This article originally appeared on the NICOA blog.
Diane Martinez is the picture of a resilient elder whose journey and difficulties led to success. As a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, traditions are especially important to her. She attends the Weoguf-kee (Muddy Waters) Ceremonial Grounds in Hanna, Oklahoma, and has learned some of her native Mvskoke language through classes at the College of the Muscogee Nation, which she teaches to her grandchildren.
After surviving many challenges, she has finally found a place where she can thrive. As a participant in the National Indian Council on Aging’s (NICOA) Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), Diane now works 20-30 hours per week to supplement her retirement income. She has found a place with NICOA’s SCSEP to grow and learn additional employment skills.
Life was not always so fortunate for Diane. In 2014, at the age of 57, Diane resigned from her job of 27 years. As time went on, she felt stagnant as her days lacked purpose. Being without a regular wage, she felt aimless and soon struggled financially. What seemed like a good idea, soon began to impact Diane’s goals and dreams. Emotionally, the lack of purpose and financial security took a toll on her wellbeing.
Diane went through a period of homelessness, living in a shelter. “I believed there was no hope for me,” she said. She felt like meaningful employment was beyond her — “having gray hair and no teeth and being an older person.” Diane has back problems and arthritis, so physical work was not an option.
She worked three different jobs over a four-year period, trying to live on a small pension and whatever money she made from baking goods and making jewelry. Diane moved to different places and stayed with different people. She lived with many relatives but always maintained a desire for a stable income and a place of her.
In 2019, Diane heard about the SCSEP program through a friend and current program participant in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Her decision to apply to SCSEP has led to many positive changes in her life.
“When I called NICOA to see what they were all about I had no clue. I now know that NICOA’s SCSEP helps me to plan, have guidance, set goals, and believe in myself,” she said.
Working in the NICOA Central Region office as a receptionist trainee, Diane is gaining valuable skills that impact her opportunities for future unsubsidized employment.
“I am still able to work, and now I am becoming independent with more knowledge and wisdom,” she said. “Through this program, I learned to be mindful and to help others like I was helped.”
She feels like she’s “been spared and given an opportunity” through SCSEP’s on-the-job training. As a result of her hard work, she was able to get a home of her own and the skills to take care of herself financially, physically and mentally. “I am grateful, and I appreciate this program,” she said.
Diane’s goals include both employment and traditional aspirations. She wants to return to work full-time in a clerical position and continue to be independent. She hopes to stay connected to family and be surrounded by grandkids, as well as remain connected to her Muscogee culture through language learning, dances and traditional ceremonies. She believes this will be a sound life as well as a demonstration to her family of how to age well as an elder. NICOA’s SCSEP will continue to serve as a as a valuable resource as her journey continues.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.