March 13, 2009

Career support group offers encouragement to job seekers

Members of the St. Jude Career Support Group have a discussion on March 5 at St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Members of the St. Jude Career Support Group have a discussion on March 5 at St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The national unemployment rate recently reached 8.1 percent, a 25-year high. In Indiana, nearly one out of every 10 people is out of work.

Hundreds of thousands of people continue to lose their jobs every month in the worst economic crisis to hit the nation in decades.

Behind all of those statistics are the stories of individual women and men struggling to support themselves and their families.

In its newly formed St. Jude Career Support Group, St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis is reaching out to these people by giving them encouragement and hope plus the skills and knowledge they can use to find stable employment.

The story behind the young woman who is leading it, however, shows how receiving such support can lead a person to want to pass it on.

In 2007, Beth Haggenjos was a 29-year-old mother of two young children who had been a member of St. Jude Parish for just two months when a serious health condition quickly threatened her life. It was at that time that she “saw the power of the Christian community.”

“People I didn’t even know were coming in from all over just to help us out with prayer support,” Haggenjos said. “[St. Jude pastor] Father Steve [Banet] was there helping my family through prayer … on a daily basis. The outreach was unbelievable.”

Through 2008, Haggenjos recovered and began to consider the spiritual meaning behind her brush with death.

She participated in a Christ Renews His Parish retreat at St. Jude and became a sponsor in the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

Haggenjos knew the young woman that she was sponsoring from Indiana University’s School of Informatics on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, where Haggenjos works as its director of career services.

Last fall, the young woman asked Haggenjos if she might coach her unemployed brother in seeking a new job.

This led Haggenjos to consider if God might be calling her to put the gifts she uses in her secular career to the service of her parish.

“I really felt like there was this deep calling to do it, [especially] with the way that the economy was,” she said.

With the support of the parish staff, Haggenjos formed the group in January.

In its meetings, Haggenjos and other group leaders give educational presentations, and there is time for networking and mutual support.

At first, Haggenjos didn’t know if people would respond.

“If one person showed up and it helped one person, great,” Haggenjos said. “If it was meant to be, people were going to show up. And if it was not, then we tried.”

In the end, 15 people showed up for the first meeting. That number soon grew to 35.

They include people who are unemployed and those who are employed but seeking a different job, those with only a high school diploma and those with graduate degrees.

“I have people looking for everything from fundraising positions to operations management to accounting to medical coding,” Haggenjos said.

One of the people is St. Jude parishioner David Tillar of Indianapolis, a 37-year-old father of three children who lost a fundraising job last June.

While he appreciates the job seeking strategies he has gained through the group, he also simply values the support he finds in it.

“You feel like there are people who are looking out for you,” Tillar said. “And that’s the support piece to it. It’s not just you out there by yourself.”

Cathy Pilarski joined the group after she relocated to Indianapolis from Tucson, Ariz., where she had co-owned a coffee business for 19 years.

After selling her share in the enterprise, she came to Indianapolis to be close to family in Illinois, but arrived when Indiana’s unemployment rate was higher than the national average.

Pilarski is now doing janitorial work while looking for a new career.

For her, the fact that the career support group is based in a parish makes all the difference.

“It’s paramount in my estimation,” Pilarski said. “There are resources out there that will tell you how to do that resumé or how to interview. But if we are lacking in that spiritual component about giving this burden that we have right now to God, then we will find nothing but disappointment out there.”

Father Banet thinks the group is just what a parish should be doing in tough economic times like these.

“Having it in the parish setting, to me, is just a great sign of what a parish should be in the holistic nature of not only our spiritual ministry, but of our ministry to families,” he said.

A year and a half ago, Haggenjos was on the receiving end of the support that a parish like St. Jude can give. Now, according to Tillar, the career support group she founded is handing it on.

“That’s what always amazes me about the Catholic faith,” Tillar said. “People always pull together. And no matter what the situation, they help each other out.”

(For more information about the St. Jude Career Support group, call 317-786-4371 or log on to

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