Charlotte Salamone of Joppa became bored with retirement. So did Abingdon resident Vera Leyhe.

After being out of the work force for about five years, both women felt a yearning to get busy again. But neither senior citizen was sure how to go about getting a job. And neither woman was even sure if anyone would hire them because of their age.

But a visit to the Open Doors Career Center Inc. at 432 S. Main St. in Bel Air for both women landed them jobs through the private non-profit center's Seniors at Work program. The program, started in 1984, has become extremely successful placing eligible seniors in jobs, say program administrators.

Of those who meet income eligibility requirements, the program placed between 85 percent and 90 percent of the applicants in jobs in the past year, said Phyllis Atzinger, director of programming at Open Doors.

Salamone now works as a substitute for the food services department in several public schools in the Joppatowne area. She helps prepare and serve meals and clean up the kitchen and cafeteria after lunch. She also occasionally helps out as an assistant on a county school bus transporting handicapped students to school, helping students on and off the bus safely and makes sure they're ride is comfortable.

Leyhe, a retired Baltimore County school system secretary with 20 years of service, said she had had enough of office work. She wanted to so something different.

These days she works every school day for two hours in the cafeteria of Ring Factory Elementary School in Bel Air.

"I get the children napkins and straws if they forget, help them open those cans with fruit in them. They're hard to open. At the beginning I'd comfort the little ones who missed their moms, things like that."

She went back to working in the schools because she enjoys children -- and just working with people in general. The atmosphere at Ring Factory elementary school, Leyhe said, is congenial and makes work enjoyable.

Said Salamone, "My husband and I are both retired and live on Social Security, so this is a little extra pocket change that always helps."

"Right now, (the job) suits me fine because we like to go away in the summer and when the weather's bad I don't have to go out. And schools are something I hadn't done before."

Not only has the Seniors at Work program placed seniors looking for work, but it has helped businesses seeking reliable, experienced employees, whether temporary, permanent or part-time.

"Our object is to help older workers find job situations at their skill and interest level," explained Atzinger, the Open Doors director of programming. "We offer pre-employment, vocational, job development and placement assistance."

The center has a job developer who visits businesses in the county to educate employers about the Senior at Work program and to cultivate openings, said Mary Kahoe, a career counselor in the program.

"The seniors have an excellent work ethic and they're dependable and employers are recognizing that," Kahoe noted. "They're (employers) realizing what a great, untapped resource seniors are."

"The seniors are leery of going out on their own," Kahoe added. "We try to get them marketable again."

Seniors At Work targets citizens 55 and older who live in Harford and Cecil counties and are income-eligible according to guidelines set up by the program's sponsors.

The center is funded through grants from by the Susquehanna Regional Private Industry Council and the Maryland Office on Aging through the Jobs Training Partnership Act, Kahoe said.

While those seeking job placement and counseling must meet the program's income eligibility guidelines, the requirements have many different variables.

Said Kahoe, "While the program is for those who live on a limited income, but we don't ever turn anyone away. If someone comes in and wants counseling or whatever, we'll help them as much as we can."

All services provided by the Seniors At Work program are free. Besides job training and placement assistance, the program offers workshops on such topics as self-esteem, interviewing techniques, and other related areas to encourage the senior citizen.

The program has gotten so successful, she added, that many businesses call Open Doors and ask specifically for seniors.

"And the seniors stay -- that's the funny part," Kahoe noted. "We have one business hiring almost all seniors because their younger employees are quitting."

Fred and Cheryl Manns, owners of Bel Air Office Supply, say they have found the Seniors At Work program an excellent source of reliable employees.

"Their people generally tend to be good workers and well-motivated people," Fred Manns said. "We try not to discriminate toward any one group, but what we've found is that the seniors are excellent workers -- they have a work ethic, experience and they have pride in their work."

The Manns' employ about 15 people in the Bel Air and Elkton offices. Of those, Fred Manns said, "We have four seniors and five more who are close."

Those program has placed seniors in a variety of work, including delivery, clerical, health care, food services and security jobs.

If a senior citizen wants help in finding work, all they need do is go to the Open Doors Career Center, verify their income, and if they qualify, sign up with the State of Maryland Employment Office, Kahoe said.

"Then we'll give them an appointment to see a counselor," she said.

Atzinger said she has noticed a positive change in the attitude of area employers during the past three to five years about hiring senior citizens.

"They are much more receptive than in the past. They've found senior workers are highly dependable."

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