Skip to content
  ETA Home   Senior Community Service Employment Program>   html_docs>    

Hurricane Charley Is No Match for the Workforce Council
of Southwest Florida

      Jerry Gavin turned the tragedy of the recent Florida hurricanes into a triumph of action and coordination for the Workforce Council of Southwest Florida, part of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).

     Despite sustaining serious damage to his own home in Cape Coral, SCSEP Coordinator Gavin's first thought was to take care of his seniors. In the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, Gavin headed to Charlotte County and found utter devastation.
Photo of Hurricane Charley in Charlotte County - copyright: Warren May
Aftermath of Hurricane Charley in Charlotte County
The One-Stop was closed due to damage, so he set up a makeshift office. His staff directed victims to FEMA and the Red Cross. He took an inventory of his participants and couldn't account for 17 of them. Undaunted by the downed phone lines, Gavin hopped in his car and drove around to each participant's home to check on them himself. Amidst the chaos, he was relieved to find each of his seniors safe--even those who had evacuated the area--although 7 participants had lost everything.

     "It was beautiful to see everyone helping everyone," Gavin recalled of those days following the hurricane. "I stayed there for two weeks to make sure the needs of our seniors were being met."

     After that, Gavin quickly re-focused on his office's main mission.
Photo of Claire Kollett (SCSEP participant), 
Jerry Gavin (SCSEP coordinator), 
and Joanne Melcher (SCSEP participant) 
- copyright: Marsha Bradley
Pictured from left to right, Claire Kollett (SCSEP
participant), Jerry Gavin (SCSEP Coordinator),
and Joanne Melcher (SCSEP participant)
He is happy to report that almost all of his participants are back on the program. Some were reassigned to new community service assignments due to the loss of a few host agencies damaged by the hurricanes.

     Even months after the hurricanes hit, Gavin's SCSEP participants continue to help victims of all ages apply for unemployment insurance and National Emergency Grant (NEG) assistance. In fact, one of Gavin's participants was the first person in the area hired under the NEG grant as an intake specialist. He now has 5 SCSEP-participant NEG hires at intake centers.

     When he's not rallying to the aid of his seniors after acts of nature, Gavin is covering more than 5,000 square miles in 7 counties, and is on the road almost every day. Secretary Joanne Melcher and Occupational Specialist Claire Kollett, both of whom are SCSEP participants, provide him with superb support out of the Charlotte County office.

     "I'm out there beating the bushes for our participants as an advocate for our seniors
-- a responsibility that I take very seriously," said Gavin.

     Gavin's office has been successful in placing SCSEP participants in a wide array of venues, many of which were their host agencies, such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, Vocational Rehabilitation, Council on Aging, the American Cancer Society and other non-profits. Participants also successfully use One-Stop Career Center resources throughout Southwest Florida to find good jobs.

     Gavin has helped many people re-enter the workforce. Some of his favorite stories include helping a retired schoolteacher get back into the classroom, and more recently, assisting another participant who landed a $65,000 per year human resources director position. Gavin is proud to report he has exceeded a 60 percent placement rate every year since the Workforce Council took over SCSEP in 2001.

     "SCSEP is a wonderful program that reaches people who really need help. I'm making a real difference in the lives of our seniors, and that's a great feeling," Gavin said with pride.
Back To Top