Job market: Good news, bad news

| November 30, 2011 | 0 Comments

Catholic churches offer practical and spiritual help for the unemployed

employment ministry

Colin Chisholm, a volunteer job coach with the Basilica of St. Mary's Employment Ministry program, talks with client Greg Carlson Nov. 28 at the Basilica. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Thanks to the efforts of job coaches like Colin Chisholm, Janet Grove watched her stack of manila folders with the names of successfully employed individuals grow to seven inches this year.

“Several people over the past few months have gotten work and they have been working with Colin,” said Grove, who oversees the Employment Ministry program at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

Grove creates a folder for every person who enters the program, with information on his or her job skills and needs.

On Jan. 1 each year, she starts a new stack of folders containing the information on the people involved in the ministry who obtain jobs.

“For the last two-plus years, I don’t think that stack has been over an inch,” she said. “This year, I have a great number of people who have good-paying, decent jobs.”

Focusing on hope

Although the Basilica offers programs throughout the year for people who are unemployed or underemployed, Grove said it is im­portant to offer a place for people to go during the holiday season. So, the Basilica began Nov. 22 to provide inspiration through weekly presentations.

“What we’re focusing on this year is telling them that this is the perfect time to not hibernate,” Grove said. “People who are getting jobs are those that are networking. They are not the ones sitting in front of their computer looking at Monster.”

Grove said presentations will con­tinue in December, with a new four-part series on the job search pro­cess starting Jan. 5. (See events box at bottom right.)

“What I’m seeing is that there are better jobs out there,” she said, although many people are still out of work.

In that regard, Grove said, “We are at an all-time high. I’m at about 450 people, but they are not all unemployed. [There are] three un’s: the unemployed, the underemployed and the unhappily employed. In the past, the unhappily employed just left their jobs. Nobody dares to do that now.”

Building confidence

employment ministry folders

Although more people found good jobs this year through the Basilica of St. Mary’s Employment Ministry, Janet Grove said that many are still searching. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

People seeking help at the Basilica are asked to meet with one of the 15 volunteer job coaches, with appointments available at various times every day, including weekends. Chis­holm takes four or five appointments every Monday, Grove said.

“Colin is a great guy. I couldn’t say enough about him,” said Kim Ritter, who met with Chisholm for almost two years before getting a job. “He was not only a job coach, but he was a good life coach. . . . Sometimes you lose confidence in yourself, and he believed in me even when there were times I didn’t believe in me.”

Chisholm, who became a member of the Basilica after moving to the Twin Cities in 2007, began working with the ministry soon after. The CEO and chairman of the board of TCN Networks, Chisholm presents his ideas about teamwork to the people he counsels at the Basilica.

“You start thinking about how do we as a team move a company forward for the betterment of all the stakeholders, whether it’s the employees or the vendors or the general public that is going to use your product,” he said. “All employees should think that way, not just the C-level employees.”

Chisholm said that during their meetings, he saw that Ritter had experience on many levels and understood how to be a team member.

After working 10 years as an asset manager with Xcel Energy, Ritter’s position was eliminated in 2003 and she took a contract position. When that job moved to Texas, her search for employment began.

“It was a combination of the economy changing and I was aging,” said Ritter, 54. With help from the Dislocated Worker Program, she earned a mini-MBA at the University of St. Thomas and took several classes to upgrade her computer skills.

Ritter read about the Basilica’s Employment Ministry program on a list of resources handed out by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s WorkForce Cen­ter.

“There are a lot of groups out there that support people that are unemployed. But [the Basilica] is the only one that does one-on-one mentoring,” Ritter said. During her meetings with Chisholm, the coach encouraged her to stay positive and to “get out among the living,” she said.

She attended twice-monthly networking breakfasts, talked with the speakers and sought out other people in her field. One of those many contacts resulted in her securing a position four months ago with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Fear sets in

In light of the inaction by Congress’ Super Committee, the unemployment benefits that Ritter said were “critical” to help her update her skills and search for a job are set to expire Jan. 1.

Grove said she is concerned about the possibility of millions of people losing benefits at a time when so many people are still out of work.

“At the Basilica and for many of the churches involved in this work, we know that your dignity is tied up in what you do, who you are, how you feel about yourself,” she said.

Other parish efforts

Richard White, who in 2002 foun­ded the employment ministry group that meets at Epiphany in Coon Rapids where he is a member, said that since Sept. 1 he has seen six people from the group get hired. About 10 to 25 people currently attend the meeting.

A few months ago, about 60 people were attending, and several months ago it was about 85. However, four to six newly unemployed people show up each week, he said.

“I can identify with their fear, their anxiety, their panic, their embarrassment, the humiliation,” said White, who was first unemployed for 24 months, was 10 days from losing his home, then was unemployed for another 20 months. He returned to work just three months ago.

During his first unemployment in 2002, he started the jobs group and invited his wife to attend a meeting with him. She was completely unaware of all he was doing to find employment, as are many spouses, he said.

“We went home that night and talked till 2 or 3 in the morning,” he said. A year ago, he opened the Tues­day night meetings to spouses and family members. “A lot of people said this was the best thing for their relationship.”

At St. Richard in Richfield, Gret­chen Anderson helped start an employment group at her parish when the group at the nearby WorkForce Center disbanded.

“We are a small group,” she said. But the support “keeps you sane and motivated and grounded” at a time when you lose focus on everything. She said people in the group are getting jobs, but many are contract jobs that may or may not get them into a full-time position.

Ongoing concerns

Grove said one disturbing trend is the state has a rule that the unemployed must attend classes and see a job coach or counselor, but there is a six-month wait.

“Those organizations, which I have met with and partnered with and am working with, are now sending their people here,” she said. “So, my job coaches are jam-packed. We are always a couple of weeks out.”

Another concern is that most of the people she is working with now have always been employed.

“They have found themselves out of work because of shutdowns, layoffs, reorganizations,” Grove said. “We need to help them get a resumé, teach them how to interview, which is extremely different than 15 years ago.”

Today, a job seeker may have two or three interviews via the phone before meeting someone in person, then interview in front of 10 people.

Grove said she sends emails with information on 300 job postings each week to those signed up in the ministry. Recently, she has heard from employers who will need snow shovelers to work on downtown Minneapolis sidewalks for $20 an hour.

Grove said the Basilica ministry offers the power of partners, networking and, of course, an even greater power.

“We have a whole lot of people praying for all of them every day,” she said.

Offering spiritual support

“It’s a very lonely position to be out there unemployed,” said Tom Green, who started an employment ministry in April 2010 through Christ the King Church in Minneapolis, where he is a member.

Green also founded the Employment Ministry at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis 26 years ago.

Although Green is retired from full-time work, he wanted to help unemployed parishioners and others get help, so he recruited 12 volunteers to do job coaching.

Janet Grove, who now holds Green’s position at the Basilica, also said that seeking employment is a lonely job. Many of the people she meets with say they don’t understand why they are unemployed or where God has been in their job loss and search.

“What we’re able to do is to be with them and validate those feelings and say we don’t know why these things happen, but let’s work together to get you back on track,” Grove said.

Walking with the unemployed

Most of the people seeking help at the Basilica and other job clubs at Catholic churches are not members of the parishes or even Catholic, said Grove and other employment ministry coordinators. But Grove and the coaches and parishioners are there to walk with them, listen to them and offer help with no strings attached.

In return, when someone gets a job, there is often a donation made to the ministry or a call comes in offering to volunteer to help others, she said.

“Every year, the Employment Ministry hosts one of the soup suppers,” she said. “I have so many workers willing to be there to serve people, to make soup, to set the table. . . . They want to give back.”

Colin Chisholm, who coaches four or five people each week at the Basilica, said part of his choice to volunteer comes out of his involvement with the Knights of Malta.

“As a Knight, you take a vow to do the work of God,” he said. “In the Order of Malta, we take one vow that we serve Our Lord’s sick and the poor.”

Gretchen Anderson, a member of  St. Richard in Richfield, said when a person is first unemployed, he or she gets angry and then becomes depressed.

“It’s like a roller coaster,” she said. “When you’ve been unemployed over a year, you look at yourself and your spirituality. It helps you understand yourself.”

Now 66, Anderson is not actively searching for a job, but continues to help others through the group she started several years ago when she was laid off after working 39 years.

Within the Employment Ministry packets handed out at the Basilica, there is a prayer for the unemployed, a novena prayer and a prayer of hope.

“Prayer is all through what we do, but it is not a prerequisite,” Grove said. “The whole idea is that they do feel that people are praying with them and for them and working with them and this is a ministry and everyone is donating their time.”

Events for unemployedAll at Basilica of St. Mary, 88 N. 17th St., Minneapolis.

Spiritual guide for unemployed

2 p.m. Dec. 1 with local author Timothy Mullner.

Blessing of the unemployed

5:30 p.m. Dec. 6, with talk by Dennis Bird to follow at 7 p.m.

Happy holiday handshaking

6:30 p.m. Dec. 13, for tips on networking at this time of year with Jason Alba and Catherine Byers Breet.

Job Search, four-part series

6-9 p.m. Thursdays, Jan. 5, 12, 19, 26 with Lee Levitan, includes light meal.

Job clubs, ministries at Catholic parishes

Basilica Employment Ministry
Monthly workshops and individual meetings at Basilica of St. Mary,
88 N. 17th St., Minneapolis
Contact Janet Grove
(612) 317-3508, click on LIFE at left, then Employment Ministry

Job coaching
Tom Green, a member of Christ the King in Minneapolis and founder of the Basilica of St. Mary ministry, connects people with one of 12 job volunteer coaches
(612) 749-1830

Surviving Unemployment Life Challenges
6:30-8 p.m. Mondays at Epiphany, 1900 111th Ave., Coon Rapids
Contact Mary Maness

North Metro Job Networking Group
6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Epiphany, 1900 111th Ave., Coon Rapids
Contact Richard White

Hennepin Southwest Networkers
9:30-11:30 a.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at St. Richard, 7540 Penn Ave. S., Richfield
Contact Gretchen Anderson

St. Odilia Job Transition Support Group
7-9 p.m. the second and fourth Mondays of the month at St. Odilia, 3495 Victoria St. N., Shoreview
(651) 484-6681

Source: Metro Area Network List compiled by Bruce Hanson

How the Basilica ministry works• Intake interview: Someone from the Employment Ministry program gathers details about the type of work being sought and what additional services may be needed.

• Job leads: Individuals are added to the program’s data base and receive daily emails with up to 400 job leads that come through parishioners and other sources.

• Job coach appointment: Each person is assigned a person who will work with them one on one to create a resumé or help with networking.

• Workshops: A variety of topics are covered during presentations and hands-on seminars at the church.

• Transportation: A bus pass may be provided to get to an interview or to the library to get job leads.

• Food: The ministry connects people with a food shelf. This year, students at Our Lady of Grace School in Edina provided 29 turkeys and 29 bins of food for people in the program, including one person who is working four jobs.

• Felons: For those who have a felony criminal record but are working to be good citizens, the program can connect them with organizations to help with employment.

• Training: Free classes available to update computer skills.

• Free training programs for jobs in green industries through HIRED.

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