A CAN-do approach

Adam Nelson worked for the same insurance company for four years. But when it downsized in 2011, Nelson found himself unemployed. Nelson picked up a few temporary positions, but was discouraged that he could not find the full-time position he was searching for.

Nelson, who holds a bachelor's degree in business mathematics, saw an advertisement for Catholic Charities' Christians Are Networking (CAN) while at Mass at St. John Neumann Church in Reston.

"When I see things like that, I usually never act on them," said Nelson, 33. "But I figured it was worth a try. And now, I'm definitely glad I went there."

Nelson was the 100th person to find meaningful employment since the CAN's inception in June 2009. He is a contractor in Fannie Mae's quality control department.

CAN originated after Elizabeth Lucas was laid off after 26 years with the same company. She sought help from a job ministry at McLean Bible Church, but wanted the ability to look to her own Catholic faith community for support.

"I had forgotten what it was like to look for a job," she said.

She approached Bill Hummel, vice president of a federal consulting firm, about the idea of creating a Catholic job ministry. They pitched the idea to Catholic Charities, which readily embraced it.

"We recognized that there was a need for this program and that this was a way for the church to be more visible," said Hummel, who also serves on the Diocese of Arlington finance council. "We knew that Catholic Charities could play a strong role in it."

In its ministry, CAN supports people looking for work or a career change by providing a venue where job-seekers can receive free career counseling and networking opportunities. Volunteer mentors lead weekly meetings.

Lucas and Hummel created a workbook with chapters on identifying career passions, writing a resume and cover letter and preparing for an interview. The workbook is given free to all attendees so they can take charge of their own job search.

About 350 job-seekers have used the services of CAN with as many as 50 people attending meetings during the height of the recession. On average, about a dozen job-seekers attend each two-hour meeting.

Sessions are held from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursdays at the St. Martin De Porres Senior Center in Alexandria. Each opens with a prayer. Presentations on topics such as developing an "elevator speech," setting goals and dealing with stress are given by mentors or outside speakers. From there, one-on-one mentoring provides an important personal touch.

"Our help is geared to each job-seeker specifically," said Karen Beck, a retired federal government recruiter. "We help them focus on their strengths so they can realize what God's mission is for their lives."

Nelson praised volunteers for their approachability and willingness to help. He said he felt more confident and encouraged while attending the sessions because it was easier knowing there were other job-seekers fighting to overcome similar obstacles.

Charlie Dietz, a partner in a CPA firm and a CAN volunteer since its inception, worked with Nelson, giving him tips on rewriting his resume and suggesting networking tools. Dietz believes in an economically strong middle class where jobs provide a sense of self-worth.

"And that's what CAN is," he said, "a resource to help people find their purpose and determine their vocation."

McKean is a development associate for Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities is supported by funds from the Bishop's Lenten Appeal.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013