LAKE WYLIE -- Don Clewley heads a unique group in Lake Wylie, one that doesn't look for work but invites people who are looking. A group that meets in a church but is as much human spirit as Holy Spirit. A business group with no agenda, other than to help others at the crossroads.
"The price of admission is pay if forward," Clewley said. "If I help you, you help the next guy."
About two months ago, Clewley and a handful of friends started the Lake Wylie Crossroads Career Network. The volunteer group is not a job fair, but rather helps anyone develop or fine tune job skills for a job search or career change. The group has ballooned to about 25 in weeks.
"We didn't anticipate a room full of people," Clewley said. "The positive is, they're getting jobs."
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Church sponsor Lake Wylie Christian Assembly Associate Pastor Billy Ginn said the group has grown by word of mouth and reaches beyond the congregation.
"We're seeing a lot of folks coming in every week, some who don't go to our church and some who don't go to church at all," Ginn said. "That's not our focus with this group."
White collar and blue collar, men and women, people of all faiths, age and race are welcome to attend weekly meetings. So far teachers, construction workers, truck drivers, computer programmers and loan officers are a few professions represented.
Often when they come, Clewley said, they do so to change career paths completely. Which is why each new member, or "explorer" as they are called, must answer a few basic questions.
"What is your passion?" Clewley said. "What do you want to do? How do you see this challenge as an opportunity."
How does it work?
With the current economy it comes as little surprise most explorers are looking for work, many recently let go from long-term employment. But the group also opens its doors for employed people who may want to change careers and need a little training on how to get started.
"It's not just for the unemployed," Clewley said. "It's for career transition."
Explorers meet for almost two hours every Sunday evening, then again for two hours twice monthly for seminars with speakers and workshops.
Weekly meetings include small groups, one-on-one training and open forums, where leaders assist in everything from resume writing to mock interviews, skills training and financial advice to perhaps the main focus--networking.
"These folks are very unfamiliar with how to network," Clewley said. "It's that networking that gets the jobs."
Leaders use techniques that are about 50-50 between Clewley's own professional experience as a software salesman and Crossroads Career Network, a national job training group run through a collection of member churches. Then there are special events, or "field trips," like a networking outing last week with the Charlotte Business Professionals group.
Online networking and job updates also take place, mixing face-to-face interaction training with the latest technology. No lying on resumes is allowed, though Clewley is helping explorers present themselves, either on paper or in person, in the best possible light. Explorers are not required to attend all or any of the events, but more participation generally leads to more success, Clewley said.
"These guys help themselves," he said. "They're the guys who are going to get the jobs because they're out there trying."
Is it working?
Steve Buck, who lives on the Lake Wylie side of York, has a job--for now. Yet Buck knows, and has for some time, that his position is "probably going to be fully outsourced in the fairly near future."
"I'm both looking to make a change and I'm looking to help out, too," Buck said of his participation with the group.
In a short time Buck already is working on new skills toward employment in a new field. He uses the group proactively, so when his current job ends he will be prepared to find a new one.
"Feeling sorry for yourself is not going to help you," he said. "Feel sorry for yourself for about an hour, then put your shoes on an go."
Eric Hughett, who lost his job with a local truck dealer in February, is looking for the positives in looking for work for the first time since 1992.
"It hurts in the beginning, at least for a little while, but you step back and say this could be something better," he said. "It's a lot more fun doing something you want to do."
Hughett, who "probably could've worked harder at finding something I'm better suited to do" while he was employed, is "leaning toward getting out of the transportation industry." Clewley is helping Hughett, who is himself helping two others already. Hughett has a third interview with a company coming up soon.
"He's not afraid to be the hardest interview you've ever had," he said of Clewley.
Since starting with the group, Carol Morgan of Fort Mill already found one part-time job, and is looking for another.
"I had really never had an issue with finding a job," she said. This time it was different, just taking a resume and a cover letter, it just wasn't working."
Her husband is looking too, but his membership in the group led him back to school, training to become a physical therapist assistant after more than 20 years at a tire company.
"If you're not passionate about what you're doing, you need to find another career," Morgan said.
So far the successes of Lake Wylie Crossroads are anecdotal, like the 51-year-old who is "changing his life" and another explorer who found a job as, of all things, a loan officer.
While a handful of explorers have found jobs, others are learning about the unemployment process, computer skills and financial advice.
Will it last?
Forget through the recession. Clewley hopes to keep at the new group, if possible, well beyond it.
"The reality is we should have done this five years ago," he said. "When the economy's strong, that's when you want to position your career. This is perpetual in motion."
The group hopes to help not only with career change, but with corresponding conditions like depression and anxiety.
"They absolutely do (run together)," Clewley said. "We worry about depression. We worry about despair. We're the uplifters."
Yet the group sees its positive impact. Some of the leaders are still looking for jobs themselves, already paying the "price" of membership.
"They're paying it forward already," Clewley said.
For more information on Crossroads Career Network, visit crossroadscareer.org. For more information on Lake Wylie Crossroads Career Network, call 803-222-0069 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
More employment support Tuesdays
Lake Wylie Lutheran Church is offering a Career Transition Support Ministry.
The purpose of this ministry is to provide confidential, Christian fellowship for those making job or career changes to discuss feelings, common issues and practical actions during their transition time.
Participants engage in sharing their situation and what they are looking to do. Facilitators and other participants as well provide feedback and ideas to help focus on successful action plans while strengthening a faith relationship with God.
The meeting format begins with a devotional followed by introductions, individual weekly check- in, group discussion topics like feelings, resumes, networking, interviewing, follow up, family and how to market yourself. We'll end each meeting by identifying action items for the coming week and close with prayer.
The meetings are scheduled 7:00-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Lake Wylie Lutheran Church, S.C. 160 and Gold Hill Road, Fort Mill, and are facilitated by the Stephen Ministers of Lake Wylie Lutheran Church.
For more information, call 803-548-5489 or 803-802-3469.