Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, February 22, 2018

ROCKY HILL – For some of the more than 165,000 Connecticut residents looking for work, parish-based training and support groups are providing more help than ever.

Marty Carlson, a facilitator at the Rocky Hill Re-employment Support Group at St. James Parish, started to quote some statistics and was instantly updated at a recent meeting. "More than 40 people," he began.

"Fifty," said Joe Soja, a lay minister at the parish, where he founded the group in February 2009.

"Fifty now?" Mr. Carlson said, surprised at the increase. "More than 50 people that we know of have come back to us and told us they have gotten jobs through networking," he said.

The group at St. James is one of several that are active at parishes in the Archdiocese of Hartford, some long-established, others begun within the past two years.

The seasonably adjusted unemployment rate in Connecticut as of June 2010 was 8.8 percent, up from 7.4 percent when Mr. Soja started the group, but down from a 33-year high of 9.2 percent in March 2010. Nationwide, unemployment was 9.5 percent in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"I studied to be a lay minister, working in the social justice ministry," said Mr. Soja, who was commissioned as a lay minister in May. "I had worked in manufacturing for 45 years," he added.

"We try to bring presenters in at no charge," he said. "We take turns buying water, and our wives bake cookies. We take it out of our own pockets."

He said Mr. Carlson is one of several volunteer facilitators. Others include Mary Hogan, director of Cora Belden Library in Rocky Hill; John Brancati, human relations manager at United Illuminating Co.; Winifred Grimaldi, a retired Travelers Insurance Co. human relations executive; John Fisher, an insurance executive; Marge Ruschau, formerly a journalist at The Hartford Courant; Rita Reali, also a journalist; and Mike Scaringe and Ellen Bock, IT specialists and graduates of the group.

At an Aug. 5 meeting, Ms. Reali gave the presentation. A former news editor at The Catholic Transcript, Ms. Reali addressed the six job-seekers present on "Putting Your Best Phrase Forward," a primer on using language, posture and diction to make a favorable impression before and during an interview.

"An interview is a sales presentation," she said. "What you’re selling is you." She urged job-seekers to polish their résumés, using active verbs. Smile during a phone interview, because people can hear a smile, she said. She also listed several substandard or nonstandard words and phrases to avoid.

Mr. Scaringe invited two new members to join him in a separate room for a 45-minute presentation on networking. Meanwhile, the other four job-seekers stayed and shared their experiences of the past week.

One man, a former plant manager, said he did some networking in three places. "Now that I have those seeds in the garden, I have to find more people to network with," he said, seeming confident. "As soon as you get one [contact], you get more, but it takes time."

A woman with a doctorate in psychology said she had just completed 15 weeks working with the Census Bureau and is now among 10,000 census workers in the state once again without work. She said she is thinking of working as an event manager. "I’m considering where I can best utilize my talents," she said.

A man who said he was a synthetic chemist reported that he had applied for jobs online and attended several networking meetings during the past week. Ms. Grimaldi suggested that he compile a list of target companies.

The other man was an unemployed office file clerk whose job at an insurance company was eliminated when a subcontracting company was brought in to do his work. Ms. Hogan suggested he consider applying at the company that the insurance company hired.

Mr. Soja said he modeled the group after the Farmington Valley Re-employment Group, a jobs ministry begun by Brian Jud at St. Ann Parish in Avon in December 2002.

Mr. Jud said, "We start off every meeting with success stories. This helps get things going on a positive note. Anyone who has gotten a job brings in cookies. Oatmeal raisin are my favorites."

He said 15 to 20 people attend the meetings, which can feature a presenter or be unstructured.

"We get three or four new people a week," he said. "I would say, as a round number, we get 500 people a year."

Mr. Jud recalled that one woman was working part time to keep her house and finally got a job. "She came in but she couldn’t afford cookies," he said. "We had a teary-eyed farewell."

Another man currently attending meetings has found jobs twice and is once again unemployed. "It’s good that we’re here because he needs the help," he said.

At the Church of the Incarnation in Wethersfield, Ken Mendoza has been running a jobs training program for about 15 years, with a few years off. Michelle Dugentas, who works with Mr. Mendoza, said the group meets every other Tuesday at the church for about two hours. She said presenters have spoken on networking, how to dress, phone interviewing techniques and more.

Mr. Mendoza also helped form the Employment Support Group at St. Peter Claver Parish in West Hartford, a brand-new group run by Moe Fradette. "We’re still very much in the infancy stages," Mr. Fradette said. "We’ve been doing some informational meetings to start off."

At Sacred Heart Parish in East Berlin, June Heffernan runs the Vocational Resource Ministry, which includes workshops on résumé writing.

At St. Teresa Parish in Woodbury, a jobs ministry run by Sister Marilyn Cullina now meets on an as-needed basis, one on one with Sister Marilyn.

People who have lost their jobs and can’t find support may qualify for the Emergency Assistance Fund, a parish-based program funded through the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal. For information, see your pastor.

Numbers to call

Information about the parish-based groups is available by calling the following:

St. James, Rocky Hill: Joe Soja, (860) 380-0581.

St. Ann, Avon: (860) 675-1344.

Incarnation, Wethersfield: (860) 563-1319.

St. Peter Claver, West Hartford: (860) 521-9214.

Sacred Heart, East Berlin: (860) 841-4354.

St. Teresa, Woodbury: (203) 263-2008.