By REBECCA RAKOCZY, Special To The Bulletin | Published March 5, 2009
Holy Spirit’s gymnasium was almost full, but the people seated at tables, desks and in the bleachers weren’t there to see a basketball game. More than 100 had come out on a Monday night seeking job leads and inspiration from employers and recruiters speaking at the Career Ministry.
They took notes, handed out resumes, and picked up leaflets and business cards from the speakers. Mostly, they looked for leads—and hope.
Leslie Rand knows how it feels to be anxious about finding a job. She had been out of work for more than a year when she came to this jobs ministry herself.
Now employed as a healthcare recruiter at Wellstar, she was happy to give others job tips as she spoke to the crowd.
“I would do anything for Caroline,” she said simply. “I know this program works.”
“Caroline” is Caroline McCoy-Hansen, a vivacious blonde and the chief engine behind the Career Ministry since it began six years ago at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw. The program recently moved to in-town Holy Spirit to be closer to the nucleus of employers and job seekers in Atlanta, Hansen said.
The strategy of Career Ministry is to focus on real employment leads. At every meeting, representatives come from industries that are hiring.
“We’re all about jobs. I invite companies to come and present, and they better have jobs,” said Hansen.
In good economic times as well as in bad, many long-established parish career ministries as well as fledgling programs are serving hundreds of people in their job search. These ministries may each differ slightly in their approach, but all offer practical, free expertise in resume building and networking, while also offering a way for job seekers to stay focused and positive.
“Job fairs are so huge, it’s almost sinful,” said Hansen. “The people know they’re not paid attention to. In my ministry, these employers have to pay attention to them.”
She also insists that employers who present at the Career Ministry respond to inquiries in the future from those who heard them at the church session.
“If anyone contacts them (the employers) by e-mail and they put our career ministry in the subject line, they better answer them; their queries can’t go in a black hole. They can expect the respect of a response,” she said.
Hansen also tells companies that they can expect more from the attendees who come to the career ministry program at Holy Spirit.
“People know that when they come to a faith-based ministry, they’ll be hiring first-class, wonderful, God-fearing, exceptional people.”
It’s obvious Hansen is passionate about this ministry. The retired television communications specialist has a group of volunteers both at Holy Spirit and those who worked at St. Catherine’s who bring that same dedication. She estimates she is on the phone, or working with people in the ministry, almost “24-6.”
“I try to take Sundays off,” she said with a laugh. “I am retired and working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life. It’s just amazing.”
Hansen is encouraged that everybody is so helpful to one another.
“Once people come to the meetings, they generally come back and keep networking,” she said.
Former job seekers, like Rand, become volunteers for the ministry, paying it forward.
She adds, “People are always wanting work. Our ministry is really hands on, I get to meet everybody; if they need to, I’ll talk with them one on one.”
Although it’s based at Holy Spirit, the ministry is ecumenical, said Hansen.
“We don’t care what your faith is, it doesn’t make any difference. We’re not here to convert you,” she said. But with a motto, “All things are possible through prayer,” Hansen is quick to add that “even if you don’t believe in God, we’ll pray for you—and especially if you don’t believe in God.”
Jack Scherer also has a passion for jobs ministry. He directs the Crossroads Career Ministry program at St. Benedict Church in Johns Creek. Scherer knows personally how tough it can be to lose a job. He went through a terrible job loss.
“It was 1999; that was a tough year, I was really poor and I lost everything I had,” Scherer said. “I would go to the St. Pius X High School chapel and pray with Msgr. (Terry) Young, who was principal there at the time. I wouldn’t pray for money—I would pray to God for courage. I remember I asked God if he could help me to have the courage to get through this, I would give back.”
Scherer was good on his word. Now the owner of a sales recruiting firm, he is inspired to help others through the job ministry at St. Benedict’s. The group meets once a month.
“Crossroads Career network was started by Brian Ray and it’s a ministry of 30-plus churches who network together to help people,” Scherer said. “We help people who are at a crossroads in their career; we’re not positioned as an employment agency, but as a source of spiritual enrichment for those in pursuit of different opportunities.”
Attendees may learn how to rework their resume, how to network, or how to start their own business. Because of his own contacts in different businesses, Scherer is able to bring employers from different industries to talk to attendees; many have job opportunities available.
“Crossroads is based on integrity. No one is making any money and we’re not there to sell anything, we’re try to help them,” he said.
“The best thing about this ministry? When someone tells me, ‘Wow, you gave me hope.’”
At All Saints Church, Joe Crowley has been part of the jobs ministry team for more than 20 years. Started at the Dunwoody church by his late neighbor, Joe Sica, the group of volunteers now includes Dave Webster and Jack Iacobucci. The men combine their professional management and work experience to help those who are out of work with monthly free workshops on resumes, networking, confidence building, and scripting meetings with potential employers. The group also uses a Web-based service called Target Training International that helps job seekers learn more about their marketable skills, based on their education, background and experience. The ministry is ecumenical and anyone in the job market can attend.
“We recognize a lot of people are not Catholic, although lately we’ve started out the program with a Hail Mary, praying for our troops and recognizing people who are out of work,” Crowley noted.
“The only requirement we have is that you’re out of work,” Crowley said.
Job seekers have come to the Saturday meetings from far away as Aiken, S.C. Crowley has also seen an up-tick in the number of attendees over the past few months.
“There is a certain fear factor, but there are jobs out there,” he said.
Helping others is the best part of this ministry. “I get goose bumps. I get tremendous satisfaction helping someone know there is a future and feel good about themselves; to me, that’s important.”
In Snellville, parishioners at St. Oliver Plunkett Church are getting ready to start their first job-networking ministry on Tuesday, March 10. They see a growing need for this in the parish.
“My guess is we’re going to get a good crowd,” said parishioner Kathryn Szynal, who recently lost her job. “There is a real awareness of people who are really struggling out there, who can’t even find part-time work. A few of us who have lost our jobs took advantage of another (jobs) program sponsored by the United Methodist Church, but we thought, with 2,400 families (in St. Oliver’s), there must be a number of people here who could use spiritual uplifting and counseling as they look for jobs.”
“We’re not trying to duplicate the wonderful services of our neighbor churches, but we are looking to provide support within our church,” she said.