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Work & Learn, a Bible-based interdenominational program intended to give the unemployed and underemployed a foundation for improving their work situation, is expanding for the first time into Norwich.
Daniel Dyer of Stonington, co-founder of the free program, said Friday that Work & Learn's 12-week classes will be held Thursday nights from 7-9 at the Cornerstone International Church in Norwich starting Aug. 7. They will also run from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays at Huntington Baptist Church in New London beginning Aug. 5.
Though the Bible is used as a reference book and pastors teach the first half of each class during sessions devoted to "spiritual strengthening," said Dyer, attendees do not have to be Christian.
"We try to build confidence to go into a job interview with confidence," Dyer said in an interview Friday at Muddy Waters Cafe.
The spiritual aspect of the course focuses on changing attitudes toward work, being a good listener and resolving conflicts, among other issues. Career counselors who help teach the second half of the classes, often referring to the book "What Color is Your Parachute?", also zero in on such areas as networking, resumes and skill sets.
Dyer said Work & Learn Inc. is an organization spawned within the past decade that started as a program for ex-offenders looking for work. It has since grown to embrace people from a wide variety of social and ethnic backgrounds, boasting graduates from 17 to 86 years of age.
There is no screening process. Anyone who wants to attend may come to classes, though graduates who earn a certificate must not miss more than three classes - and have to attend a make-up session if they need to catch up.
Each session covers a biblical topic, such as "God and Work," and a career topic, including practice interviews. Tough questions are asked, such as "What Am I Proud of?", giving students a chance to talk positively about themselves.
"The purpose is to get used to being on their feet speaking to people," Dyer said, "to get them thinking positively about themselves."
A series of questions about their skills and interests is intended to get participants to think about their abilities in new ways, he added, and other attendees are asked to weigh in with career suggestions as well.
Dyer said follow-up surveys have indicated that about 80 percent of participants who had been looking for jobs were able to secure new or better employment after attending the course.
The jobs acquired have been in a wide variety of fields, he said, from auto detailing and telesales to restaurant management and computer tech support.
"When we've done surveys, almost every single one said the spiritual strengthening helped the most - changing their mindset," Dyer said.
Dyer said Work & Learn is also a good follow-on program for people recovering from alcohol and drug abuse. Classes are held in cities where unemployment is high and many lack transportation to attend courses farther afield, he said.
"We tell people there are millions of jobs that get filled every year; it's your job to fill one of them," Dyer said.
Where: Cornerstone International Church, 169 Franklin St.
When: 7-9 p.m. Thursdays starting Aug. 7
New London program
Where: Huntington Street Baptist Church, 29 Huntington St.
When: 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays starting Aug. 5
Phone: (860) 501-9675