What began as simple seminars on writing resumes has evolved into a community resource for area job-hunters.
Building on an idea started by Larry Duke, John Buckner formed the Working Hands Ministry at St. Mark Catholic Church in Huntersville with a goal to assist those who are unemployed, under-employed, returning to the workforce or transitioning to new employment.
About a year ago, Buckner, now the vice president of marketing for S&D Coffee, recruited about dozen parishioners as members for the ministry's leadership team. The team, primarily comprised of senior-level workers, includes an executive recruiter, a senior talent management professional, two people who served as vice presidents of international organizations, a life coach and others.
Nearly half the members, including Buckner, who helped organize the ministry, were unemployed at the time.
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Bob Panicco, a Huntersville resident for nearly five years, has attended a variety of the ministry's workshops over the last six months. His most recent employer was Heritage House Fabrics, where he was chief financial officer.
He said he attends the ministry to get tips and pointers regarding the job search, to network with other members and to increase his involvement with parish members.
"The people in the ministry have been very helpful," he said. "I have learned from their experience and substantially increased my network of people in the Charlotte area. We offer each other support and networking contacts. It is an atmosphere that promotes helping each other. We all have ideas and connections that can benefit the group."
In May of 2009 the ministry began offering monthly workshops with advice on resume writing and interviewing, as well as networking opportunities. Workshops and seminars were first offered to parishioners but soon expanded to include the general public.
A survey of needs was conducted within the parish and several workshops were developed based on those needs.
The ministry averages about 100 people per month, said Jim Hillman, chairperson for the ministry and vice president for Ruberto Management Resoures. His areas of focus include change management, coaching and organization development.
"We are really currently focused on people in transition and helping them through that transition as quickly and painlessly as possible," he said. "As a faith-based organization, we can help them do that. We have a variety of tools people can use."
The ministry offers career coaches who help provide direction to people and evaluates their needs. Focus used to be on the white-collar worker but the ministry also assists blue-collar workers. Further efforts also have begun to reach out to the Hispanic community. A group geared toward current and new small business owners also has been formed to increase networking opportunities.
"We are reaching out to people in transition at all levels within all job functions," Hillman said. "We're really beginning to focus on the blue-collar worker, helping them fill out applications, creating resumes, networking and interviewing."
"The main focus is, number one, to help people in transition focus on the future and their faith - whatever that means for them," he said. "The goal of the ministry is helping them through the transition and recognizing the spiritual aspect of that."
All workshops begin with a general prayer to remind people of the spirituality they're going through, Hillman said, but they are basically non-denominational in nature.
"The workshops are just meant to reinforce faith values through work; we're simply laying a foundation, Hillman said. "The second part is using the resources of the ministry to develop the skills you need to go through the transition and that includes, right up front, networking.
"The work that we do - all our workshops, our networking - I want people to know working with our ministry is very safe, very confidential and that you will be with like-minded individuals."