By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
ALLEN—The St. Jude Catholic Church’s Career Alliance Ministry recently found its weekly workshop suddenly reduced by one.
A participant had to dash away from the group on Nov. 4 when he got a much-desired call from an employer to come and interview for a job.
Everyone in the workshop rejoiced, said Jack Bick, the volunteer coordinator for the ministry that meets a community need by serving the unemployed, the under-employed and a range of ages from college students to older workers seeking career advice and companionship during times of transition and stress.
About 40 miles south, another parish ministry in the Diocese of Dallas met a different community need when its Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference gathered to organize holiday food basket deliveries and arrange its food pantry at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Lancaster.
As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, parish volunteers in different parts of the diocese said that the holidays heighten the sense of the gift of sharing, caring and mercy for year-round ministries.
Parishes large and small engage in various outreach strategies, serving food and, in some cases, food for thought. Their ministries rely on the same virtues—faith, hope and love—and count on the dedication of staff and volunteers.
“We know of about 250 people who have found jobs after attending our program,” Bick said of the seven-year-old parish ministry. “I saw this as an opportunity to give back. It’s very satisfying to help people.”
Bick, a St. Jude parishioner and former business owner in the publishing industry, said that he expected to give an hour or two a week to the ministry but felt so close to its purpose that he became a certified career coach.
The ministry uses a four-week curriculum that incorporates a seven-step series based on the Crossroads Career Network Program, a nationwide Christian-based job-search process. Speakers with special expertise present strategies during the workshops, which are held at St. Jude’s Pastoral Center.
Bick said that many people who participate in the program have not had to look for a job for many years and feel nervous about the process. Many have lost their jobs in a layoff, he said.
“I came to the workshops because I had hit a slump after losing my job about five months ago,” said Gretchen Adam, one of 17 participants at the ministry’s Nov. 4 workshop. “I cried all the way through that first workshop. It’s so important to be with people of faith. The first week, I was really a mess, and everybody was so kind.
“This program helped me renew my relationship with God and reminded me where to focus. It also brings alive in you the sense of wanting to give back.”
Father Tim Church, pastor of St. Jude, said that the ministry had proved itself a valuable and caring component of the parish, which has 5,566 families.
“It’s worthwhile,” Father Church said. “Losing one’s job is one of the most devastating experiences that anyone could go through.”
Gerry Vilarino, 48, said that he learned of the career ministry through St. Jude’s parish bulletin. He said that he moved several times for management and sales career opportunities, but loves St. Jude Parish and living in McKinney.
“I want to stay here, unless God has another plan for me,” said Vilarino, who has two children in college and one in high school. “I’m blessed that I don’t have to find a job tomorrow. The way I built my life with our family is always to try to live way below my means. I’m going to find a job. But this is about helping people understand that being unemployed is not always positive, but ultimately it can help you grow into being a better you.”
Parishioner and ministry volunteer Steve Mauser said that he identifies with the emotional stress that participants bring with them when they first attend a workshop.
Della Doss, who works in Adult Faith Formation at St. Jude and directs the Career Alliance Ministry, said that between 10 and 20 percent of the ministry participants are Catholic.
“It’s a great ecumenical outreach,” she said. “Everyone who comes through the door has a story. It’s an opportunity for them to fully realize that they are not alone.”
Sharing in Lancaster
At St. Francis of Assisi in Lancaster, the parish’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference works to stock a year-round, on-site food pantry that draws clients each Friday.
Like many St. Vincent de Paul conferences in the Diocese of Dallas, the conference at St. Francis in Lancaster shops for food, makes home visits to clients and fields hot-line calls from people in need of basic necessities.
Tom Germino, the conference president, said that the conference’s fiscal year-end report showed that 1,564 people benefited from the food pantry and holiday food baskets.
“Our parish has been very supportive,” Germino said. “I’ve seen our monthly contributions increase. We’re a small conference and we do a lot of things.”
He said that about half of the families who receive food baskets are from the parish—which has an average Sunday attendance of about 1,300—and the others are from the larger community.
“It’s gratifying to be here and be able to do something,” said Isidra Reyna, a conference member whose family helped found the parish. “The people here are very giving and loving. It’s home, being here. I can’t live without it.”
Father Manuel Sabando, pastoral administrator of St. Francis, said his parish treasures the conference members for their hard work and generosity.
“They are great,” he said. “They fill a need.”
Germino said that the conference has made great progress in organizing the pantry in recent years.
“I’ve seen it become more productive and able to better serve our clientele and serve their needs,” he said. “Many times, they break down and get emotional and teary-eyed. It’s hard to keep your composure sometimes.”