For 22 years, job-seekers have made connections and explored options at an employment network established by the Roswell United Methodist Church. When the economy was booming, attendance was as low as two or three, but after the dot.com disaster of the late 1990s, the outreach began to grow, becoming a consistently well-attended and well-organized event.
“By 1997, we were getting 50 to 60 people twice a month,” said Katherine Simons, volunteer leader of the networking program and a church member since 1982. “So by the time the great recession hit in 2008, we were well in place. During the height of the unemployment crisis, we’d get as many as 450 people in.”
The church’s networking project grew not only out of need, but from the mental boost it gives to often discouraged job seekers.
“People are surprised when they come in and see so many others in the same position, but they walk out with hope,” said Simons. “They’re networking with people who have experiences they can share. They’re helping each other through it all. It’s a very supportive venue.”
The majority of those who show up for the networking sessions are not members of the church, nor are they all from the Roswell area.
“People have driven from Peachtree City, Douglasville, Jasper and Stone Mountain,” said Simons. “Sometimes they even carpool to get here.”
What sets the Roswell program apart from many other similar job-search programs is that it isn’t just an evening of swapping business cards. The sessions are held on the second and fourth Monday of each month and kick off at 1 p.m. with a variety of workshops led by professional job coaches and recruiters. The volunteer leaders offer tips on topics such as designing a better job search, writing a solid resume or preparing for an interview.
“This is quality material, the same you’d get from an out-placement service, but all of it is free,” said Simons. “And it goes on all afternoon. We also have dinner, followed by more workshops, networking and a keynote speaker.”
The networking program also draws support from local civic groups. Last year, the area Rotary Club provided financial and volunteer assistance, as well as job leads. A few months ago, a partnership with the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce created a job fair that helps would-be employees connect with companies moving into the area or looking to expand their workforces.
“The Chamber is often the first contact for a company considering moving into the area,” said Simons. “It was a natural fit for us to help those new employers find employees. And we know that today, 80 percent or more of all job offers are coming from personal introductions.”
The first fair, held Dec. 10, drew about 225 job-seekers as well as representatives from 19 companies, including Enterprise Car Rental, Northwest Exterminators, Edward Jones, AAA Auto Club, Ackerman Security and Dell Computers.
“Dell alone had about 100 jobs,” said Simons. “The feedback we got from the employers is that they want to come back and are telling others to sign up because it’s a very organized process, and they were able to hire people. We already have several employers signed up for February.”
The next networking program is Jan. 14; the next job fair is Feb. 11. The church is located at 814 Mimosa Boulevard, Roswell. Info: 770-993-6218.
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