At 65 years old, Dollie Nixson is a Senior Planet San Antonio member, a graduate of our Computer Essentials course, and an active member of her Eastside community. She first came to Senior Planet San Antonio not knowing much about computers, but she desired to learn online skills to gain employment and connect more with her community. Admitting that there are a few things she is still getting the hang of, Dollie attributes Senior Planet San Antonio with changing her life for the better.
Early in life, Dollie faced many challenges such as abuse, isolation, disability, incarceration, and poverty. She was born with an arthritic disability that has limited her mobility since a very young age. Dollie was struggling daily as a hard-working mother of three, working at a candy company by day and bartending by night. But that came to a halt as her disability eventually got the best of her.
When Dollie could no longer stand for long periods of time at either job back in the late 1980s, she didn’t know what else to do. Manual labor was all she knew, she had kids to feed, and her husband had recently passed away. Government assistance was denied several times, and it got to a point where she couldn’t even get out of bed to go job hunting. So she did exactly what she now vows never to do. Dollie gave up.
Senior Planet: I want to first ask, was “giving up” what led to your incarceration?
Dollie: Yes! When I became unable to work, I fell into a life of crime. I lost my children’s father and so I started selling drugs just to make it. And we made it, but I went to prison and left my children behind a couple of times. It’s been a battle and a struggle, but like I said, don’t ever give up. Giving up is what hurt us.
Dollie was first charged for her crime in 1995 and spent three years in prison from 2001-2004. Immediately after getting out of prison, Dollie began turning over a new leaf. She worked various jobs that she could physically handle for the next several years, until she took up a skill she learned back in school. This found her seasonal work as a campaign assistant for various political campaigns all over San Antonio.
What was the skill you learned back in grade school?
Well, in junior high, most of the girls wanted to join Home Economics, but I joined the 4H Club. I remember thinking, “I want to be a politician when I grow up.” So in 4H we went out and campaigned for different organizations, we gave clothing to the needy, and they let us work in the office filing papers and things when our grades were good.
And was this how you were able to bounce back up later in life?
I’ve been campaigning off and on ever since I was grown, helping campaigns for different presidents since 1978. Obama was the last campaign where I was doing office work mostly, sending out letters and things, because I didn’t know much about computers at that time. And since I couldn’t walk too much like the rest of us, I would be the driver on the outreach campaigns. So I told myself, ‘I can do this.’ I knew I wouldn’t have a job year around, but I knew I would make enough money to take care of my family.
Despite the struggle they endured, two of her children grew up to work successful professions as a nurse and a truck hauling business owner, while raising their own families. But her third child passed away tragically at a very young age.
While working on and off as a campaign assistant, Dollie tried to further her education at St. Phillips and Sanford Brown Colleges in San Antonio back in the mid 2000s, but she was not able to earn her degree in Business Administration because of her lack of computer knowledge.
So how did you feel when you first began taking classes with Senior Planet San Antonio?
I just couldn’t get it at first. I didn’t understand how to do anything until Senior Planet taught me how. Our instructor was showing us how to use Google and he showed me how to search for Etta James. After he showed me that, I thought, “I got it now!”
After taking Computer Essentials at The Claude Black Community Center on San Antonio’s Eastside, Dollie learned how to create an online resume through Indeed.com, a website handy for job seekers who are seeking employment opportunities.
With assistance from the Claude Black staff and Senior Planet Trainer Jonathan Zaluke, Dollie successfully landed herself a job with Union Pacific as a driver taxiing railroad workers to and from their work stations.
What was it like working for the railroad company?
It was a demanding job, but it wasn’t hard. And most of the employees there were disabled, as well. So, this should let other seniors know that there is life after 60!
While working on the railroad, Dollie increasingly became a more active member of Senior Planet San Antonio. She has since been a tremendous help in recruiting new members and getting the word out about our program. Last year, Dollie was invited by Senior Planet San Antonio to speak at a conference in Louisville, KY.
How did everything go on your trip to Louisville?
Louisville made me feel very welcome. I told them my honest story about how hard it has been for me to overcome prison. I never thought in my lifetime that I would be doing this…and I celebrated my birthday there! They even had a birthday cake for me!
Dollie had to let her job go at Union Pacific so she wouldn’t miss her conference. Inspired by her perseverance, Senior Planet San Antonio soon hired Dollie to assist with project expansion on the City’s Eastside. On top of that, Union Pacific asked her to come back and told her she would always have a job with them.
You have come a long way Dollie. What’s your current position with Senior Planet San Antonio?
I am now a Community Outreach Coordinator for the Eastside of San Antonio in charge of bringing more seniors into our program in order to show them what it’s like to be all you can be and not depend on someone else.”
Recently, Dollie experienced a slight setback while transitioning into new income-based housing, which left her homeless. She has been housed at Haven for Hope, which is a transitional housing complex in San Antonio designed for those experiencing housing difficulties. On March 1st, however, Dollie will receive the keys to her new apartment and a brand new bed donated by Haven For Hope. The Senior Planet Team connects with Dollie weekly to assist her with more resources, and to develop her Community Outreach Coordinator skills.
What is something you can tell our readers who are faced with challenges in their life? And what does aging with attitude mean to you?
I want to tell every senior out there–in fact, I want to tell everybody…never doubt yourself. I never dreamed in a million years that I would be in the position that I’m in. And don’t give up! Because when you give up and you stop living…you might end up like I used to be.