'Parable of the Good Samaritan' by Artist Jan Wijnants via Wikimedia Commons

Looking for Work in the Washington, D.C., Area

The WorkCenter began a year ago (in a cafeteria!) to deal with the immediate need of some friends who had to prepare for job interviews. Today, it systematically helps those looking for work.
Anna Leonardi

Here in the United States, people change jobs on average five or six times in a lifetime. Many shift laterally, changing fields: a computer scientist senses that the market is saturated, and moves to sales work for the chemical industry. Others, ambitious to climb the corporate ladder within the same firm, have to convince their managers that they’ve obtained the numbers necessary to earn a promotion, and have a great deal more to offer the business. So, one way or another, the workplace constantly subjects its workers to scrutiny, monitoring their competence and productivity.

From the Cafeteria to the Parish
In broad strokes, this was the scenario for the birth, a year ago, of the WorkCenter in Washington, D.C. “Everything began when some friends in the community suddenly lost their jobs,” recounts Samuele Rosa, 36, an economist at the International Monetary Fund. “Those of us with experience in the sector went all out to help them, especially in preparing for job interviews. Soon we had the intuition that this could become something systematic.” In the IMF cafeteria, Samuele established a weekly time when people could meet to deal together with difficult cases and even the simplest problems. Within a few months, word of mouth made those long tables into a well known and much appreciated place. “The CL people help out those who’re having trouble at work,” the rumor circulated.

There were many requests, and a second intuition flashed through Samuele’s mind: he proposed to his friends, “Why don’t we make all this an educative gesture?” After looking into the idea, they found Fr. Lee, a pastor in a parish in nearby Maryland. “He was enthusiastic,” Samuele says, “and let us use some parish rooms right away, confiding that he, too, often ran into the employment problems of his parishioners.” Posters, flyers, and a website opened up an unexpected experience for their creators. Samuele remembers well the first people who showed up at the WorkCenter: “John, a young man who had lost his job after many years of work at a not-for-profit organization, and Mary, a physical education teacher, about sixty years old. In the beginning, it seemed that their situations couldn’t be helped much, partly because none of us had any competence precisely in their fields. But one thing amazed us all: while John and Mary seemed lost in a dream, we pushed them into a more realistic attitude, because of the education we had received in the Movement. For example, we talked about writing a resume in a certain way, getting information on the company before your interview, seriously preparing your responses to the legendary three questions (‘Why do you want to work for us?,’ ‘What do you expect from this job?,’ and ‘What do you think you can offer our firm, that we don’t already have?’). In the work world, everyone expects you to be honest, but not to wing it.”

In Front of the Mirror
The training is tough, with hours and hours of simulated job interviews, even putting the candidates in front of a mirror so they can see and correct themselves. It gets results. “John found a good, well-paying job,” Samuele says. “But the surprising thing was that once he was settled, he told us, ‘This isn’t enough. Now that I’m working, I also want to understand the meaning.’ Mary (to tell you the truth, we thought she was a ‘mission impossible’), notwithstanding all her tears in front of the mirror, put herself in our hands, and also began to be with the community, and this was her strength. In fact, in the end, she made it.”

But the gaze on work has to be 360 degrees. It has to deal three-dimensionally with the problem of your profession and scrutinize the “I” with exacting detail. The problem isn’t just the job search, but the ever stronger need to live work humanly. Sue is a paralegal, and it is well known that the world of lawyers is very competitive. “Sue lived her relationship with her boss with great anxiety. Every conflict made her so insecure that she feared losing her job–and in the end, she did!” At the center, they proposed a mentor for her, someone she could turn to for each problem. Samuele found a lawyer in the community, Robert, who was willing to help her. “He told her,” Samuele continues, “that she could learn with him, since he lived in the same environment. And so it was. The tie that bonded her to us made her stronger, more self-confident. Now, she’s held the same job for over a year, and she no longer feels her whole being is measured by her colleagues’ opinions; she has also begun to grow professionally.”

Sharing the Need
In this surprising new reality, the friends of the WorkCenter see something miraculous. Something absolutely unique has spread throughout the far-flung metropolitan D.C. area. In a country that tends to organize responses to people’s identified needs according to a market mechanism, some people have acted purely from the desire to share the needs of their neighbors, because all individual needs express the broader need to live a true life. All this took root because the terrain was fertile: “What has enabled all this to happen is the willingness of the people who turned to us,” Samuele adds. It is a willingness typical of America, where there is still an openness to the other, in whom one is willing to believe, and with whom it is still possible to work.

WorkCenter Website