Steve Fushelberger knows what it’s like to lose a job. Recognizing there are many others facing those circumstances, he launched a free employment support ministry at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Columbus.
Fushelberger and others offer help from resume writing to mock interviews. The volunteer-driven program provides emotional support, as well, including counseling if needed through the church’s CARE ministry.
“It’s really a grieving process,” said Matt White, who lost a job in Greensburg as an electrical maintenance technician to cutbacks in 2008, a mere three months after he began volunteering with the employment ministry.
The St. Peter’s ministry assists job seekers from all educational levels, from those with GEDs to Ph.D.s, from blue collar to white collar, from marketplace rookies to those in the autumn of their careers.
And while Fushelberger said he feels faith certainly plays a part in getting through a troubled time, his primary goal is to keep job-seekers’ spirits up while they search for a new opportunity.
“People aren’t going to get browbeaten (here) with the Gospel,” he said.
In fact, some of the 107 people they’ve helped find work have not been affiliated with any particular congregation, while others are members of other churches. Some live several states away, including the most recent job-finder who lives in Phoenix but whose parents attend St. Peter’s. Volunteers offered that individual lots of help by email and phone.
The Rev. Mark Teike, St. Peter’s senior pastor, loves the emotional and practical support he sees through the outreach.
“This is a ministry that really leans into the people,” Teike said. “And it’s customized to their individual needs.”
Volunteers from the ministry’s steering committee meet the second and fourth Sundays of the month to help people with job-search tasks. They generally gather at 9:30 a.m. and have stayed as late as 2 p.m. some days.
“This is just a tool for one way of reflecting God’s grace to others,” Fushelberger said.
Volunteers say they know and respect those who work locally for professional job-placement services. But they also realized some of that assistance can be costly for those whose savings dwindle the longer they go without a paycheck.
Greg Bickers, one of the ministry’s volunteers, mentioned that his wife worried, for instance, when he spent jobless days buying people’s breakfast or lunch in order to network. And therein lies the visible strength of the outreach at St. Peter’s, partly because Fushelberger and others cite one statistic as if it literally is the Gospel: 75 percent of jobs are landed through networking for unadvertised positions.
As part of that networking, job-seekers fill out sheets listing their current and previous employers and contacts. Those completed sheets are then shared with other job-seekers seeking a connection or link to those companies.
But volunteers also help sharpen a job hunter’s self-promotion skills by reviewing their successes and accomplishments.
“It’s so hard for some people to toot their own horn,” volunteer and local business owner Gilda Wettschurack said.
When speaking of job-search successes called “landings,” ministry volunteers say God gets the glory for opening doors.
Ministry volunteer Tom Dunker waited two years with no job for that to happen. He said the outreach helped him believe in himself when his confidence and faith grew a bit shaky.
“I knew there was something out there,” said Dunker, now assistant manager of packaging with Aisin USA in Seymour. “I always knew there was something coming.”
Irony lies in the very space where ministry volunteers meet with clients who often are jobless. The multipurpose space’s name is called the work room.
“I just wish I could bottle that sense of relief, joy and reaffirmation of a person’s self-worth we see when they land a new job,” said Fushelberger, who lost his marketing position at United Airlines in 2002.
He is now vice president of marketing and communications for Holstein Aviation in Carmel.