Downingtown-Area Curch Offers Aid to Unemployed and Underemployed
A networking and support group to aid the unemployed and underemployed, started eight years ago by a Downingtown area church, is expanding its no-cost initiative and changing its meeting time.
Calvary Fellowship Church, located at 95 West Devon Drive at Route 113 in Lionville, will move its Monday morning weekly gathering to 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Room 104-106 of the church, starting Feb. 4. It also will expand assistance for resume writing, interview skills, job search techniques and more.
John Keeny, a former small business owner, current director of business operations at the church, and co-founder of the original initiative with insurance executive Glenn Clark, said the change is designed to provide a broader range of assistance for many of the more than 16,000 officially unemployed in Chester County, the nearly 10,000 more who are estimated to have lost their unemployment benefits, and the many underemployed.
Keeny noted that "although Chester County continues to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Pennsylvania, this isn’t much consolation to the thousands of families directly affected by the stresses of unemployment and underemployment."
Since the support initiative’s start in 2004, hundreds of job-seekers from the immediate area, West Chester, Malvern, Phoenixville, Pottstown, Honey Brook, Reading, Western Chester County and other locations, have participated in the Barnabas Group, named after the Christian disciple identified in the Bible as the Son of Encouragement.
"The name reflects our focus on providing encouragement and a supportive environment for the unemployed and underemployed during this difficult time in their lives, reflecting the Biblical mandate and desire to love our neighbors," Keeny said.
He noted that Christian faith has been important to many participants during their period of job-seeking trials, reflecting on many testimonies as to how God blessed job-seekers during these times, even though some didn’t realize it until after they had obtained new employment.
A basic component of the new initiative will be the 12 Steps Toward EmploymentTM curriculum, developed by Parkesburg resident Casey Jones, who attends the church and has been a resource to the group from shortly after its inception.
Jones created the presentation based on needs he discovered as a former small business owner and municipal management advisor who became a job seeker upon moving to Pennsylvania. Through participation in the Barnabas Group and other employment networks he found a consistent pattern of job-seeker needs that he addresses through information and resources provided over a six-week period. These tools also serve as a basis for other assistance to be available to participants.
The presentation, which has been provided to nearly 400 unemployed and underemployed and agency personnel working with job-seekers, first was offered at Calvary Fellowship Church some three years ago. It subsequently was modified into a four-hour workshop presented to several hundred attendees throughout Chester County over a two-year period as part of a county Workforce Investment Board (WIB) Road to Employment initiative.
Components discussed include the impact of unemployment and underemployment on individuals and families and how to cope emotionally and financially during this period and after; the abundance of oftentimes unknown free support services that are available to job-seekers during their periods of career transition; identifying, creating and using new and already existing networks and supports that help provide needed connections in obtaining the majority of new jobs; identifying gifts and talents, many of which are unrecognized, and how to adapt them to develop a broader pool of potential employment opportunities; developing a powerful resume, obtaining interviews, and enhancing job interview skills; evaluating and negotiating job offers; and maintaining employment once it has been obtained.
Assistance will be supplemented by other speakers and members of the church’s Resources Team of LifeLine Ministries, a support network developed to aid individuals and families struggling with various types of issues.
The Barnabas Group is open to all unemployed and underemployed, along with human services personnel, family members and others wanting to know more about how to assist job-seekers.
Family members particularly are encouraged to attend the first session, Keeny said, to learn more about how unemployment and underemployment affects and is best addressed from a family perspective.
Individuals are encouraged to show support to their unemployed and underemployed family members and friends by letting them know about this expanded assistance resource.
Further information on the Barnabas Group, along with requested reservations to help ensure availability of sufficient materials, is available from Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-707-1494.