HARTFORD – The employment picture, both local and national, continued to be disappointing through May 2013, but initiatives at several parishes in the Archdiocese of Hartford are working to change that – locally, at least.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average nationwide unemployment for 2008 was 5.8 percent, and effects of that year’s financial crisis caused it to jump to 9.3 percent in 2009. Connecticut fared slightly better both years, with 5.6 percent in 2008 and 8.2 percent in 2009.
But just as Connecticut lagged behind as unemployment trended higher, so it lagged as unemployment slowly improved. In 2011, both state and national rates were 8.9 percent. As of May 2013, national unemployment was 7.6 percent; Connecticut’s rate was 8 percent.
As it is in so many other areas of life, the Catholic Church is there to help.
Joe Soja, a lay minister at St. James Parish in Rocky Hill, has facilitated the a Re-employment Support Group there since February 2009. When they meet Thursday evenings at Father Shea Hall at 7 p.m., between six and 10 people show up. “We’re not getting as many people as we used to get, but every week we’re getting one or two new people,” he said.
Mr. Soja started the group as a project while in the lay ministry study program of the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education in Bloomfield. Since then, the group has helped about 300 people find jobs, he said, or about 30 percent of the people who have attended the workshops.
“I don’t think the state of Connecticut could come up with that number,” he said.
He quoted news reports saying that 178,000 jobs were created in May, “but this economy still isn’t where it should be, and those that have jobs don’t realize that.” And even though the jobless rate has dropped below 8 percent, 5 percent unemployment has traditionally been pegged as “full employment,” he said.
The group specializes in teaching networking skills, both through volunteer facilitators and outside presenters, he said. For more information, call 860-380-0581 or email email@example.com.
At St. Ann Parish in Avon, Brian Jud facilitates the Farmington Valley Re-employment Group. It began in 1991 and ran until 1997, when employment conditions improved. It restarted in 2002 and now meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays in the activity room of the church basement.
“We are a job skills group, whereas others are networking groups or support groups,” Mr. Jud said.
At a recent meeting, John Shea, a graduate of the group, spoke about the importance of developing a 90-second introductory profile of yourself to use in networking situations, listing a few of your accomplishments. “These are things that I really worked on in my résumé development, but in this profile I list things that I have accomplished,” he said. “These are specific things that people want to see or they will ask about.”
He said that looking for a job is a full-time job in itself, and part of that job is to build self-confidence. “I’ve been to networking groups where they practice calling somebody [to request an interview]. That’s a very difficult thing for a lot of people,” he said.
Mr. Jud told the group – which included a former graphic designer considering a career change and a former engineer considering a marketing position – that making a personal connection with a potential employer is important.
“If you have 100 people with similar qualifications, you have to stand out,” he said. “The key point is to separate yourself from everybody else and connect on a personal level.”
For information, call 860-673-7650 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken Mendoza is a parishioner at Church of the Incarnation in Wethersfield. His Incarnation Employment Support Group meets after the 9 a.m. Mass, from 9:30-11, on the first and third Tuesdays at the church.
He characterizes it as an “overview group,” touching on a range of related topics. “It’s a dialogue group, more one on one. We’ll have two to five people. It’s a facilitating group with no emphasis” on any one aspect of job searching, he said.
The group started about 20 years ago and, like the Avon group, was discontinued for a few years until the need arose again about five years ago.
“It’s a great forum to let people know that they’re not alone,” Mr. Mendoza said. “It’s not a personal situation; it’s an economic situation. As people share that together, it helps emotionally, I think, just to have someone, a group of people that truly understand what they’re going through because they’re going through it themselves.”
Parishioners Tom Mahar and Jeannine DePhillips assist at meetings.
“As a group, we want to put ourselves out of work,” he said. “Our goal is to be unemployed by having no one come, by having no customers.”
For information, call 860-529-2533 or go online to www.thechurchoftheincarnation.com.
If you or someone you know is unemployed, help may also be available through the Emergency Assistance Fund of the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal. The fund is administered by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Hartford, and applications are handled at the parish level. People can request a Parish Referral Form from their pastor or parish representative; the form also is online at http://www.ccaoh.org/pdfs/Brochure_BasicHumanNeeds.pdf.