Unemployed turn to job clubs for aid HOWARD COUNTY BUSINESS

March 18, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

For most of his 27 years as a marketing representative for a national employee training company, Don Walker knew nothing but the proverbial sweet smell of success.

Until last year -- "April 15. Tax day," he recalls.

That's when he decided to leave the company because of a conflict he had with its "values and ethics," a move that put him on what he now calls "my trip down the long and often winding road of unemployment."

He says he just hadn't anticipated a job market in such turmoil, particularly for someone with his experience and education.

For the past two weeks, Mr. Walker, 56, has been among the unemployed job club members who arrive Thursdays in the hall of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church on Route 108 near Columbia.

The club, whose weekly meetings are usually attended by 20 to 30 people, is one of at least three such clubs in the county.

Howard Community College conducts a job club on Tuesday mornings and the Family Life Center, a nonprofit counseling service in Columbia, offers one on Monday mornings.

The clubs provide displaced workers with someplace to share leads on jobs, tips on job hunting strategies and ways to cope with the terror of being unemployed.

What the clubs don't do is focus on finding jobs for the unemployed. That assistance is the domain of state, county and private job referral centers.

Laura Clay, the volunteer coordinator for the St. John's job club, says: "The job club is a place for people to get their frustrations out and work through them so that they can get on with the business of finding a job.

"It's also a place for people to realize that because they've lost a job doesn't mean they've lost who they are.

"We try to emphasize that your job is not your identity. Realizing that can really be a big help to people being creative, looking for new opportunities and moving on."

Mr. Walker, who lost a home, his cars and other comforts due to his year-long unemployment, says the St. John's job club is particularly helpful because of the emphasis on empathy, the sharing of frustrations and the exchange of creative ideas to forge ahead.

"Many people in my life have never known unemployment. Intellectually, they can appreciate what I'm going through, but they can't know the actual feelings," says Mr. Walker, who recently landed work two days a week as a consultant for a new company specializing in life planning and managing change.

"The wonderful thing about this club is people actually know thfeelings that come with being without work," he said. "That can be a great source of comfort. And it can be a source of renewal."

Others attending a recent job club meeting agreed that the sense of empathy they feel from other group members is a magnet to the weekly meetings, which include a hot lunch provided by volunteers.

"I come because I feel a kinship, a spirituality that helps me keep going," says Cynthia Golumb, a University of Maryland law school graduate who's been searching for a job since her clerkship with a judge ended last year.

Ms. Golumb, who has been attending the weekly meetings at St. John's for about two months, says she particularly likes the group discussions because of "the little jewels people often share that become critical to moving ahead."

"It's interesting to hear other people's stories. It's very motivating. The club can be a support system for your own

creativity," Ms. Golumb says.

Kristina Smigosky, a Columbia resident who worked for the Baltimore County government as a lawyer specializing in housing issues until she was laid off Feb. 22, says she has been coming to the meetings for support -- and to network for job leads.

Before each St. John's meeting begins, Ms. Clay boosts spirits by announcing the names of any members who have landed work and pitches job leads she's heard about from county employment experts and others. Club participants are also encouraged to share leads they've heard about.

The club keeps each member's resume so members can review them and recommend ideas for jobs that fit particular skills. The resumes are available to church parishioners as well.

Ms. Clay took on the responsibility of the club in January 1991, when the church decided to organize a community outreach effort for eight weeks to assist those hit by the recession.

"We never dreamed the club would last this long," Ms. Clay says. She is particularly proud the church was recently given a governor's award for assisting the unemployed.

"People keep showing up at the meetings," she says. "We've come to the realization that a lot of the unemployment is due more to a larger shift in our economy that goes much deeper than a recession. That shift is far from over so I see a continued need for the club."

Last year about 800 people attended club meetings, an average of about 35 each week, Ms. Clay says. So far this year, attendance is down slightly to about 25 weekly.

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