Our History

25th Anniversary image Green Thumb IA Burley Library HA Champion 2010


Green Thumb, the original name of Experience Works, started as a small rural demonstration project in 1965 as part of Lady Bird Johnson’s beautification program. At the time, rural leaders who recalled farmers working on county roads during the Great Depression to pay their taxes encouraged Lady Bird to use the “green thumbs” of low-income farmers to provide the skilled labor for her program. And so was born the only federal program that currently serves the training and employment needs of older workers.

Historical Photo PR Host Agency Champion 2010

In the early days of the program, it was common to find crews of Green Thumb workers in towns such as Jamestown, N.D., painting picnic tables, fixing playground equipment and serving as greens keepers for city parks. They earned minimum wage to put food on the table while beautifying their communities.

Historical photo Mike Crespin SCSEP Participant

Many early participants said they were able to go to church again after working for Green Thumb because they had a bit of money to add to the collection basket. One of the earliest participants, an 81-year-old from Virginia, said that Green Thumb gave him the inspiration to learn how to read and write. In some ways, early participants bear a resemblance to those served by the program today. Then and now, often enrollees come to Experience Works because they need extra income to help pay for the medical expenses of their spouses. One early participant sought assistance after selling his entire band of sheep to pay for his wife’s medical care. 

The words of Dr. Ray Marshall, Secretary of Labor from 1977 to 1981, still ring true today: “There is not a more successful program anywhere than Green Thumb. We believe that as part of our full employment effort we can put people to work doing useful things.” 

Historical Photo TX Champion participant 2010

Today, Experience Works offers older workers the opportunity to train, re-train and enter employment every day in 30 states and Puerto Rico. Participants come to our program with a variety of work backgrounds and education levels, unlike the early days when most enrollees had farming backgrounds. A candidate today could be a former office worker, truck driver or small business owner. Often, they have been laid off, or they need to re-enter the workforce to survive. It is likely that person may learn new computer skills through our hands-on technology training, which could lead to permanent employment in a new career.

What hasn’t changed is the community service emphasis of the program. Each year our participants perform more than 14 million hours of community service while completing on-the-job training assignments with nonprofit organizations, libraries, parks, schools, hospitals and municipalities.

historical photo host agency food bank

Historical Photo

LA Participant Champion Rose Dumes



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