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Reader Voices: 10 ways to help unemployed friends

Have you ever wanted to help a friend but whatever you did only made matters worse?

When a friend is unemployed, that is a prime opportunity for making bonds better or worse. Having just finished nine months of unemployment, which ended in our family moving to Utah, I want to pass on observations that will help keep friendships strong and may even help them get a job.

1. Don't preach trite solutions.

We are part of the Lord's church, and that means work. The teachings of the church rightly emphasize a strong work ethic, gender roles and that the dreaded "Idler shall not eat the bread" (Doctrine and Covenants 42:42).

For some reason, when we have a job, we tend to think we deserve that job. We build up whole philosophies about it. I've discovered that there are whole generations of folk who have never been jobless — or have only changed jobs when it suited them.

Entitled ignorance comes through loud and clear to someone without a job, especially whenever one gives a suggestion like, "Have you tried getting a job in the church? They're always hiring." This little gem was given me when I was living happily, if a bit jobless, in Washington. I was an electrical engineer specializing in semiconductor verification. Last time I checked, the church didn't make many computer chips. I remember at the time trying to take his advice seriously.

Then I thought about it.

What he really said was: 1. I don't care enough to find out what you do. 2. I've never had trouble finding a job, what's wrong with you? 3. You should move to a different state.

Try to keep in mind how Job's friends treated him when he was afflicted by his unemployment challenge. Sometimes when someone is out of work, it's due to a shortage of jobs, or circumstances beyond the control of the unemployed. This means they want to work.

Also, even if you are absolutely convinced that some other country has conspired to steal your friend's job, you're doing no one a favor carping about it. It turns out that about the last thing the unemployed want to talk about is being unemployed. Going to church can be painful as the unemployed member attempts to say in about 300 nuanced ways each Sunday, "No job yet."

My reaction may seem a bit extreme, but keep in mind that someone who is unemployed, puts about 10 billion times more thought into finding a job than you have in the five seconds you take the time to see them in church. So in all your attempts to help, please spare the sermon.

2. Internet searches can be done by just about anyone who has an Internet connection.

OK, so my first item on the list was not something you could do, but something you wouldn't want to do — I promise the next one's more concrete.

I once home taught a newlywed couple who barely scraped by each month. He worked for a septic tank company. Every time I visited, he'd talk about how he wanted a new job. One day I got serious about helping. I discerned that they didn't have a lot of computer skills. He had partially completed some training as a medical technician. I didn't know anything about this particular profession, but I did have an Internet connection and could use a search engine. I invited him to come to dinner, and then after a good meal, we went on a quest to get him help by using my computer. We looked up local colleges and specific books one could read in order to study for certification exams. We even got a schedule of when the next exams were offered. When we were done, I gave him about 12 pages of search results and he had a whole different spirit about him. He took care of the rest.

I never hated anyone who e-mailed me a link to a job they'd found online (though they never worked out). To me it was sweet that they'd done a little searching for me. The fact that someone cared enough to go out of their way to search told me that there were folks out there who cared about me.

3.Take them to the unemployment office or LDS employment.

The first layoff is especially hard for most people. We were expecting our third child and this just wasn't supposed to happen! I remember how I felt all hope in the world was lost. Just approaching job counseling can be overwhelming. For me, a simple description of the benefits offered seemed like nothing I couldn't already do on my own. The thought of involving strangers was unappealing, but I needed the benefits.

I remember a friend taking the time to explain how companies pay unemployment insurance so that when they lay you off, you have support — that it was not welfare. (Now that I've been laid off a couple times, I hold absolutely no prejudices about welfare.) Having a friend who had no fear and understood the process was priceless. I look back now and realize my fears were nothing; I think my friend knew that and was still willing to help me through it.

Turns out LDS employment prefers to meet with you by appointment. I would not be able to report what a positive experience I had there, were it not for a friend who, despite my attempts to stall him, set up my appointment. For reasons inexplicable, I didn't want to bother. I suppose it was pride, perhaps depression, dreading another counselor with more advice I could fail at.

When I got there, I was impressed with the kind-hearted man whose infectious smile and insistence that I should give up on engineering and start a career teaching public school really brightened my spirits. (Teaching has always been something of an "impossible dream" for me.) They also have computers available and counselors will sit down and discuss the latest job leads. Though the nice man at LDS employment knew nothing of my specialized field of engineering, his enthusiasm was a boost I remember fondly.

The long trip to the unemployment office is easier with uplifting pep talks from friends. I was grateful to have my wife's help. She always made sure I made appointments and got the right paperwork filled out. The benefit checks helped us stretch our savings for the duration of unemployment. When we were randomly audited she was the one who didn't panic.

4. Take them with you to work.

Even if you're not a match at all, just seeing you in your place of employment can jog loose ideas and gets your friend out of the house. I home taught a Saint who worked design for a company that makes street-sweepers. One day he told me to come see his place of work. He was extremely proud of his work — and for good reason. They did amazing craftsmanship with hydraulic power systems that he'd designed, and I had no clue about. Even so, I developed deep appreciation for sweeper trucks, and even more depth of love for this good brother.

Part of the problem with being jobless is that you are isolated from the work world. You stop learning, meeting other people, and you may even romanticize what it was like to work which adds to your depression because you're not doing it. Even in unrelated workplaces a friend could meet some acquaintance that led to the next job. Or it may be you'll discover your friend has a knack for your company and who wouldn't want to work side by side with a good friend?

5. Help them fix something in their home.

About a month into my last bout of unemployment, I walked into a puddle on my bathroom floor. I am about the last person qualified to work on a bathroom, but the floor was ruined. The toilet had decided to demonstrate its contempt for the unemployed by leaking. We had little money to buy our way out with a home repair. Later when we discovered we would be moving and had to sell the house, we had a lot of home repairs and painting to do. (A process I regret not starting the first day I got laid off.) I had a deck that needed child-safe slats and to be leveled.

In all the home improvements, I had a very patient friend who helped me do what I didn't think I could. I had no tools. Ward members did, and remarkably they trusted me, though I confessed no idea how to use them.

I learned.

I discovered that you don't high-power pressure wash your car or the clear coat will strip off. I learned that you must seal off EVERYTHING if you intend to use a paint sprayer indoors. I discovered I have a talent for laying tile — turns out a wet saw outdoors is way better than a dry saw indoors (still have dust in my lungs, cough). I can now use a nail gun and it won't kill me. I even used a chainsaw.

By helping, these friends gave the truest form of Christian service — especially since the improvements eventually helped us sell our house in one of the worst markets for decades — and me, leaving them, unable to pay them back.

6. Find ways your friend can help you.

One of the problems I found was that I lost my belief that I could do anything of value at all. Satan pounds you nonstop. During that time, I found that any chance I got to help a neighbor mattered to me. I would help in school, roto-till a neighbor's weed patch and I babysat a lot of kids. I probably got to know some of the neighbors a bit too well. Every service project was a great chance to get the kids out of the house. And the missionaries knew my number, and called because they knew I was available in the middle of the day.

Most important to me, I think, was my call as a home teacher. Regular visits lifted my spirit. A good friend of mine, whom I home taught, told me that his father saw my situation and because I was able to keep my spirits up that when the missionaries came to their home, he listened to them and he joined the church. I even got to baptize him, and my friend baptized his mom. Ironically, they lifted me, by letting me visit them despite busy schedules.

Knowing that I mattered to them — that I was needed — made all the difference in my attitude. If you have a friend, let them know that they are needed by inconveniencing them a little once in a while — ask them to help you. Not out of a "Hey! You've got nothing better to do!" but with the attitude "I value you and want your expertise."

7. Look over their resume, take a couple copies.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? It's amazing how many people say, they want to help but don't manage this simple step. During my last job hunt I only had one man from my ward get a copy of my resume. I know he repeatedly pestered his boss about getting me a job. I was impressed.

Getting a copy of the resume is a slick way to get your friend to examine his resume. Is it the sort of thing that he'd want you to see? If not, what an excellent springboard to improving it!

Even if you don't know to whom to give the thing, you may be prompted, being in the right place at the right time. Make up a lame excuse if you must, but get a copy. Pass it along to your hiring manager. Share it with relatives. In the very least it should give you a better idea of what they do. You may even discover they have an expertise in something you could hire them to do part time.

8. Invite them into your house.

Play games. Take pictures. Celebrate. Send them home with leftovers. Repeat.

When you're unemployed, your ability to entertain dwindles. It's amazing how dependent we all are on this basic thing called money. Share your means by doing more than giving to the local food bank. Open your house and be generous with all that you've been blessed.

When our daughter turned 8, we wanted to have guests (her older siblings did) attend her baptism, but we had no extra money to do any sort of catering. Unprompted (by us), one of our dear friends mailed us a supermarket gift card. It was a wonderful gift that came at just the right time.

I found myself often feeling disappointed that we didn't have much to spare for the children. So when two sisters in our ward hosted a special party for my daughters, it was a huge treat for me also. They arranged a craft where the kids could hot glue together fancy hats with flowers and beads and ribbons, then had a little tea (cocoa) party complete with the fancy little sandwiches and decorative mini-cupcakes. They all took pictures and the kids still talk about it.

9. Remember special days and birthdays.

Like the last step, this is a suggestion that makes the difference between a true friend and an acquaintance. Common sense, right? We had many show their kindness.

Perhaps the most striking surprise came when a remarkable 15-year-old young woman in the ward, who had been a great babysitter when we had the means to pay her, showed up on my wife's birthday, promising to babysit for free so we could get some time to ourselves. She brought pizza for the kids and shooed us out of the house. Then as we were in the car, she gave us an envelope that contained movie tickets and $40 of her own money, and told us to go celebrate. It was non-refundable.

It is interesting that when the scriptures talk of wants and needs, that they never say "Only cover the needs." Go and search them. You'll be surprised. God provides for our wants as well as our needs. A friend doesn't draw the line at needs either, but gives freely and covers both.

10. When your friend finds employment, be encouraging no matter how it affects you.

Sometimes after all efforts, job hunters look for jobs out of state. It isn't because they hate you. It isn't because your friendship wasn't strong enough. If anything, facing you, after you've been such a great friend, will be difficult. Please don't sabotage their confidence by going on and on about how much you're going to suffer if they have to move to a different state to take the new job.

Leaving Washington was one of the hardest moves we've ever experienced. I'd weathered two other layoffs there in a start-up company. Four kids had to leave great schools. We ministered daily to friends and neighbors. We had so many doubts. Were we taking the easy way out, by taking the first job that came along?

Starting a new job requires confidence. I questioned the wisdom and inspiration of my choice. Still haven't had an angel come down and tell me that I was supposed to get out of the land. Very disappointed about that. It would be so much easier if God told us to move.

It has been a long road, made even longer by the way some friends chose to say goodbye. At first, it's flattering, but after a while, it just feels manipulative.

Many times I felt accused, as though I were betraying friends by choosing to be true to my family. Each has to come to terms with the long goodbye. One neighbor literally mourned our leaving — then plied my wife with constant revelations that she spent hours crying. People deal with grief and separation differently, and some of this is to be expected. Yet even the best friendships are temporary.

I guess what I've learned is that I want to be the sort of person who is encouraging.

In conclusion, unexpected changes in employment need not be torture when you have the support of friends. Our family used to spend all our vacation time in Utah. Now we live here. We're planning a family vacation to Washington state, not to see the Space Needle or ride the ferries to the San Juan Islands and whale watching, but to visit invaluable friends who live in a remote suburb called Maple Valley.

Raymond G. Bingham is an engineer who used to live in Washington and now lives in Bountiful, Utah.