When my husband, Mark, and I started the Bond County Employment Support Group last fall, we had no idea what to expect. At the first meeting only three people showed up–that’s only one other person besides us!
We dutifully went through the motions to help that one person, who was delightful company and assured us that the emotional and practical support made a difference in her life. After a few weeks, another volunteer joined us who brought expertise in job placement through the State of Illinois Job Link as well as experience with his own long stretch of unemployment earlier in his life.
After a few more weeks, another woman began to attend. She had read about the group in the newspaper.
I was excited about this new attender because she was the type of participant I had hoped for when I first thought about the group. She was employed at a low-paying job with no hope of advancement. Because she held a college degree, she was a good example of what I mean when I say that many people are “underemployed.”
In mid-November, we adjourned for the holidays with none of us having found new jobs. When the group started up again in 2021, we had a new name, a new meeting location, and my husband had found a full-time job–success number one!
Our meetings now take place in the downtown SMART Center at 201 South Third Street in Greenville, Illinois. We renamed the group the SMARTworks Job Seekers and came together to celebrate with my husband and redouble our efforts to support the rest of us to full employment.
We meet on the third floor at 7 p.m. every Tuesday night, with rare exceptions. Often you can find me during the hour before the meeting having dinner at Joe’s Pizza next door to the SMART Center. One evening while I chowed down on an Italian salad at Joe’s, a friend and his wife came in for dinner.
Being friendly people, they stopped at my table and asked what I was doing there alone. When I told them about the Job Seekers group, my friend’s wife said, “I should come to that!” She, too, had lost her job to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I convinced her to come check out the group that very evening. She and her husband both stayed for the meeting.
At this point, both my husband and the original participant of the group–who soon found a job–were no longer coming to meetings. In addition, the extra volunteer had some health problems and wasn’t joining us either, so we were just the three of us as the group continued. Each week as we continued on together, we discussed our progress on our job searches, and I shared two challenges with the group–one for our emotional health and one for our job searches.
Soon, a fourth woman joined us because she would soon be moving out of the area and needed to search for a new job in the town where she was relocating. Along the way, the weekly challenges helped us refine our résumés, take research trips, build stronger networks of people who could help us with our job searches, and take better care of ourselves by incorporating laughter, exercise, and fresh perspectives in our lives.
The underemployed woman soon began to get interviews from sending out her spiffy, new résumé, and within a few weeks of interviewing she landed a dream job. In a thank you card, she wrote how grateful she was for the support and how excited she was about starting her new job.
The same week that the underemployed woman got her job offer, a new man started attending the group. He had been gainfully employed all his adult life but now faced some health issues that required that he change the type of work he does. He called me the very next morning to thank me for leading the group and to say how helpful the evening had been for him.
That brings us to today. So far, we have had six job seekers join the group. Half of those have found new employment in less than six months with the group.
If you are un- or under-employed or just want to explore a new angle on your career path, please plan to join us on Tuesday evenings.