2013-01-10 / Front Page

Working together to find work

M’town group helps local unemployed pool experience, resources
Staff Writer

Marketing professional Marissa Marsala (l) and Neighbors Helping Neighbors founder John Fugazzie speak to job seekers at the Middletown Township Public Library on Dec. 27. Since August, the group has helped dozens of unemployed and underemployed professionals network and seek job opportunities. 
KEITH HEUMILLER Marketing professional Marissa Marsala (l) and Neighbors Helping Neighbors founder John Fugazzie speak to job seekers at the Middletown Township Public Library on Dec. 27. Since August, the group has helped dozens of unemployed and underemployed professionals network and seek job opportunities. KEITH HEUMILLER Being unemployed can be a lonely, frustrating ordeal, but some Middletown residents are using it as an opportunity to come together.

Dozens of area job seekers and underemployed professionals have been meeting weekly since August at the Middletown Township Public Library on New Monmouth Road as part of the Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN) program, a statewide community-driven initiative to promote networking and enhance personal skills.

At the Dec. 27 meeting, more than a dozen residents and NHN founder John Fugazzie took part in a presentation titled “Cracking the Code on Today’s Hidden Job Market,” given by San Diego-based marketing and human resources professional Marissa Marsala.

Marsala, who was in New Jersey visiting relatives during the holidays, met Fugazzie through an online networking site and volunteered to share her experience in the worlds of HR, branding, finance, medical services and many others.

“In marketing, you have a product and you’re trying to match it up with someone who might want to buy that product,” she told the group. “This is no different. You yourselves are the product. You’re looking for the right market to sell yourselves to that particular market to land a job.”

Marsala gave the group advice on improving résumés and approaches to finding employment, including a tip to find a contact at a prospective employer and call or email them in advance, to let them know you will be applying.

“Anything you can do to stand out is a positive,” she said.

Then everyone in attendance — Marsala and Fugazzie included — took turns updating the group on their status and giving their “elevator pitch,” a 30-second verbal summation of their skills, goals and experience that could be delivered in the time it takes to climb a few floors in an elevator.

During his speech, Fugazzie explained what inspired him to start the program after losing his job in 2011.

“I moved back to the house I grew up in because I fell on hard times. I lost my house. I pretty much ran out of all my money. And there were actually weeks when my family couldn’t eat,” he said.

“When you go through the hardest time ever, you learn a whole lot. You develop a great compassion for other people.”

He formed a small group of friends and associates in similar situations to see if they could offer help, resources, support or contacts to one another. The group, which Fugazzie named after watching his neighbors help shovel each other’s driveways in the wake of a snowstorm, slowly caught on.

Today, Fugazzie said, there are 26 weekly NHN meetings in nine New Jersey counties and the first out-of-state program will begin in Boston this month.

The reason for the program’s viral growth, he said, is its focus on positivity.

“I’d gone to another group that was poorly run, poorly managed. Everybody came together and complained about how bad it was. I left that meeting wondering why the hell I went,” he said.

“I’m a positive guy and after spending an hour with people who were all complaining I walked out feeling like hell. So when I started this thing I knew I wanted to keep it positive.”

Many of the Middletown members at the meeting — who ranged from business consultants and IT professionals to teachers and environmental specialists — said that their “pain point,” or area of difficulty, is an inability to land interviews.

Fugazzie, who had landed a professional job with a major supermarket chain three months after starting NHN and was downsized once again in October, said moving past the application stage has as much to do with personal contacts as skills and experience. “A job is like a currency nowadays. People give them to friends, relatives, colleagues, people they know,” he said.

“I would say only 25 percent of the actual jobs available are even published. The rest are filled before you even hear about them. In today’s world, it’s all about who you know.”

That’s why, said Middletown NHN facilitator William Joel, the program is so important. By encouraging teamwork, sharing practical advice, and providing an opportunity for members to expand their professional networks, the meetings can open more doors for everyone involved.

“Fortunately and unfortunately, we have a core group of people here,” he said. “As horrible as it sounds, we’d rather we don’t see people coming back because it would mean they’ve found work. Leaving means success.”

To date, Fugazzie said NHN has more than 1,100 members and 216 documented success stories. That number rose to 217 last week, however, as Middletown group member Jake S. arrived late to the meeting with a good reason for his tardiness.

“The story I wanted to share is, I have landed a position. I have a job,” Jake announced, to wild applause.

One of the reasons he was able to land the job, he said, was a skill he had learned through NHN.

“I was on a phone interview, kind of scared. … I basically gave him my elevator pitch and I heard one woman in the background saying, ‘That’s what we need.’ ”

Jake also said that the IT job, which will allow him to telecommute from home, was due partially to good karma, which he had built up by helping others through NHN.

“I really believe that it happened because I stepped out and tried to help somebody first,” he said, referring to a recent instance in which he put a fellow group member in touch with a former business colleague for potential employment.

“It does work to, as they say, pay it forward.”

Paying it forward, helping others instead of solely trying to help oneself, is a core philosophy of NHN, Fugazzie said.

“We expect our seekers to own their own job search. When they come here, we ask them what they want but we also ask them what they can do for the group. Everyone is here to help as much as they are to get help.

“But that’s why,” he added, “we see success like this every day.”

NHN, a completely unfunded and volunteer based program, meets on Thursdays at 10 a.m. at the Middletown Public Library. The group also hosted its first evening meeting on Jan. 9. All meetings are open to the public and free of charge.

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