Ten-year ministry helps connect people with jobs

STM career network 1

St. Thomas More Career Networking Group facilitators and participants speak about job searches, at a session of the successful 10-year-old ministry in the Munster parish's Weis Center on May 17. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)


by Anthony D. Alonzo

Northwest Indiana Catholic       


     MUNSTER – St. Thomas More’s Career Networking Group, established in 2008, is credited with helping at least 400 people secure employment. Coordinators of the Munster parish ministry celebrate story after story of success, while participants praise the support and direction they receive.

     Meeting monthly, the group has functioned as both a “safety net” for those who may need encouragement and a “sounding board” for those wishing to share strategies that could lead participants to a better career path.

     “I’m glad you found us,” announced Christine Spencer, Career Networking Group founder and facilitator.

     On a May 17, guests gathered at St. Thomas More’s Weis Center for a meeting. As is their tradition, a prayer was said, asking through the intercession of St. Joseph the Worker, that God “open the doors of opportunity” for those in the midst of a career change.

     With a large 10th anniversary cake in the background, members heard Spencer recall the motivations and doubts that swirled in her mind as she sought to get the new ministry for job seekers off the ground. As co-facilitators Donna Weidenfeller, and Elaine Herrmann looked on, Spencer shared how, in a short span more than 10 years ago, she was downsized by three consecutive employers.

     On top of that, Spencer was not finding the local resources she needed to support her job search.

     “I just remember looking up to the sky and saying, ‘Okay God, I got it, I’ll start the networking group,’” Spencer recalled.

     In 2008 and 2009, the U.S. was in a recession and, at any given CNG meeting, up to 100 people would be present. Spencer said that today’s strong economy has caused attendance to drop, providing the dynamic of a small discussion group.

     “As the unemployment rate has gotten down to historically low levels, this is encouraging to many people, but for some who (attend our meetings), it is more about finding the right job,” Spencer said.

     Spencer has invited a variety of guests to address the St. Thomas More group, from attorneys who are experts in employment law, to university career services staff members who have helped guests properly compose resumes. Discussions among participants are often centered on books such as “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and “What Color is Your Parachute?”

     At its core, the CNG is still a service, according to Spencer. In that capacity, facilitators are ever ready to function as a clearinghouse of information for job seekers, pointing to websites such as LinkedIn.com, state agencies such as WorkOne, and a variety low-cost printing options for business cards.

     Each third Thursday of the month CNG meeting includes a period for guests to share an inspiration or concern. Carlos Salazar, a STM parishioner, led with his story of optimism.

     “I turned in a bunch of applications and Christine (Spencer) referred me to an employer that I got a couple responses from,” Salazar said with a smile. “I also got an in-person interview, which I’m excited about.

     “I could find out (about a hiring decision) next week. I pray I have the job,” he added.

     “I’m very happy for you,” Spencer responded. “If you get an interview, just go. It’s worth the experience. . .and you never know. . .”

     Illinois resident Cheryl Mabry was let go from her job in finance after 24 years of employment. She said she aims to turn feelings of shock and resentment to a willingness to accept a career change and utilize her once-unappreciated social skills.

     “I know I don’t want to sit at a desk and be told I’m not good enough again,” Mabry said. “(Job-specific) skills can be taught, but people skills cannot.”

     Presently working at a brewpub, she is getting her resume out through a national computer network.

     At age 55, Terri Tratar of Hammond is not ready to embrace retirement. The former second-grade teacher said she sensed it was an opportune time to venture into the competitive job market – and with a prayerful approach.

     “I’ve been praying a lot and I’m confident God will help me find my path,” Tratar said. “I like talking to members of the group and getting encouragement. I thank them for this.”

     For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


STM career network 2

St. Thomas More Career Networking Group founder and coordinator Christine Spencer (second from right) speaks to guests gathered at a session in the Munster parish's Weis Center on May 17. Leaders of the networking group that recently marked its 10th anniversary as a STM ministry said they have helped more than 400 people find better jobs. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

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