5 Suggestions on How Congregations Can Help Workers ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Saturday, March 7, 2009

5 Suggestions on How Congregations Can Help Workers

For good or ill, the great majority of Americans have to work to earn a living. Especially now that the stock market has taken a dive, even "day traders" and "early retirement" folks who lived on the skillful manipulation of investment portfolios are shifting computer screens away from financial pages to revising resumes. How can congregations help?

It's a new economic world for the next several years (at least), and those who have been laid off have all got to get jobs or make jobs, being hired or being entrepreneurial, to maintain their homes and their families -- let alone their sense of dignity.

Congregations can be part of helping the transition of workers who have lost their jobs or who may have to re-enter the employment market after years of living off the grid.

Panama Business and InvestmentImage by thinkpanama via Flickr

First, congregations can go beyond prayer and encouragement to giving people the boost to expand their self-definitions
I recently heard a radio program where a caller described herself as being "specialized in print design" and was irritated that companies wanted her to have skills in web-design as well. It seemed that she was hiding behind a "specialization" too narrowly defined. She was unwilling to get the training she needed to apply her considerable skills to online operations. Congregations can be part of expanding work identities by giving people the space to explore and play with expansive self-definitions before they over-commit to a particular specialization on paper or in an interview.

Business MeetingsImage by thinkpanama via Flickr

Second, congregations can maximize the networking possibilities within and between churches. 
Most "employed" people I know are very willing to give advice and even mentor others through navigating the employment process. Congregations could identify different sectors of work or occupations and host informal meetings before or after services. This is especially important if workers are trying to shift from industries they know to industries and employment procedures that are new to them.

Third, congregations can provide volunteers opportunity to learn new skills within the ministries of the church
Back in the 1990s, I helped with a job re-training program in East L.A. where I focused on teaching workers basic computer skills. What was second nature to me in computing (like opening a program or using a mouse) was like visiting a foreign planet to the dozens of older workers I assisted at the time. The church had several older computers (worthless to businesses and donated by them) that taught people how to type, operate basic computer programs, and learn basics of internet navigation. Another person took his interest in film and was given a higher-end computer to use to master editing and composition of documentary-like vignettes that were displayed in church services. That person leveraged those new skills toward more education and a video-oriented job.

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Fourth, congregations can sponsor workers to travel to other cities and regions to explore work
While I was fortunate to have my future employer pay all expenses for my interview before being hired, most workers do not have this privilege. Congregations could give a few hundred dollars for trips for workers to explore options for workplaces, homes, and schools in other places. Of course, this also requires congregations to have the attitude of being willing to encourage people to leave their churches if it means good opportunities exist elsewhere.

*Beschreibung: Bild aus dem Hunsrückdorf im Ro...Image via Wikipedia

Fifth, congregations can find ways to assist adults who seek more schooling
Besides help with books and tuition, the most practical assistance for adult schooling is having volunteers cover the many other practical needs of everyday life. That means providing meals, care for children, housecleaning, home maintenance (like lawn work), a new set of clothes, and transportation. Congregations could say, "If you can get to class, we'll take care of the rest." I assume only a small percentage would take up such a wonderful opportunity, which means that the labor of resourcing a small number of households would allow a person to actually succeed in their classes and launch into a different career.

This is just quick list, and I'm sure the creative resources of congregations have come up with other ideas.  

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