Churches offer help to job seekers
Saturday, December 20, 2008 - Dallas Morning News
Mike Macon has just landed, in job search parlance.
At a recent meeting of the CareerCare ministry at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, the sandy-haired former Red Cross worker is sharing his good news with about 40 other job seekers: He's found a position in insurance sales.
Ministry director Bill Brewer leads the Monday night group in a round of enthusiastic applause. This free, volunteer-run networking event has led to more than 130 job placements, or "landings," since it began in 2001, Mr. Brewer tells the group.
Sitting at tables marked by trade – such as "IT" or "Administrative" – the unemployed (as well as underemployed or unhappily employed) listen to a short devotional.
Then sales consultant Debbie Mrazek delivers a rousing talk, "You Are No. 1 – How to Sell Yourself." The networking comes after, with cookies, punch and war stories from the economic downturn.
The scene at St. Andrew is not unique. Meetings take place almost daily across the greater Dallas area, through more than 40 entities that provide free or low-cost job resources and networking.
Some groups are faith-based; some simply meet on church premises. Some are government sponsored, and some offer résumé-writing, skills assessment and interview practice while others give access to copiers and fax machines. Some meet in the morning, some in the evening, some weekly and others monthly.
Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas operates nine centers in the Dallas area, most with 20 to 40 computer stations, and offers workshops and programs. Workforce Solutions, a nonprofit agency, is the main conduit for state and federal funds earmarked for workforce training and services.
Such outreach is not limited to Christian groups. Synagogues, mosques and others have similar offerings.
Jewish Family Service offers career assessment, psychiatric counseling, a food bank and a computer-resource room along with networking events and programs for disabled people and other categories of jobseekers.
Religious entities are increasingly making career transition part of their ministerial care.
The Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, for example, recently started a lunchtime support group meeting for job seekers.
"The church is a place where people should come and have spiritual healing because losing your job is a very traumatic thing," says Dawson Taylor, the congregational life minister. "Rather than say 'I'll pray for you' and then move along, we can help in changing that situation as well as refer them to outside resources."
Many groups try to establish a niche.
That's the case with the Custer Road United Methodist JOB (Job Opportunity Basics) program.
Volunteer Ruth Glover says the group rebranded itself to focus on a crash course in résumé and interviewing skills for those who need work.
"We saw the way the economy was going and decided to prepare for the onslaught," she says. "We see our mission as more short-term, the place to get your résumé tweaked and then move on."
The groups offer hope as well as counseling and resources. Whether total employment numbers rise or fall, hiring happens.
That's the point Phil Resch, an executive recruiter and co-founder of St. Andrew's program, tries to drive home. "This is a great time to be looking for a job. Anytime there's turmoil in the market, there's opportunity," he says.
His sentiments are echoed by Bob Snelling, the 76-year-old retired founder of the national staffing agency Snelling & Snelling. He's the volunteer director for the Job Search Coaching and Networking Symposium that meets at The Life Church in North Dallas.
News reports have discouraged people, Mr. Snelling says. "It's a shame because there are jobs going begging," he says.
"And December is a great time to look."
Mr. Snelling also has a résumé and job coaching business, ROSS-HR.
Marketing professional Janet Freeman is a volunteer with the Custer Road church's JOB program. She recently updated an extensive list of seminars and support groups in the area.
"There's a lot of people sitting at home scared and they don't know what to do," Ms. Freeman says. "They need to know there's help available.
"People can get very discouraged," she says.
"They feel that everywhere they go, the hiring manager is 30 years old, and they're 50 and don't have a chance. So they just give up. That's one thing the support groups help you not to do."
Groups such as these also network among themselves on behalf of the job seekers they see at meetings, says Tony Cinello, head of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship's job transition ministry.
Mr. Cinello, co-founder and president of search firm Anthony Andrew, says, "We have a coalition of other organizations that offer workshops, guest speakers and general encouragement."
"It's very much a highly collaborative effort. There's people dumping a lot of heart and soul into helping other people."
A new Web site lists most of the regular seminar and support group meetings for job seekers in the Dallas area.
Jeff Morris, who helps with the North Dallas Career Focus Group that meets at Christ United Methodist Church, built the site. "I just wanted to give people one place to go to find out everything they need to know," he says.