Detroit Church Helps People Gain Employment

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In 2009, Michigan ranked No. 1 among U.S. states hit hardest by unemployment, with 14.1 of its population out of work.

Rev. Ben Van Arragon (back right) is one of six coordinators of a group that has been helping people who are unemployed in the Detroit area since 2009.

At the time, Rev. Ben Van Arragon wanted to reach out to those around him hit hardest by the economic times. But with only 100 adult members in his congregation at First Christian Reformed Church of Detroit, he realized he couldn’t do it alone.

He partnered with five other area churches to form the Eastside Control Group, which provides free assistance and support to those seeking work.

“With the economy being what it is, people have a really difficult time feeling hopeful that there’s a job out there for them,” Van Arragon said. “A lot of people place their hope in something that turns out to be somewhat transient or fleeting.”

Three years later, the group’s work has led to positive results, but remains unfinished. In 2011, Michigan’s unemployment rate dipped below 10 percent for the first time in years, but there are still plenty of people who desperately need assistance.

The Eastside Control Group provides hands-on-help. Job seekers are paired with coordinators, each of whom has a different area of expertise ranging such as résumé writing, interviewing, and social networking.

Most of the work takes place online, linking job seekers with job leads and educational material to help them move closer to rejoining the workforce.

Van Arragon specializes in spiritual and emotional assistance. He meets with members in weekly Digging Deeper sessions, offering a safe place for people to discuss what they’re going through.

Most, he finds, have placed their faith in a paycheck. But with that gone, they’re searching for answers. Van Arragon points them to Jesus—a source of hope, he explains, that cannot be taken away.

He also encourages them, using the success stories of former members who have found work.

“It’s really important for people to stay the course and really keep moving forward and stay connected,” Van Arragon said.

About the Author

Jeff Arnold is the Banner’s regional news correspondent for classes Kalamazoo and Lake Erie.

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