September 23, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Marney Rich Keenan

Prayer and support helps unemployed stay focused

Wes Hallmark, left, and Kevin McLogan founded the jobless group at St. John's Episcopal Church in Royal Oak to maximize people's efforts. (Gary Malerba / Special to The Detroit News)

Every Monday at 8:30 a.m., Kevin McLogan begins the group meeting St. John's Episcopal Church in Royal Oak with a prayer.

Everyone bows their head. "Lord, we ask that the struggle we endure in our search for new work can indeed transform our lives and make us better people."

While a church may be an unlikely setting for a support group for the unemployed, few would argue that here in Detroit, where the unemployment rate is 29 percent (Highland Park is 36 percent and Pontiac is 35 percent, according to Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth), what is accomplished on early Monday mornings here is indeed "God's work."

As one member of the group discussing resumé strategy said, "Let's not forget, with God, all things are possible."

McLogan formed the group last April after taking a buyout and voluntary layoff in November of 2007 as a circulation manager for the Detroit Media Partnership, which includes The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.

Tough on boomers

The group is open to the public and aims to provide ongoing support, networking and strategizing techniques. With painful honesty, they share the highs and lows of their job quest, occasionally having to remind each other: "Unemployment is not who I am. It is what I'm going through." And, "There is no such place for false modesty in a career search."

McLogan says, "A lot of what we talk about is reinventing ourselves." But, among the baby boomer generation that the support group attracts, charging up for a new career when they had hoped to be coasting toward retirement requires some morale boosting. "We do have advantages over Generations X and Y," McLogan told them. "We're more reliable. We have more expertise, and we are willing to share our skills (with co-workers) without worrying about losing our competitive edge."

To sit in on a meeting is to witness the difficult day-to-day reality that faces families across the state. Here is a sampling from some of the 14 who attended a recent meeting.

Tom Murray of Royal Oak, 64, was laid off as a computer programmer/analyst in March 2009 and is "looking for about anything I can find."

James Lakatos, 54, of Royal Oak worked as a structural engineer for a medium-size consulting firm in Bloomfield Hills before it downsized last November. "I was quite shocked to be let go," he says. "I worked for that company for 30 plus years. "I'm trying to make adjustments, and I know it's important to keep a positive attitude."

Chris Moran, 59, of Royal Oak has been unemployed since June, when his contract as a mainframe computer programmer ran out.

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of contract programmers out there, and we're all looking at the same job. I'm hoping things turn around soon, but a career change might have to be in my future."

Meredith Whipple of Royal Oak, a medical biller and coder, was laid off 18 months ago.

She is working "very part-time" and is looking for a full-time job. "Because," she says,"I can't retire yet."

McLogan counsels: "Don't get caught up in self-blame. You have to stay connected because it's just too easy to isolate yourself. It can become very easy to spend a whole lot of your day doing a whole lot of nothing."

Always hopeful

Often speakers come to the group, like Kay Lemon from the Ferndale Career Center who gave a presentation on the importance of posting their profiles on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, My Space and Linked In. "Employers are doing searches on these sites, and you don't want to miss out on that," she told them.

McLogan ends the meeting with a pledge: "Between now and the next time we meet, let's pledge to make ourselves better job-seeking commodities."

Walking to his car, Chris Moran told me: "As much as we like these meetings, we don't want new people to have to join us. But the reality is, we're going to get them. Hopefully, we'll be able to graduate and move on with our lives."

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