Since John Dye lost his job more than a year ago, the former men's clothing salesman has answered over 200 employment advertisements and knows a lack of interest when he sees it. "I can read people's faces," he says. "When you sell, you have to be able to do that."
Now, after all those visits to personnel offices and job agencies throughout the metropolitan area, he knows a welcome when he sees it, too.
He found it in the middle of the District's "Bible Belt" at 11th and R streets NW, where Lincoln Congregational Temple of the United Church of Christ opened its Career Center this fall to provide the unemployed with job referrals, counseling and job hunting skills. There, staffers are practically "jumping out of their skins to help," says Dye, 39. "They're interested, you can tell."
The church's assistant pastor and center director, the Rev. Terrence Hayes, knows how his clients feel. RIFfed last year from his job with the D.C. Department of Employment Services, Hayes spent four months out of work and found it a "harrowing experience."
"You feel it as a personal affront to be unemployed," he says now. "You don't want to answer the phone" and confront bill collectors, and normal levels of motivation begin "to dwindle."
Hayes drew on that personal experience in setting up the one condition for using the center's free services -- job seekers must spend some time volunteering there, calling agencies and businesses to check on openings and helping others find work. Keeping "active and busy . . . alleviates the burden of being unemployed," he says. "Plus if you're here in the center, you might see something you want yourself."
For newcomers to the job market, volunteering often has the additional benefit of being recognized by employers as "job credit," Hayes says. While the center is for "whoever comes through our doors," he says, "we want all the youth we can get."
The center has 15 volunteer staffers, almost all retired church members, and 14 on-call counselors -- college and career placement specialists, social workers, psychologists and the like -- from the church and community.
Visitors to the center first fill out cards listing job interests and experience, and staffers then make referrals, using lists of hundreds of local job openings, many with the federal and city governments. Help is available on sharpening interview skills, drawing up resumes and filling out job applications.
"Many of the people who come to our door haven't had any idea of what a resume is" or how to prepare one, Hayes says. Then, too, "If you run into a nasty receptionist or a guard who's not as nice as he should be, and you're not dressed as well as everyone else, you feel uncomfortable."
The goal at the center is "to help people without being intimidating" while teaching job hunters to dress appropriately, "ask for things and be self-confident about it," Hayes says.
For 18-year-old William Ellis of Northeast Washington, the trip to the center paid off. Ellis, who studied printing at Penn Career Development Center here, arrived at the church the day an opening came in from Baumgarten Co., a printing concern nearby, went to be interviewed and was hired that same day. "It's my very first eight-hour job," he says happily.
The retired staffers find great satisfaction in helping younger workers. "It's fun," says volunteer Vivian Coates, a retired federal employe and church member. "I have gotten a lot out of living and I need to give some of that back to whomever I can. It keeps me going, it keeps me young."
The Rev. Benjamin E. Lewis, church pastor, hopes that the church's involvement in the community will, in turn, bring area residents -- especially young residents -- closer to the church. Half of the Lincoln Temple's 400 members are 60 years old or older, Lewis says.
But the center, which opened Sept. 1 and has attracted 230 people so far, was set up primarily as a ministry to help with high area unemployment. Only two people have found jobs through the center to date, but many applicants are involved in lengthy federal hiring processes, according to the staff.
Dye, the former salesman, is undaunted by the odds. "I'm trying to find a job that's going to support my family -- any kind," says the father of two girls. "There are a lot of things that I can do -- I can sell, I can deal with people.
"I'm going to keep looking, I'm going to keep trying, and sooner or later, I'm going to make it."