Barbara Spaulding of New Tampa joined the In Between Jobs or "Tweeners" support group in 2008.
"I have a background in healthcare administration and grant writing," said the 58-year-old. "I have been working for FEMA on and off since 2005. FEMA work has been more off than on lately. I'm deployed right now in support of the Hurricane Sandy effort."
Sporadic employment is a common problem shared by many people who attend the sessions Thursday mornings at St. Paul Catholic Church, 127708 N. Dale Mabry Highway.
A baby boomer, Spaulding said her situation is not that unusual since the recession. She said most of the people who attend the sessions are in their 30s and 40s. "Employers are holding off on making any permanent offers because of the economy," Spaulding said. "They are looking for ways to cut costs and they are not upfront in the beginning."
In May 2011, she took a grant-writing job that she had hoped would carry her through to retirement. But by March of 2012, she was laid off. She hears of similar stories from her fellow Tweeners, who deal with sporadic employment and layoffs.
"I was the victim of the same thing," she said. "I go into a wonderful full-time job and within two months, there were organizational changes. The job market is like a river. Depending where you step into it, you don't know and employers don't know what is going to happen downstream."
Spaulding said members of the group have held each other's hands as they endure long job searches.
"One thing I realized almost immediately was that we were all well-educated, articulate and experienced people who had been looking for jobs for a while," said Spaulding, adding everyone hoped to find jobs with salaries that matched what they formerly made.
Spaulding said she is fortunate to have a landlord who allows her to pay half rent while out of work or in-between jobs. She has already used some of her retirement savings to stay afloat.
A member of St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in New Tampa, Spaulding has taken faith-based personal finance classes to help her stay on track.
"One thing the Tweeners does is help you keep your faith in yourself and know everyone is going through the same thing you are going through," she said. "Thankfully, some people have found jobs and they try to keep an eye out for the rest of us. Even though I know what I need to get my career back in order, I like to go to support others and for the networking. You never know someone who knows someone."
Spaulding said she also appreciates the group leaders, who serve as mentors.
Jim Kissane, who helped start the Tweeners, said group members appreciate their alumni members who come back from time to time and serve as a source of "hidden job market leads."
"Companies prefer to get personal referrals as opposed to going out and just advertising for a job," Kissane said. "Our Tweeners who have found employment and felt the pain of what it means to be unemployed are an excellent source of high-quality job leads for the folks still looking."
Kissane, the group facilitator, said the Tweeners group is based on a similar support group started in 2002 by Bob Saxon at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz. Kissane visited the group, which later merged with the Tweeners.
"It has a consistent nondenominational flavor to it," Kissane said. "It's open to everybody. The only thing they need to do is understand that it's a faith-based program that is as focused on helping people stay whole emotionally and spiritually as it is to provide them job search skills and leads."
Kissane said the group ranges in size from 25 to 30 people on a slow morning to 70 when companies are laying off more people.
"Economists will argue we were statistically out of the recession 2½ years ago, but the reality is in Carrollwood, we are still very depressed in terms of job recovery," he said. "Certain segments are coming back. It doesn't matter what the statistics are, if you are out of work, the unemployment rate is 100 percent."
He said the meetings start with networking, followed by prayer and introductions. After time for reflection on scriptural or motivational quotes, the participants gather at different "leaning centers" or tables where they work on résumés, refine negotiating skills and learn other skills related to the job search.
For more information on Tweeners, which meets from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Thursdays, call (813) 264-3316.