Revisiting A Support Group For Unemployed Men
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
This is the time of year for the traditional office holiday party. But for the unemployed, the absence of a party is another reminder that they have no workplace to go to. So in Ridgewood, New Jersey a support group for unemployed men is throwing its own gathering. We met many of these men last year in a series of stories from Ridgewood. They gather every Monday morning in a church conference room. That's where NPR's Robert Smith caught up with the men for their gathering this year.
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ROBERT SMITH: By corporate party standards, this gathering would be considered pretty skimpy. A dozen men, a few bottles of wine, macaroni and cheese, all at the St. Elizabeth's Church. Paul Berryman remembers what the holiday bashes used to look like when he was an IT guy at financial firms during the boom years.
PAUL BERRYMAN: You'd go to black tie and the food would be coming out of your ears, and the music and the dancing. It was a great life and for me, unlike some people, it was very brief and maybe that's a blessing.
SMITH: Because now it's long gone, for everyone. All these men here have lost their jobs over the last two years. And any excuse for a little cheer is just fine.
PAUL ANOVICK: This is the Christmas party for the people who don't have a Christmas party.
SMITH: Paul Anovick is the facilitator of this group. They call themselves Men in Transition. M-I-T, they joke, that way you can put it on your resume. MIT began as a weekly support group for laid-off Wall Street types in this New York City bedroom community.
ANOVICK: But now I have everybody. I have marketing. I have health care. I have pharmaceutical. I have a car dealer. I have every walk of life is represented in this group.
SMITH: Last year, when the support group started, things seemed pretty bleak. But Anovick says on this night, there are some success stories. He points over to a man grinning and handing out his brand new business cards. That's Ken Weimann.
When NPR profiled Ken Weimann last year, he was sitting in his kitchen, just a few blocks from here, unsure what to do. He had been laid off after a quarter of a century working the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Here's how he sounded back in 2009.
KEN WEIMANN: My grandfather worked as a stockbroker every day until he's 86 years old. My dad was 82. I always wanted to be a member for 50 years, and I figured I had another 25 left in me.
SMITH: Even now, Weimann can hear that pain.
WEIMANN: I was so confused and lost as to what to do.
SMITH: Weimann and I step outside the party so he can tell me how that lost man finally found his next calling. He says after the NPR story aired he was back at the weekly support group meeting. Usually, he'd talk about ways to get back onto the floor of the stock exchange. But on that day, in front of all these men...
WEIMANN: I said, you know, I don't think I'll be going back there. Now I've got to try to figure out something else. It was the moment when they all - their heads kind of raised up and went back. And it's the first time that you had that attitude that you're going forward. And I think - and then pointing that out to me I think was huge.
SMITH: It was a revelation, but it still left a big step. He had to figure out what his next career was. Weimann partnered with another broker he had worked with on Wall Street. And they went looking for franchises or businesses they could start together.
WEIMANN: Something that would be relevant that wouldn't be affected by the economy.
SMITH: And you can imagine how tough that is. It took a year. They almost bought a manufacturing business.
WEIMANN: But there were just too many red flags.
SMITH: Then they found it.
WEIMANN: Home health care.
SMITH: Think of it: Ken Weimann, who used to pair up buyers and sellers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, now acts as a broker between caregivers and elderly patients. He says you have to use the same skills, too. You have to read people instantly and rely on your gut instinct.
WEIMANN: It's definitely a new energy level that I haven't had in a while, waking up in the morning and leaving early with a purpose.
SMITH: Back at the party, I see something I have never seen at a work celebration. The men are all sitting around a table, talking. I mean really talking about where they are in their lives and their feelings. A few have found work. A few are still looking. Paul Berryman has been in both camps. He joined the group when he lost his IT job with a consulting firm. Then he found another gig and left the group. Four months later Berryman was out of work again, and he had to return to St. Elizabeth's.
BERRYMAN: You know, I'm back in the Men in Transitions again. Hi, guys I'm back.
SMITH: Later he got another job, it didn't work out, he got another job after that. Berryman says he used think of the group's name Men in Transition as describing a temporary state of unemployment. But now he views it differently.
BERRYMAN: Transition may be a way of life and I think that if you're not transitioning to maybe the next job in your company you may be transitioning to the next job when your company changes so you may as well consider your life in a constant state of change. And look forward to the change, look towards the change, and try to find where you need to be next.
SMITH: And in the meantime, there's always a Monday morning meeting in Ridgewood, New Jersey to keep you going.
Robert Smith, NPR News.
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