How these Virginia Catholics are helping the homeless find work 

How these Virginia Catholics are helping the homeless find work 

"Christians are Networking" volunteers. Courtesy photo.
"Christians are Networking" volunteers. Courtesy photo.

.- A Catholic group in Arlington, Virginia, is committed to helping homeless people, along with others down on their luck, by equipping them with the tools to find work and build careers.

In 2009, “Christians are Networking” (CAN) was launched by Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Arlington. The ministry began during the financial crisis, when unemployment was high, and those who had held steady careers were struggling to find work.

When the economy improved five years ago, CAN partnered with Christ House, a men’s homeless shelter in Alexandria, Virginia, to offer their services to people who have been living on the streets.

While the organization trains for resume-building, networking, interviewing, and computer skills, volunteer coordinator William Schuyler told CNA that the most important service has been helping participants believe in their own worth.

“The thing that we actually brought to the world was not so much that we could tell you how to write the perfect resume; it was that we reminded people of their value as a human being,” he said.

Christ House has enough space for 14 men at a time, and residents may stay in the house for up to one year. Men have their food, rent, and other necessities provided for them. They can also receive support to obtain identification papers.

The residents can also meet weekly with CAN to discuss career strategies like budgeting and networking. During the Wednesday night meeting, participants discuss progress and setbacks on the job hunt. Then, the job-seekers meets individually with volunteers.

Yvonne Horner, a volunteer coordinator for CAN, has been with the organization since it started at Christ House. With a background in human resources, she instructs clients on tax information and company benefits.

“When a man first enters Christ’s House, he will meet with the volunteers of CAN so they can find out a little bit of information, like education and work history. The volunteers also look to determine the clients’ interests and other areas of skills,” Horner told CNA.

“Then [we] talk a little bit about employment opportunities they might be interested in pursuing. We have a couple of volunteers who specialize in government work so they can help them navigate the government employment website.”

A major part of the program is helping men find a social support group.

Schuyler said that ideally the program will reconnect its clients to family members, like parents, children, and siblings.

The house will also encourage men to seek a community among themselves, he said.

“If [families ties are impossible], what we really tried to do is build ongoing relationships between the men at Christ House itself,” he said.

“Them bonding within the context of Christ ... then what that seems to do is enable them to reconnect with other people.”

Through interactions with professionals and other job-seekers, the men are built up with encouragement, he explained.

“It's important to remind people that they have value” in their dignity and in their work, Schuyler added.

“The organization needs you and it depends on you. Your colleagues are dependent upon you … if you do [your job] well, you are part of a thing that's making an organization succeed.”

“If you think of only the [task] you're doing, [like] the washing of the dishes, it's pretty easy to think of yourself as not having value in this.”  But, he said, “if you think of yourself as part of a team of people that are enabling people to have a delicious dinner, I think you can feel that you will have human value that's worth it.”

Catholic News Agency spoke with Dorian Spring and Leon Brown, both of whom participated in the program recently. The men had been homeless, and either not working or underemployed. Now, they have promising careers.

Spring entered the program about six months ago, after his landlord sold his home, leaving him homeless. He had been working at a hotel for 15 years, he said, but there was no room to move upwards in the company.

“I was very stressed out and then basically abused,” he said, noting that he had been passed over for promotions despite his lengthy employment and good attendance.

“I had to find something else and I talk[ed] to the CAN group about it,” he said. “They help you make yourself better, like with your resume and [preparation] for interviews and how to present yourself in interviews,” he added.

After coming to Christ House, Spring discovered new approaches to pursuing a higher position in a company.

He is now working for Georgetown University Hotel Conference Center, where he has company benefits and an opportunity for a raise every six months.

Spring explained that because of his background in hotel work, CAN worked with him to discover the goals of his career. He expressed hope that he might eventually be promoted to hotel management. He said CAN also helped him discover skills in his current profession, which are reflected in other professions, like office work.

“They keep you motivated,” he said, noting that the house is always open for people to return for additional help.

“They were very good to me.”

Brown joined Christ House over nine months ago, with no housing and no job. Now, he is working as a dishwasher at Hen Quarters, a restaurant serving Southern comfort food in Alexandria. He cleans dishes, floors, and linens.

Brown said he feels like a valuable part of the team.

“[I] love it and I got a good team with me and they appreciate me and I appreciated them. So I thank CAN group for that,” he said. “The charity really helped us and it made a better me, and I'm just going to continue on getting better.”

Brown said CAN also helped him establish a Facebook profile and track down his son, whom he had not seen in about 15 years.

“I [have] pictures on Facebook - me and my son and my friends,” he said.

 “My family, my workers and people who surround me, especially Christ house and CAN group, I appreciate each one of them.”

Both the men expressed gratitude for the job skills they’ve gained, but they also expressed appreciation for the community. One of their favorite aspects was the annual Christmas event. They said they had never experienced anything like it.

“Best Christmas I ever had,” said Brown.

“God is good all the time,” he said.

Tags: Catholic Charities, Catholic News, Homelessness