Church Club Doing The Job For Those Who Don't Have One

Popular St. John's Group Provides Support, Camaraderie

April 26, 1992|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Staff writer

Also, an incorrect telephone number was included in a story Sunday about the St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church Job Club. The number is 461-5064.

The Howard County Sun regrets the errors.

When St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Columbia started its support group for out-of-work parishioners last year, the sessionswere to last no more than eight weeks.

A year later, the St. John's Job Club is still going strong, holding weekly meetings in the church's fellowship hall. As many as 40 unemployed professionals gather for each session.

Speakers have included Mable Canada, from the Howard County Human Relations Commission, who spoke on age discrimination; and Ellie Wegener, director of the the Washington-based Employment Center, a support group for organizations like the St. John's Job Club.

Those in attendance share their thoughts on being out of work, offer each other support and even help fellow club members find jobs.

On Thursday, Wegener told Job Club members that groups such as theirs can be "a family when you don't have a family."

She encouraged members to keep a positive frame of mind and continue networking.

"A guilt feeling is not what you want to have," she said. "The only thing that doesn't work is if you isolate yourself."

When the Job Club started, organizers had no idea how large their group would become, or that it would last this long.

"At that point we were starting to see more cutbacks and downsizing in companies," said Laura Clay, the club's volunteer coordinator. "But nobody was saying recession back then; although it was definitely in the back of everyone's mind."

Although most members are Howard County residents, the club draws from other counties as well, Clay said. Only two of the members currently attend church at St. John's.

Most club members are former white-collar workers, including engineers, contractors, sales people, marketing experts and accountants. Many are out of work because ofdefense industry cutbacks or the recession in general.

The group's camaraderie was cemented last Christmas when organizers decided that members should throw a Christmas party.

"We thought that a lot of the members were going to be missing the traditional office Christmas party, so we had a Job Club company party of our own," Clay said.

Patuxent Green Country Club co-sponsored the event, charging a reduced rate of $10 per person, Clay said. The church subsidized those who couldn't afford the affair. Also, stores at The Mall in Columbia and local shopping plazas were solicited for the 30 gifts that were handed out as door prizes.

Columbia-resident Wayne Austin, who for 22 years was personnel director for the Lanham-office of Volkswagen, found himself hurt by a poor job market when he quit his job rather than move with the company to Detroit.

Since then he's worked for a commercial broker and a developer in Prince George's County, but the recession ended those jobs. Most recently, he held a temporary position with a firm that provides employers with legal services for their workers.

Austin, 55, started attending the St. John's Jobs Club meetings a month ago to find support and perhaps a new job. He added that going to meetings is easy because everyone who attends is out of work.

"You don't have to hang your head when you go in there," he said.

And he's confident about finding work soon.

"After you've been through it

once you don't walk around with your jaw hanging down," he said. "That's the best way not to get a job."

Thanks to the success of the Job Club, the church is backing a new support groupfor the spouses of unemployed workers. The group is called Shoulder to Shoulder and meets at 7:30 p.m. every first Tuesday of each month at the Route 108 church.

Information about both support groups canbe obtained from Laura Clay at 461-6064.

There are other support groups in the county for the unemployed, including one backed by Howard Community College. Meetings are held every Tuesday on campus from 10 a.m. till noon. A contact person at the college is Kathy Kersheskey at 992-4840.

The Family Life Center, a non-profit community mental health facility in the Wilde Lake Village Center, runs a support group that meets weekly on Mondays from 9 a.m. till 10:30 a.m. The meetings focus on stress management associated with job loss. For more information, contact Susan Burger at 997-3557.

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