Out-of-work accountant finds new life through church help group
Doug Barnett was controller of a communications technology company last year when his bosses wanted him to relocate to the California headquarters. Barnett hesitated. He loved Charleston, his wife had a job here, and his father who lived in Greenville had just suffered a stroke.
“Moving just didn’t feel right,” Barnett recalls.
Yet it wasn’t so simple. His investments had tanked with the economic downturn. And it was spring 2011, hardly a time when a guy working in the financial world, with a 4-month-old daughter, wanted to be out job hunting.
Barnett is a man of strong faith, however, and he felt called to stay in Charleston. So he did.
In May 2011, he officially considered himself “between jobs.”
He spent the summer focusing on a new business venture in town, but in August 2011, the funding for that project fell through.
Fear set in. He wasn’t “between jobs.” At 43, he was unemployed.
“I felt this mountain of pressure,” he recalls. “It became doing whatever I needed to do to make deposits into a bank account.”
The accountant took jobs cutting grass. He helped cater events. He worked for Mosquito Squad. He got through some days just by chanting in his head: No pride, give thanks. No pride, give thanks.
Because pride comes before ... what? A fall.
And a free fall of despair threatened to overwhelm him. To stay busy, he volunteered at his church, St. Andrew’s in Mount Pleasant. He organized ushers. He talked to people.
And he came to realize that at this large church, with so many middle- and upper-middle class members, set in the heart of Mount Pleasant, he was not alone.
You wouldn’t know it, because nobody talked about it.
“There was a large group of people with the same problem — and we were all acting like everything was OK,” Barnett says.
He was volunteering in the church kitchen one day when Rector Steve Wood waved hello. Barnett ran after him. Did the church have a way to connect members who need work with those who need workers?
“Go talk to Kurtz and make it happen,” Barnett recalls Wood saying.
So he did.
Kurtz Smith, the church men’s ministry leader, also was searching for a way to address all the tragic stories he had been hearing from folks facing layoffs and pay cuts.
A new jobs ministry was born.
Barnett figured that maybe 100 business owners attended St. Andrew’s. Each of them probably knew 10 more. How many job openings did they all know about, namely jobs not advertised on popular websites and job boards?
Might as well be zero if they didn’t know who most needed those jobs.
“It’s totally off the table if you don’t talk about it, if you don’t put your pride aside and take ownership of your problem,” Barnett says. “You’re not alone. Our whole country is going through this problem.”
There’s a certain irony, and not the funny kind, to what happened next. A week before Christmas, just as the jobs ministry prepared to kick off, Smith’s wife, Mary, was laid off herself.
“All of a sudden, it came to my front door,” Smith says.
He realized two things: Unemployment is devastating to the entire family, and shame is at its core.
“If you are fired or terminated, you almost go through a grieving process,” Smith says. “A lot of folks just stuff it away. They take it as a shameful thing, and that’s not the way it should be.”
Besides, you never know who knows of a job.
In fact, church is where Barnett met Andy Breaux, who went through unemployment himself and now is chief operating officer of American Benefit Services. When Breaux needed someone to help hire people for sales positions, he hired Barnett.
In January, St. Andrew’s kicked off its jobs ministry at a breakfast where Barnett and Breaux put aside their pride and shared their humbling stories — and mutual ascents from despair — with 150 guys.
Then St. Andrew’s set up StAndrewsJobs.info, a website where members post jobs for everything from mosquito control applicators to electricians to nannies to listings at Water Missions International. In turn, members can post their experience and job needs.
Next up: a Career Transition Course for those who are unemployed or underemployed. The free, four-week course will cover such topics as networking, writing effective resumes and cover letters, and securing interviews. The next session starts Friday.
Register ahead. Arrive at 9 a.m. Don’t be late.
The idea: Get out of bed, shower and head out of the door. Many folks who are unemployed face a lonely, unstructured workday filled with job hunting — and likely rejection.
Or, perhaps worse, silence.
Smith describes his as a tough-love approach. Yes, the course offers support, but participants will be held accountable. How many people did you network with this week? How many resumes did you deliver? Because as God will help you, Smith adds, so you must help yourself.
To Barnett, the experience compares a parent disciplining a child. God wanted him to change, and He wasn’t going to make it easy.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me that I never want to go through again,” Barnett says.