said. “It’s very much different than the life I was living five years ago.”
“Most of my time was spent in trying to entertain myself. I had a few days of fishing, and a lot of watching TV,” he said. “Reading other peoples’ stories, you know, reading novels — other peoples’ lives. Not really living my own life to the enjoyment that was possible.”
Johnson said that Pomeroy is not alone in that sentiment. Many participants rate self confidence and self esteem as high on the things they hope to get out of the program.
Employment and feeling productive has always been essential to a sense of well being for Pomeroy, he said. Yet, while he had a couple short experiences with it, working as an educator had remained an unrealized dream.
In the mid 1970s, he served two years as a teacher in the Peace Corps in Belize, and in the 1990s he worked two years as a teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District on an emergency credential.
In the years between, he was a chemist working for agricultural chemical firms, even running his own laboratory in Billings for a time, Pomeroy said. He went through a time he described as a midlife crisis, and before teaching in Los Angeles spent time in Washington plowing fields of garbanzo beans.
By the time he found the Experience Works program, his last job had been working in the gardening area at Shopko.
Troy 5th grader Nevaeh Pattie is one of the students who works with Pomeroy. With his help she is currently building a model of the twin towers.
When the project is finished, she will write a narrative and report as well, Pomeroy said.
“She does so well in the ordinary classroom that she needs extraordinary challenges,” Pomeroy said.
“This is kind of like an event,” Pattie said. Pattie said she enjoys the extra challenge of the project, which she started in part because she heard about another student who likes tall buildings.
For Pomeroy — who has valued exploring his own interests — getting to help students explore their interests is something he enjoys, he said.
“There’s a lot more to education if we can train the child to have a lifelong love just to learn,” Pomeroy said. “That’s what they must do in order to have a purposeful life, is continue to learn all their life and explore their interests.”
While it has benefit to the community, the program is not just a free labor program for host agencies or a paycheck for participants, Pomeroy said. Being matched to something he has an aptitude for — participants are tested for aptitudes — and love for makes all the difference in how successful the match is.
“I’ve done other employment and training programs. This one has a lot of reach,” Johnson said. “There’s more to it. There’s more positive outcome from the dollars that are placed.”
Experience Works could enroll another three participants in Lincoln County at this time, but they haven’t been getting a lot of inquiries, Johnson said.
Agencies that are interested in being a host agency for a participant are also welcome to reach out, he said.
Experience Works Western Montana
Russ Johnson, Employment and Training Coordinator
PO Box 1172 Missoula, MT 59806