ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The small group of people gathered at the Calvary United Methodist Church last week could easily be part of a prayer group or perhaps attending Bible study.

Instead, they’re members of a support group aimed at helping them find jobs.

A handful of people — and not necessarily parishioners — show up weekly to trade tips on resume writing and interview techniques.

Sometimes, they come to vent about the frustrations of job searching in a tough economy.

Is the Annapolis church an odd setting for such a group? At first glance, said Rodger Findiesen, a certified lay minister who started the group in 2009.

But in a way, it fits perfectly.

“We have about 1,500 members, and I knew some of them could use the help,” Findiesen said. “Part of it is the networking, and part of it is the communication among people.”

As unemployment remains high — 6.3 percent of the workforce in Anne Arundel County was out of work as of May — job seekers are turning to support groups to help them find work. And they’re sprouting up all over, even in places of worship.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is close that black hole between the job seeker and the businesses out there looking for people,” said Fritz Diemer, a job coach at the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corp. and volunteer with Calvary United Methodist’s group. “There is such a huge gap.”

Severna Park United Methodist Church was the trendsetter, Findiesen said. He was inspired to start a similar support group after learning about the one founded by Severna Park small business owners John Covington and Sean Wise.

Covington said about 200 people have participated since it began 2 1/2 years ago. He estimates nine out of 10 members landed jobs.

“Attendance (weekly) has been as high as 25 and as low as four,” Covington said. “I think churches are a good place to have this type of thing because you have people who have worked in the workplace and been through this before.”

Danielle Angeline of Glen Burnie was involved in the employment groups at both churches after she was laid off from her job as a technical writer last year. She since has landed a new writing job, and said it was useful to be able to bounce ideas off other group members.

“It keeps you motivated,” Angeline said. “And you could kind of witness somebody else’s light bulb moment, too, like, `Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.’ ”

A business leads a group in a church made perfect sense to former Annapolis resident Dee Ann Donnelly.

“Part of me was feeling very guided by my faith in God at the time,” said Donnelly, who now lives in Concord, N.H., and works as a regional sales manager for United Natural Foods. “It was just so natural for me.”

Donnelly and her husband owned their own business, Donnelly Signs, for about eight years. They closed it in 2009.

“So, we made a decision to move to be closer to our New England families,” she said.

But before they could do that, they had to find jobs. Enter Calvary United Methodist’s group.

The connections she made with people in similar situations were the biggest benefit, Donnelly said.

“When you are looking for a job, you’re dealing with rejection every day,” she said. “It can spiral into despair. This group gives people the opportunity to get through a very difficult situation together.”

It also helped to have fresh eyes review her resume, Donnelly said.

At last week’s meeting at Calvary United Methodist, a woman named Victoria shared her job search struggles. The woman, who asked to have her last name withheld for privacy reasons, said she has been working two part-time jobs for the past year after she was laid off.

“I’m just trying to find the right job,” she said. “It seems like you spin a lot of wheels.”

The traditional methods of job searching are no longer as effective, said John Nicodemus, a job search specialist with Anne Arundel County Workforce Development Corp., and author of a book called “So, Do You Want a Job, or What?”

“There’s way too much competition for jobs out there,” said Nicodemus, who attends Calvary United Methodist’s group. He urged Victoria and others to keep networking however they can – and church is a good place to start.

“Eventually, you are going to talk to somebody who knows somebody who has a job,” Nicodemus said.

Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md.,

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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