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UNEMPLOY-PARISH Nov-17-2008 (900 words) With graphic posted Nov. 14 and photos posted Nov. 17. xxxn

Parishes offer practical, spiritual support for the unemployed

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The impact of the wave of layoffs in firms, factories, financial companies and the automotive industry can be felt in parish halls or church basements across the country on any given weeknight.

That's where many of the newly unemployed go for practical and sometimes spiritual advice.

Just outside Detroit, at St. Andrew Parish in Rochester, a job support group began last year with about 20 participants. Now, at least 80 people attend the twice-monthly meetings, according to Betty Dobies, chair of St. Andrew's Career Mentoring Ministry, which has a partnership with 13 church groups in the Detroit area.

"We started out thinking we'd review resumes and interview techniques, but we found that the main thing people really need is support," Dobies said.

During the sessions, parish volunteers, including career advisers, licensed counselors and human resource specialists, are paired with job seekers. Guest speakers also give tips on updating resumes and on networking.

Dobies, a St. Andrew parishioner and retired sales manager who worked at Xerox and AT&T, said that for many people attending these sessions this is their first experience with unemployment. It might also be the first time for them to be looking for a job since they were initially hired.

"What they don't know is that the job market has changed so much," she told Catholic News Service in a Nov. 12 telephone interview. She noted that landing a job is often based more on networking than anything else. "Resumes are not enough," she stressed.

"A lot of people have no idea what to do," she said of those who have lost their jobs after decades with the same company.

In Michigan, these jobs have predominantly been in the automotive industry. The car giants Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., slammed by huge losses, have closed factories and laid off thousands of employees already and may announce more cuts by the end of the year. The companies are waiting to hear if they will be given a federal bailout.

"We find people not in Michigan don't really understand how dramatically this is affecting people," Dobies said, adding that often those who have lost their jobs can't easily pick up and move to work elsewhere because they often can't sell their homes.

Like many other Michigan natives, Dobies comes from a family whose members have worked in the automotive industry for generations. She said she "never would have guessed" the car industry would be in trouble.

"It's so encompassing," she said. "The auto industry is tied to suppliers all over the world."

But Detroit is not the only place feeling the affects of the nation's troubled economy. Construction companies, retailers, mortgage bankers, securities firms, the motel industry, appliance factories, shipping companies and steel plants all have cut jobs this year.

During the month of October alone manufacturing jobs decreased by 90,000, construction by 49,000, retail by 38,000 and the financial industry by 24,000. Only the health care and mining industries gained employees in this time period.

According to the U.S. Labor Department statistics released Nov. 7, the jobless rate rose to 6.5 percent in October when employers fired 240,000 workers. That figure put the total number of unemployed Americans past 10.08 million, the highest level in 25 years. One year ago, the jobless rate was 4.8 percent.

Gene Gilbert, one of the coordinators of the St. Basil Job Search Support Group in Brecksville, Ohio, said he sees the affects of frequent layoffs in the Tuesday night meetings at his parish where participants range from "high-level CFOs to part-time employees," and sometimes both husbands and wives are unemployed.

In Ohio, 7,000 job cuts were recently announced by the international shipping company DHL. Other layoffs in the state have come from Whirlpool Corp.; The Plain Dealer, Cleveland's daily newspaper; and steel companies and auto parts factories.

Gilbert, who retired in 2002, knows what it's like to lose a job; he was laid off in 1993 from a longtime job. But he also knows a job loss today is far different than it was a decade ago.

When he was laid off he received one year's severance pay and was guaranteed help with finding a new job. "That was back when companies were still taking better care of their employees," he said, noting employees who lose their jobs today frequently do not get a severance package and are highly unlikely to get help finding another job.

He said parish job support programs are "filling a void." The St. Basil group, formed about five years ago, is part of a group of four parishes in the Employment Network Ministry of the Cleveland Diocese.

"A major thing our church stresses is there are basically two commandments: Love the Lord and love your neighbor as yourself. Right now, our neighbors are hurting in so many ways," Gilbert added.

"We want to make sure they have as much help as they can get in this stressful period. It's one of the biggest crises people can go through when their very livelihoods are in jeopardy," he said.

Dobies agreed the church can play a key role in helping people find jobs and also maintaining their self-confidence.

"One of the main things job seekers need is hope -- the belief they can find another opportunity and that their lives are not over," she said.


Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
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