Career Ministry Gives Unemployed Bit of Faith for Job Search

At Roswell United Methodist Church in Georgia, Monday nights offer a different kind of ministry -- career ministry.

Recruiters, corporate executives and volunteers from other churches come to Roswell's Career Services with a mission: to help people tossed out of work and running out of hope.

While unemployment in the United States is 9.5 percent, Georgia's unemployment rate has hovered at 10 percent for 2.5 years, according to Michael Thurmond, the state's commissioner of labor.

VIDEO: Job seekers in Georgia get a brand-new helping hand getting back to work.
A Hope, A Prayer and a Job for the Unemployed

The U.S. Labor Department said today that new claims for unemployment insurance had risen by 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 479,000. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned early in the week that the unemployment rate may rise for a couple of months before it falls again.

"[The volunteers] do this all day long and then they come at night and they spend several hours with job seekers giving their time and expertise to them," said Roswell volunteer Katherine Simons. "They just feel so good about the fact that they can make a difference. It's really loving your neighbor."

One recent Monday night, more than 300 people attended the networking meeting looking for help, from writing resumes to interviews. For many in the group, it was the first time in their career to be without a job.

"Most of us haven't been in a job search in years," said Jo Burkhardt, an executive recruiter who lost her job in the apparel industry. "For me, it has been over 20 years."

Burkhardt said career ministry helped her persevere to the new job she now treasures.

"Faith-based groups not only teach you the fundamentals of the job search and all of the different tools that you use and how to network, but they teach you, they provide the support along the way, that emotional support," she said.

Wally Anderson, a sales executive for more than 30 years, worked for a national software company. He said unemployment takes its toll on a soul.

"I think once you're in that position, you'll never look at an unemployed person in the same way," he said. "Many times we're too busy. We don't get involved, but this is an epidemic."

He called the career ministry "a safe haven." Anderson recently found a job. "It took me approximately 90 days and that's not normally the case for someone my age. I love my job. It's a great company," he said.

Labor Commissioner: Career Ministry Programs 'Have Inspired Me'

Thurmond, the state's commissioner of labor, said programs like Roswell's Career Services fill a void that the government can't.

"Government is limited," he said. "We are being negatively impacted by budget cuts. ... There's only so much we can do. We're here from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. But obviously there's a need for service and intervention on the weekends and in the evening."

Thurmond said career ministry has helped thousands of Georgians who have been out of work for or years.

"What Roswell does is provide them with the information and support, but more importantly with the spiritual support that allows people to go back out in a very difficult job market and continue to search," Thurmond said.

"It's the networking. ... It's the faith. My affiliation with this ministry inspires me to come back," he said.

Valeria Farris was out of work for almost a year. "I never would have imagined it ever. I was always able to rebound, find other work, find some industries to work in. This time it was just totally different," she said.

Now she works from home, designing instructor-led training for companies around the world. She credits Roswell's Career Services program.

"I never would have thought of going out and looking for opportunities outside the United States if I had not lost my job," she said. "It's going great. I absolutely love it."

ABC News' Erin Hayes contributed to this article.

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