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Staff photo by Mark Kennedy / Olga Moreira stands outside Goodwill Industries of Chattanooga on Dodds Avenue. Moreira is part of a program that trains and places older Americans into jobs. The grandmother, 77, works 36 hours a week at a local Head Start preschool.

Olga Moreira, 77, said her deceased husband Adolfo was the love of her life.

Olga, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1971, still kisses Adolfo's framed photograph.

"We were married 48 years," said the Ooltewah grandmother. "He was so good."

For many years the couple lived in California where Adolfo worked as a supervisor for a company that built boats and later for another company that made motor homes. The Moreiras also lived for years in Florida before moving to East Tennessee to be closer to Olga's family.

When Adolfo died of leukemia a few years ago, Olga was left with a broken heart and bills she couldn't cover. Her household income was virtually cut in half when her husband's Social Security checks were discontinued. Some months she didn't have money to pay the water and power bills, she said.

A former medical assistant who had been retired for almost 20 years, she only knew one way to solve her money problems.

"I don't want to depend on another human being to pay my bills," she said. "Instead of asking [for help from charity programs] I said, 'I will work.'"

A friend told her about a federal program administered here through the offices of Goodwill Industries of Greater Chattanooga on Dodds Avenue that helps older Americans find jobs. The Senior Community Service Employment Program seeks seniors for training and job placement.

"Basically, it's a federally funded job-training opportunity for individuals who are over the age of 55 who have to get back to the workforce," said Kimberly Crider, director of the program here.

Applicants must be unemployed and have a household income of no more than 125% of the federal poverty level. Priority is given to people over 65, veterans and/or people with low literacy skills, among other groups in need, the government says. Participants are often placed with nonprofit organizations or public facilities, "including schools, hospitals, day care centers and senior centers."

Crider said in a normal year 120-130 seniors are circulating through the program here, but COVID-19 has driven down enrollment. As a result, now is a good time for seniors to seek assistance, she said. (For information call 423-629-2501, ext. 3130.)

"We have individuals that may have been out of work for a long time. They are not sure of themselves, but they know they want to work," Crider said.

Olga Moreira said she was placed at a Cedar Hill Head Start on Divine Avenue, a government-funded preschool, first as a teacher's assistant and more recently as an interpreter for the many Hispanic children there.

"All the children are sitting together on the carpet," Moreira said. "The teacher is dictating the class, what she wants to teach for the day. I sit with the [Hispanic] children and tell them what the teacher is saying."

Moreira works about 36 hours a week at the center and makes enough money, combined with Social Security, to cover her household bills.

"If God continues to provide me with my strength and health, I will work until I'm 80, maybe 81," she said.

Meanwhile, others could benefit from the program, too, Crider said.

"There are more Olgas out there that have similar stories," she said. "People who have lost the love of their life but are still pressing on. Those are the people we want to connect with."

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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