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Tuesdays With Transitioners

by Jennifer Oliver O’Connell, member of  Congregational Church of Northridge

     One of my favorite scriptures is Proverbs 22:29, “Do you see any truly competent workers? They will serve kings rather than working for ordinary people.” Through my work with Tuesdays with Transitioners, I have had the blessing of seeing truly competent workers find new work in their desired field, or begin taking the steps out of working for ordinary people, to become entrepreneurs and business owners.

     I was laid-off from a full-time software training position in 2008 and, with the encouragement and support of my church, the Congregational Church of Northridge (http://northridgechurch.net), created Tuesdays with Transitioners (http://tuesdayswithtransitioners.ning.com) for those who have been laid-off, downsized or are looking to transition in their careers. Two and a half years later, the group maintains a LIVE and virtual presence, offering tools, resources and support to job seekers and career transitioners. I maintain the website and teach on technology, social media, networking and branding and marketing yourself online. My years of experience as a writer and software expert is put to good use as I work to train 20th Century workers for the 21st Century workforce.

     When I started the group, I had no illusions of grandeur.  I simply wanted to be of help to those who, like me, had lost their employment and were looking for support, resources, and a point of transition toward a better or different career.  It was a community ministry and, while I wanted it to reach people, I had no expectation that it would move beyond the walls of the Congregational Church in Northridge.

     In January of 2011, the Department of Labor Office of Faith-based Initiatives and Neighborhood Partnerships found the Tuesdays with Transitioners website and learned about our work. A phone conversation with Coordinator Ashley Gerwitz led to a conference call with Associate Director Ben Seigel and this led to connections to other leaders and coordinators of employment ministries throughout the country.

     In April, the office invited all of the job club coordinators to be a part of a May 24 panel on Job Clubs and Employment Ministries: “On the Frontlines of Putting Americans Back to Work. The DOL is recognizing that job clubs and employment ministries are the glue holding people together through this tough economic period and we are doing essential work in getting Americans back into gainful employment.

     The ministry had indeed moved beyond the walls of Northridge and straight to the Capitol City!

     Thanks to the creative thinking of my Pastor, Roger A. Barkley, I was awarded a generous scholarship from the UCC which covered my airline ticket to Washington D.C. as well as traveling funds. Former UCC President Paul Sherry, who runs Interfaith Worker Justice in D.C. (http://www.iwj.org/detail/person.cfm?person_id=42), was also scheduled to be part of the panel.  He went the extra mile of opening his home to a few of the panel participants. This took care of my lodging, so I was blessed both going out and coming in!

     Steve Coella of the West Warwick Public Library Job Club in Rhode Island, was the other panelist in residence, and we all had great conversations about the state of the employment market and the importance of the work done through employment ministries such as ours. Paul also stressed the importance of replicating what we do to other churches, and was desirous to see this type of work happen in other UCC churches.

     Rev. Phil Tom, the Director of the Faith-based Center, along with Ben Seigel, and Ashley Gerwitz hosted a Monday-night mixer on our behalf. This informal gathering afforded the opportunity to get acquainted outside of the conference calls the Faith-based office had conducted with us over the past month or so. I greatly appreciated getting more inside baseball on the Center’s vision for partnering with the job clubs. There was even some talk of potential funding in the works for the clubs through corporations and endowments, so that the work of the job clubs could continue uninterrupted without fear of losing a leader due to financial concerns. I most enjoyed getting to know my fellow coordinators Joy Maguire-Dooley of Lisle Township Youth and Family Services in Lisle, IL, Ken Soper of EaRN Employment and Resource Network in Grand Rapids, MI, and David Mackoff of Tifereth Israel Congregation Job Club in Washington, D.C. and finding out what was happening in each of their groups.

     On Tuesday May 24, we had a full-court press before the actual panel, as we were escorted through the Department of Labor building, met with other Department of Labor personnel, as well as government partners to the DOL’s work. Diana Miller is an accomplished woman who runs a job club through another UCC congregation: the Stow (Ohio) United Church of Christ. She created a powerful video featuring stories from members of her group, and it was both inspiring and heart-wrenching.

     As if the privilege of being part of such a panel was not enough, I was able to meet (and get a photo op) with United States Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and Assistant Secretary Jane Oates. Secretary Solis, who presented us with pins featuring the official seal of the Department of Labor, spoke briefly about how important the job clubs are to the work the DOL is trying to accomplish. That was an honor I never would have imagined, and it will be a cherished memory.

     The panel featured the perspectives of faith leaders Rev. Phil Thom, Rev. Paul Sherry, and Rev. Jesse Wood of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.  Ken Soper spoke eloquently about his work setting up job clubs in Grand Rapids and Western Michigan, and isolated the heart of the work he does being rooted in the Golden Rule–a universal maxim found across religions and beliefs, but encapsulated in Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:12: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

     Photos and the webcast of the panel can be viewed at the Department of Labor website. Photo slideshow:(http://www.dol.gov/dol/media/photos/slideshows/20110524-solis-jobclub.htm) and Panel Webcast: (http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dol.gov%2Fdol%2Fmedia%2Fwebcast%2F20110524-jobsclubs%2F&h=fc51f).

     Secretary Solis wants to replicate this type of panel in areas where the Department of Labor has regional offices, and feature the job club coordinators who are resident in that region. One of those regional offices is in Los Angeles, so it looks as though the work and influence of Tuesdays with Transitioners could have an even greater platform.

     But the greatest influence would be to encourage my fellow UCC leaders to build such ministries for their members and the surrounding communities who are still struggling to gain (or regain) employment, and hurting from this economy. Joy Maguire-Dooley, the Director of Lisle Township Youth and Family Services gave a startling statistic that most Americans will keep a job an average of two-to-five years. What that means is that the work done through job clubs and employment ministries will continue to be essential to the health and well-being of the members of our faith and national communities. I welcome leaders of the Southern California Conference and other UCC congregations to contact me at joliveroconnell@gmail.com with any questions or feedback in that regard.


One Response to “Tuesdays With Transitioners”
  1. Thank you for this article and for the good work described in it. I have been in career transition since 2008, looking for “kings” for whom I can share my gifts. I participated in a Career Transitions Network sponsored by Calvary Church in Thousand Oaks. (Not UCC). It was most useful in surprising ways–not for resume rehab or networking. It was ideal for remembering that God is in all matters. My work is for him. Best wishes for your continued advocacy.

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