When resident Regina Donohue was laid off from a human resource position in August of 2009, one of the first places she went was church, and not for a potluck. She was here to network.
After 18 years of recruiting candidates for her company, now she was the one who needed help getting recruited. She turned to St. Mary Roman Catholic Parish in Middletown, which hosts a job networking group once a month. It also posts resumes of job seeking parishioners on its Web site.
There, she got a chance to brush up on her interview skills, and perhaps more importantly, get moral support from like-minded people — her fellow church members.
"When you're out of work in a terrible economy, you have to believe and have faith that the right thing is going to happen," she said.
Before too long, that right thing did happen for Donohue who landed her current position as director of human resources at LEO Pharma in Parsippany.
As providence would have it, just when Donohue joined the church group, the human resource person who had been heading it moved overseas. Donohue stepped up and has advised the group ever since, passing on her skills and encouraging others in their searches.
A melding of the practical and the spiritual, these meetings begin and end in prayer. The rest of the time members do things like network, practice their elevator speech and hear from human resource professionals on how to market themselves.
Church job resource groups have been quietly operating here in Monmouth County for years, under the radar of those comfortably employed.
In July, Donohue's group had a mock interview session and recently held a resume writing workshop, where members get to benefit from her over 20 years in hiring.
"I have the knowledge and ability to help others interview better and help them put together a resume that's really going to pop," she said.
Chuck Watson of Red Bank is a financial advisor who works in Red Bank and Sea Girt and attends Christ Church, an Episcopal parish in . He started his job search group about seven years ago around the time of the tech bubble crash that laid off two of his fellow church members.
"My rector came to me at the time and said, 'What can be done?' I said, 'I have no idea.'" So he traveled to a Princeton parish to see their group in action and brought the model back to Middletown.
His group, which usually meets the first and third Saturdays of the month, is one of the largest in the area with secretaries, bus drivers and CEOs all working together to get hired. Watson said very few parishioners attend but the church has gotten a few church members out of the group.
For the first hour, when the group presents speakers from human resource departments or networking group representatives. Whatever comes in the second hour is up to those who attend. If they need help with their resume or spiritual support, Watson and his group are there to help, but the focus is getting people back to work.
"We are God's conduit for information about getting a job," he said.
Both groups are open to the public.
Group attendance at Christ Church has peaked twice in the seven years the group has met, first in 2004 with the first tech bubble crash and again two years ago. Since then, Watson says, attendance has been tapering off, from about 20-25 attendees six months ago to about 10-12 recently. Watson says that's a good barometer of what's happening in the job marketplace.
Visitors to Watson's group are often referred by the Professional Service Group (PSG), an association of job seeking professionals affiliated with and sponsored by Workforce in Neptune. Or they come from other churches.
Watson has also become somewhat of an expert of the job search. He and Regina Donohue of St. Mary's have taken turns speaking to each other's group and their members sometimes attend both. Though both are gainfully employed and busy, they remain passionate about helping people find jobs.
For Watson, the reason for this side gig is simple. "I like doing it," he said.
"It's natural in a church setting to want to help people," said Donohue, who prays for the members of her group when they have interviews. She's doesn't get paid for this, but she does get rewarded.
"That first time after they have been hired wearing a suit and wearing the pride on their face [is rewarding]," she said.