Communities Band Together for Work

Photo: Communities Band Together for Work: From Using Vacant Office Space to Job Clubs Help Unemployed Get Back on Track

Most weeks, I hear from hundreds of people who are struggling to get hired against the odds of a challenging economy. While I do whatever I can to help them, I must admit it was a nice change of pace to spend several days talking to people who've rebounded because of innovative programs in their communities designed to get them back on track. I bet you'll be inspired too.

Transforming Vacant Office Space

Massachusetts-based A.J. Martini is a commercial building contractor hit hard by the economy, prompting layoffs earlier this year. The empty desks were depressing -- a daily visual reminder of the challenging economy.

VIDEO: Tory Johnson explains how some communities band together to get back on track.

So the company spread the word that it was making 18 desks in a bullpen area available to out of work architects and engineers. These professionals are called "guests" and they each pay $50 a month toward electricity and a cleaning service, which enables them to feel like they're contributing even in a small way.

Some amazing successes have come of this: Architects Dan Broggi, 49, and David Burton, 53, were laid off from a large Boston firm that cut the majority of its staff. They decided to start a business, but doing it in their respective homes was difficult and isolating. They grabbed the chance to take two desks -- and have since landed several architecture projects. They're able to spend the day with like-minded professionals who are going through the same things. They share advice and resources on everything from the financial and legal issues of forming a business to accessing conference rooms and equipment like large blueprint copy machines. All with no overhead.

They say historically the relationship between contractors and architects is filled with tension. Not here. A.J. Martini has referred work to them and vice versa. This is the perfect partnership between two professions that have suffered in the recession.

Another success: AJ Martini was contacted to build a science lab at a high school. The client wanted a designer/builder team, so AJ Martini looked among the "guests" and selected Jansen Chang, an architect with the ideal experience. Now he's working on this and other projects that both parties said wouldn't have happened had they not been under the same roof.

Opening your vacant office space to like-minded professionals is not only a great supportive community gesture, but it eliminates the negativity of empty desks. It keeps the place busy and bouncing with ideas. Create a simple letter of understanding that spells out the arrangement, including restrictions on hours, use of equipment, space (i.e., you can use the kitchen, but not the conference room), and visitors. Be clear on a time frame (Is this offer valid for three months? A year?) and cancellation policy. Consider asking for a nominal fee for cleaning, electricity, copying, phones -- or require your guests to use their cell phones.

Church Responds in a Huddle

The Manhattan stake of the Mormon church is comprised of 14 churches with about 5,000 members. Obviously, with that many people, many are bound to be out of work. The church says it has a duty to take care for someone who is unemployed -- to make them well by getting them back to work. So it did two things:

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