General News · June 9, 2020

Founding a Community, Finding a Job

This spring Phillip Ma—along with 90 percent of the marketing team at Wyndham Hotels—lost his job. COVID-19 was proving to be not just a public health crisis, but an economic one.

“We all banded together to help each other figure out unemployment, get our resumes together and just support each other,” Phillip says. “I thought, what a great model of community this is! Why can’t we do it at the church? We have such talented people, such amazing people. Let’s band together and help each other.”

Phillip—a member of the church since 2014 and a member of the Session—contacted Morgan Valencia King, director of engagement, about creating a support group for members and friends who had been furloughed or laid off during pandemic. The group gathered on Zoom for the first time this past Thursday.

“It went really well,” he reports. “We had about 10 people, and everyone participated, offering the skills they have and sharing their stories. It was important to show that we aren’t afraid to talk about this topic.”

It’s still early, but Phillip foresees the evolution of a “dynamic community” that will balance career advice and job-search skills with listening and emotional support. He has enlisted three Fifth Avenue members to serve as advisors to the group—Kathy Murray, a corporate advisor and angel investor; Marco Michael, a psychiatric resident at the SUNY Downstate; and Win Sheffield, a career coach and chair of Fifth Avenue’s Employment Advisory Program.

The Employment Advisory is a natural fit for the community Phillip has brought together. Created in the 1950s, it is one of the longest sustained ministries at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Its free, monthly seminars offer professional counsel and hands-on training for anyone who’s navigating the job market.

“Some of our ministries are not offered anywhere else in the city,” Win says. “One is speed networking, an opportunity to do quick self-introductions. People walk away with a real sense of what they have to offer. We also call on a variety of coaches who will come in and offer practical advice on everything from interviewing skills to building an effective resume.”

When the church closed in mid-March, the Employment Advisory joined the rest of the world in a quick transition to Zoom.

“I saw this coming, and I decided to embrace it,” Win says. “I’ve learned a lot about the platform and made it work effectively for us. For instance, breakout rooms. We can put four to five people in a room with a coach for training, then move them around. The same with speed networking—we’ll put two in a breakout and let them go back and forth, then pair them with someone else.”

Going forward, the support group Phillip has created will continue to meet weekly, and the Employment Advisory will continue offering its programs once a month. Together these two ministries offer a professional and pastoral resource that few other faith communities can match.

To get involved with Phillip’s weekly group, contact him at [email protected]. The group meets on Thursdays at 10 am. Upcoming Employment Advisory programs are listed online at And if you are interested in serving on the Employment Advisory committee, contact Win at [email protected].

Phillip Ma