Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
Monday mornings at a restaurant in Irvine, California, volunteers from nearby St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (SEAS) Parish meet with two to seven unemployed job seekers to offer them helpful tips so that they may find new jobs. The SEAS Employment Ministry was launched during the 2008 recession and has since helped hundreds find gainful employment.
Church might not be the first place people think of when they need help finding a job, said Michael Aimola, co-director of the ministry with Virginia Sullivan and Brian Wolf and a volunteer since its launch, “but we have people sitting in the pews Sunday after Sunday who need help finding jobs, so why not offer them the help they need?”
Those seeking help from the ministry are often older workers laid off from a longtime job who have no idea how to begin a job search. Aimola continued, “The job application process is markedly different than it was 10 or 15 years ago. People come to us who have no idea what LinkedIn is, no idea how to write a resume or who are unfamiliar with the computerized applicant tracking system that is so common today.”
Brainchild of the parish deacon
The Employment Ministry was the brainchild of SEAS Deacon Steve Greco, who initiated it after speaking with a parishioner in her fifties in 2008. She had been laid off from her 30-year position with a company and didn’t know how to find a new job. Deacon Greco said, “I was moved by her circumstances, and I knew there were many others in her circumstances.”
He recruited Wolf to lead the ministry, as well as Sullivan, who works professionally as a career consultant, and makes himself available in a support role. The new ministry introduced job seekers to effective resume writing, internet tools such as LinkedIn, networking and paired them with mentors to help with job searches. Deacon Greco was a pharmaceutical executive and can offer tips on effective interviewing, including telling job seekers to be ready with a 30-second “elevator speech” on their background, skills and type of job they’re seeking. He added, “And I’d remind them that they are not on vacation; they have to work just as hard in getting a new job as they would if they had a job.”
He also made a point of including a spiritual component in Employment Ministry meetings, which would include Scripture reading and prayer, along with the question: where are you at spiritually? He explained, “There is an emotional stigma to being unemployed—or, ‘in transition,’ as we like to say—there are also family challenges and tensions as people ask, ‘How am I going to pay the bills?’ The spiritual component provides help in these areas and is crucial.”
Sullivan’s specialty is in helping job seekers craft effective resumes. Oftentimes applicants’ resumes are poorly structured and full of grammatical errors. She also noted that resumes today are often read by computer scanners and not human beings, hence it is always helpful to know someone on the inside of a company who can take a resume and deliver it to a decision maker.
She also noted that should an applicant land an interview, he must be able to demonstrate how his resume matches a job posting and why he should be chosen above others. Being on LinkedIn with the right content is also key, she added.
Sullivan is a SEAS parishioner who has been involved in the Employment Ministry since 2009, and believes they have helped more than 200 find jobs with the ministry’s help. She said, “We’ve worked with people in desperate circumstances. One woman I know who kept losing job after job was able to land her dream job with our help. We’ve been able to change people’s lives for the better. It’s very gratifying.”
Deacon Greco, who is now retired and devotes himself full time to his Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry (www.spiritfilledhearts.org), noted that he is one of the ministry’s success stories. He recalled, “I had a new opportunity, and they helped me transition to a new job.”
Deacon Greco believes that those in the workforce have an obligation to help those seeking to join it, hence the SEAS Employment Ministry is “something every parish should have.” The ministry is part of the social justice mission of the Church, he continued, because “while social justice involves such things as feeding the poor, prison ministry and helping families find shelter, I think the greatest gift we can give the poor is to teach them how to find work so that they can provide for their own needs.”