After the Webster-Penfield Catholic Connection hosted a Mass at St. Paul Parish for the unemployed in January, parishioners looked for a way to offer more assistance to those looking for work or new opportunities.
In March, several parishioners started a networking group, which has been meeting twice a month since then at the Webster church. This Networking Support Group is one of several employment networking groups that have been regularly meeting at parishes in Monroe County.
During the summer, the Networking Support Group will meet at St. Paul from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday July 7 and 21 and Aug. 4 and 18. In addition to support from St. Paul, other parishes that have supported the group are St. Rita, Holy Trinity, Holy Spirit and the Cathedral Community.
In addition to providing free networking help to people looking for work, the small group also provides prayers and spiritual support for job seekers.
"We just started this group, and we are trying to define it," said Kim Haynes, one of the group’s organizers.
Barb Santucci, a job seeker and volunteer with the Networking Support Group, noted that the group has tended to be more of a support group than some of the other networking groups in existence. The group also is focused on spiritual aspects of unemployment, she said.
"We’d like to have another Mass in the fall," she noted.
One problem the group faces, Haynes said, is how to keep the group going even after its leadership finds the jobs they seek. Like most of the other networking groups in the area, the Webster group is run by volunteers.
That’s also the case at St. Louis in Pittsford, where volunteers with the Employment Network recently provided free classes for job seekers to hone their interviewing and networking skills. The network, which has been meeting at parishes in Pittsford for about two decades, runs these training sessions at least twice a year.
Gary Stekloff, a volunteer employment coach with the Employment Network, said he has heard from participants that they have had very difficult times finding employment in the current job market. According to the New York State Department of Labor, Rochester’s unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in May 2011, as compared to 7.8 percent in May 2010.
"I think it’s pretty stagnant," Stekloff said of the local job market. "From what I hear, there are just so many applications for each job."
Stekloff noted that in the past efforts have been made to unite employment ministries in the diocese, and he said that better coordination of ministries could benefit job seekers and the church as a whole.
"The potential is tremendous if we had the support of the whole diocese," he said.
One model that has worked for a parish group is making it part of a larger networking entity. The August Group, a large Rochester-based networking group with a lengthy slate of meetings each week as well as training programs, events and career fairs, presents a free weekly networking program from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursdays at St. Cecilia School, 2732 Culver Road, Irondequoit. The St. Cecilia program is run by Cliff Milligan, a St. Cecilia parishioner, said Tracey Aiello, leader of The August Group.
"Our group is dedicated to helping people get back to work," Aiello said.
Last year, The August Group helped 525 people find jobs, and this year, the group has helped well over 200 people do the same. Its members teach the principles of face-to-face networking, giving generously of oneself and networking for life, since people change jobs frequently throughout their careers.
"It’s who you know and who knows about you that will get you your next job," Aiello said.
Aiello said it is common for job seekers to feel like they are worthless when they don’t have a job or job security. Although a job hunt can be humbling or disheartening, job seekers should take heart: God always provides, he said.
"In my belief, God is always there guiding and bringing resources into your life when you need it," he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on the Webster group, contact Kim Haynes at 585-586-7693 or e-mail email@example.com. For the Employment Network in Pittsford, contact Gary Stekloff at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 585-737-6213. For The August Group meetings in Irondequoit, e-mail Cliff Milligan at CMilligan@AugustGroup.org.