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Bob Kolf spoke with members of the Job Seekers’ Garden Club at Kaldi’s Coffee shop in Chesterfield in January. Kolf started the group last March to help people who are looking for work, especially those who lost jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bob Kolf spoke with members of the Job Seekers’ Garden Club at Kaldi’s Coffee shop in Chesterfield in January. Kolf started the group last March to help people who are looking for work, especially those who lost jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Ascension parishioner forms nonprofit offering hope to job seekers

Karen Murphy loved her job, the company and her co-workers. But the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the company, and she and the co-workers in her team were let go.

“You just can’t compete with COVID,” she said.

Murphy looked for direction and found it with the Job Seekers’ Garden Club, a nonprofit formed by Bob Kolf, a parishioner of Ascension in Chesterfield. Kolf started helping jobseekers in March just after the pandemic resulted in extensive job losses.

“I reached out to Bob and didn’t feel so alone,” Murphy said. “You lose your team and then you’re isolated. I got part of it back just linking with the volunteers.”

Murphy initially found she was overqualified for some jobs and underqualified for others at a time when many people were looking for a job. She now has a job with the help of Kolf’s advice. “You need a lifeline, a cheerleader,” said Murphy, a single mom with two children in college.

Kolf formed the group on LinkedIn, a social networking website designed for business professionals and networking. Kolf’s group initially had 40 people, mostly those new to the St. Louis region who were looking for a job. The networking group at that time was known as the Greater St Louis Job Seekers, Recruiters and Connectors. In a note to his pastor asking for referrals of parishioners who need jobs, Kolf wrote that “this is my way of being a good disciple of the Lord and giving back to those in need.”

The LinkedIn group grew after massive layoffs at a number of St. Louis communities. “My heart went out to these incredibly talented people. A lot of them worked 15-25 years at a company and all of a sudden they’re unemployed due to no fault of their own. They didn’t have a resume or LinkedIn profile,” Kolf said.

About 20 people now volunteer with the group, which was incorporated as a nonprofit and has grown to serve more than 2,100 job seekers, career coaches, mentors, hiring managers and recruiters. The group is open to anyone in the Greater St. Louis area pursuing the next step in their career or those who want to help.

The Job Seekers’ Garden Club, so-named because of similar care that’s needed in growing plants, has sponsored a few socially distanced events, including one last summer at a barbecue in Forest Park, complete with a prayer before they ate. Another event was held in November at the St. Charles Convention Center. It helped jobseekers meet each other and recruiters.

The club has a mentoring aspect also, helping people with resumes, interview preparation and other aspects of a job search.

After retiring from a job as a civil engineer, often as a hiring manager, Kolf began work as a career consultant and job recruiter with Rockit Careers in Chesterfield. A Milwaukee native, he attended the preparatory seminary there before graduating from the Jesuit-run Marquette High School. He’s been involved in Stephen Ministry at Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin and is active in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at Ascension. Those experiences help him in working with the job seekers, providing compassion, positivity and hope. And he stresses that he’s helped by other caring, compassionate people.

“We’re caring for people,” Kolf said. “They often need uplifting and support. The message they need is hope.”

He’s comfortable telling job seekers that he’s praying for them, even if they’re not churchgoers.

Cindy Oberkirsch writes Motivational Monday posts and has volunteered as vice president of the club. She worked for Enterprise Holdings for 27 years before being laid off due to the pandemic’s effects on the business. She joined Kolf’s group in May. “When you’re unemployed and looking for a job, it’s an emotional roller coaster,” Oberkirsch said. “You have good days and bad. Knowing other people are experiencing the same things you are and that you’re not alone is helpful.”

She’s made connections with job recruiters and has learned much that she shares with the group. “It opens me up to new people and new connections, another avenue to call upon,” Oberkirsch said.

In the meantime, she has been consulting and is working a temporary job at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, assisting nurses in the COVID-19 unit. She plans to remain a part of the group after she finds a permanent position, offering advice, support and encouragement to others.

>> Help for job seekers

The Job Seekers’ Garden Club is a nonprofit founded in response to the pandemic. The service provides free career counseling, resume advice, LinkedIn profile help, one-on-one virtual consultations and referrals from area recruiters and hiring managers. Each person who joins has their resume posted and tagged to several recruiters.

The service “provides hope in our community during this uncertain time,” said Darlene Koeller, a parishioner at Little Flower Parish in Richmond Heights who volunteers with the organization.

Job seekers, recruiters or connectors in the metropolitan area are welcome to join the networking group at www.linkedin.com/groups/12291211/.

The Job Seekers’ Garden Club website is at bit.ly/393h5UJ.

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