As today is the third anniversary of Neighbors-helping-Neighbors USA Inc. (NhN USA), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to go back and talk a little about how it all got started. For those of you who don't know, NhN USA is a not-for-profit job search support and networking group that helps those who are unemployed or underemployed improve their chances for success in their job search campaigns.
How it works
We hold small (approx. 10-15 members) weekly meetings, where members are encouraged to "pay it forward" by helping one another improve their job search skills. Members can discuss and find assistance for their employment-seeking activities, strategies, and techniques, as well as help keep each other positive and motivated throughout this difficult time. Building strong networking skills is essential to the job search process today, and we are major advocates of using LinkedIn as a key tool in this process. This is the NhN LinkedIn group.
I first started NhN USA because I was in the middle of a job search myself, having previously run my own business, but eventually I decided to return to the corporate world. I approached the process the same way I had the last time I was looking for a job back in 1996, and it became painfully obvious to me that the method I was using to find gainful employment was no longer viable in the current job market. The landscape had changed significantly since I'd last conducted such a serious job search campaign, and I realized that I had to either change the way I did things, or continue to languish in limbo, sending out resume after resume into the "job seeker's black hole" without any real progress being made.
I attended a local meeting I discovered while searching through the newspaper for job openings, and I ended up meeting with several other people who were also out of work. These sessions were conducted monthly, but they lacked any semblance of a useful structure, and the majority of the time was spent complaining about how hard it was to find a job, how they were being discriminated against, and how none of the people in charge of hiring would ever respond to them. It only lasted for a couple months before it ended, but one of the other attendees and I felt that the idea of coming together with a group of peers would be extremely beneficial, but that the meetings had to have a solid structure and needed to meet every week to properly focus on the needs job seekers have in today's difficult job market.
I spoke with a few career professionals and explained to them what I wanted to do, and they both said what I was describing was a support/accountability group. That is the moment that everything clicked for me, and the core of what would become NhN USA was born.
Sharing personal experiences
Looking for a place to hold these meetings, I managed to secure a room at the River Edge Library where we could meet each week, and I made up flyers that I sent around to additional local libraries, churches, and various other community groups in the general area. At the first meeting, we had only a few people show up, but it ended up being incredibly productive, and the most important thing was that we were sharing our personal experiences with each other. We acknowledged our triumphs and failures, traded ideas on how to improve the way we went about our job search campaigns, and essentially just gave one another comfort that we weren't alone in having trouble finding employment – not to mention hope of a light at the end of the tunnel.
We built ourselves an agenda to ensure the meetings would have the proper structure needed to accommodate the needs of all our members, and not waste the precious little time people have while in the middle of seeking employment. Having this structure built into our meetings is important as the older members find jobs and leave, while the new members come in without having any idea as to how these sessions work.
As we continued to hold our weekly meetings, NhN USA also continued to grow at an amazing rate. For the first six months, we had a group of about 10-12 joining us each week, which we found to be the perfect size for each session, as anything larger would prevent us from giving people the personal attention they require, as well as making sure that our members feel comfortable enough to open up and share their thoughts and experiences with the group.
However, we also wanted the program to be large enough to have an extensive and beneficial network to help our members connect with one another all across the state, and later the country. We finally came to the conclusion that the best way to achieve these goals was to start opening up new weekly meeting sessions at other libraries throughout the area, while always maintaining that balanced group size at each new location.
Now, here we are "3 Years Later and Counting..." holding weekly meeting groups across eight counties throughout New Jersey, as well as at the Boston Public Library and the Mt. Pleasant Library in Washington DC, boasting 362 success stories and a network of over 1,200 members, and continuing to add new members every day.
We have a lot of great people who donate their time and energy to help others, even while they themselves are going through difficult times, and it is this dedication to our program that has made it so successful, and allowed it to grow and have sustainability, even as our members continue to find new jobs. Even after landing a position, there are those who will keep volunteering their personal time to aid others that have not yet been as lucky, which is exactly the reason why we are able to do what we do without having funding or a large budget. NhN USA is first-and-foremost about the people, and the people that we have involved with our program are remarkable, intelligent professionals, making it feel and run much more like a major, well-funded organization than a volunteer group.
For me, leading NhN USA over the last three years has given me rewards and personal satisfaction far beyond any I could get from any monetary or material gain. The positive impact we have had on the lives of our members and their families, and the impact they have had on me, is the kind of thing that a person spends years, even decades, trying to achieve, and the fact that I've been lucky enough to have had it happen in such a short span of time is something for which I am incredibly grateful.
I feel like the work I have done and will continue to do with NhN USA is some of the most important and fulfilling I have done throughout my entire career, and I hope I am fortunate enough to get to keep doing it as long as I am able to do it.
Edited by Matt Fugazzie