GM plant closing tears at Ohio community

He spends his days looking for jobs online at home in Savannah, a rural spot 20 miles from Mansfield.

Brown says he never expected to be out of work so long. He's applied for 30 jobs but says local businesses, reacting to GM's problems, are not hiring.

Unemployment benefits, savings and his wife's job as a manager at a plastics manufacturer will pay their bills through the end of the year.

"What if this time next year, I'm still out of work?" he wonders. "Unemployment is gone. It's the fear of the unknown."

His plans for a comfortable retirement have crumbled. He and his wife of 28 years have lost more than a third of their 401(k) retirement savings in the recession.

"We were doing it right. ... I wasn't going to be a burden to anybody," he says. "It turned out nothing like we've been planning."

He and his wife spend only on necessities: food, house payments, utilities and insurance. His charitable giving was one of the first things to go. His donations to the United Way used to come out of his paycheck.

"We can't do it right now," he says.

'We can't be negative'

The United Way of Richland County has seen fundraising suffer for three years as GM's troubles and the recession have put more people out of work. Donations fell from $1.9 million in 2007 to $1.7 million in 2008. Executive director Skip Allman expects an even bigger drop this year.

That means the 27 charities the United Way funds will receive less money.

Friendly House received $239,000 from the United Way this year, $31,000 less than last year. The drop meant director Terry Conard had to raise the fee for the 10-week summer day camp to $30 from $10 last summer.

The program, which provides tutoring, swimming lessons, games, and arts and crafts for kids under 18, is a life-saver for Pamela Hall. She doesn't have to worry about paying a babysitter or leaving her daughter Courtney, 9, on her own while she is at work.

Hall worries that she won't be able to afford any more fee hikes for the day camp.

"There's a lot of low-income families that can't afford it, not even $5 or $10," says Hall, 39. "I don't know that I'll be able to send my daughter. I'm a single mom trying to make things work."

The Allisons used to give to the United Way during drives at the plant. Now, their charitable giving is on hold, too, as they dismantle their life in Ontario.

United Way's Allman expects the trickle-down effect from families like the Allisons leaving the area will touch every corner of the county.

Right now, everyone feels as if they are in a boat, riding out the gales and hoping the waves will let up.

"We don't know how bad it can get," Allman says. "Of course, we can't be down. We can't be negative. It's a luxury we don't have ... We've never had to come together like this."

GM plants scheduled to close

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