Laid Off Camp: S'more Scary Job Stories

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Being laid off can feel like a lonely experience. Recently laid off Chris Hutchins launched LaidOffCamp, where a large group of people can get together to share skills for surviving joblessness and finding a new job.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Being laid off can feel pretty lonely, sitting at home, searching the Internet for jobs, worrying about the future. So a recently laid off worker decided to bring together a large group to share skills for surviving joblessness and for finding a new job. NPR's Laura Sydell visits LaidOffCamp.

LAURA SYDELL: The folks here for this event seem remarkably cheerful. Maybe it's the idea of camp, even if it is for laid-off people. It's taking place at a club in downtown San Francisco, so there's white leather couches and music.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

SYDELL: Nathan McGee was laid off six months ago from his job in marketing, yet he seems to be learning to cope.

Mr. NATHAN MCGEE (Workshop Leader, LaidOffCamp): They always say misery loves company. I don't feel that miserable. I feel like I've really - I'm starting to enjoy my life as an unemployed person and making do with what I have. But it's nice to meet other people, and it's nice to get to know people.

SYDELL: McGee has volunteered to lead a workshop at Camp Laid Off.

What will you be presenting them?

Mr. MCGEE: Cheap and easy living. How to cut costs creatively so that you can survive in the downward economy.

SYDELL: All the workshops here are lead by volunteers who show up and sign up to share their skills. Four hundred people registered for this event, including Scott Elerthorpe(ph), who's on a furlough from him job for several weeks. He hopes to go back to it, but he's worried and he's looking elsewhere. He figures people here might have something to teach him.

Mr. SCOTT ELERTHORPE (Participated, LaidOffCamp): I would be more interested to see job-hunting techniques people have used.

SYDELL: And he'd like some pals who he can see on his current schedule.

Mr. ELERTHORPE: To meet some people who are unemployed who want to go to the museum on a Wednesday, you know. Do things during the week.

SYDELL: There is a lot of positive energy here, but the talk also leaves no doubt that being laid off is not, well, like spending a day in summer camp. One workshop focused on dealing with emotional turbulence. Laura Craig shared how she had become overly obsessed with finding a job.

Ms. LAURA CRAIG (Participated, LaidOffCamp): But it's very difficult to stop that and to take some time off and go to a movie or see some friends or do something with my time. It's always on my mind.

SYDELL: The workshop leader, Kelly Kierce(ph), offers some advice from an article she just read in Harvard Business Review about how to cope with looking for a job.

Ms. KELLY KIERCE (Workshop Leader, LaidOffCamp): Spend, you know, two or three hours a day working on it and then do something you love, because if you're doing something you love you're going to have this energy. You're going to have this aliveness that's going to be attractive to people.

SYDELL: However, this is San Francisco, near the heart of Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurship is almost like religion. There are workshops on how to start your own business, how to begin consulting. A representative here from Intuit is showing off software for small companies. Organizer Chris Hutchins says he'd love to see some new businesses started here.

Mr. CHRIS HUTCHINS (Organizer, LaidOffCamp): I hope people are inspired. I hope people meet new members of their community that they can stay in touch with and almost piggyback on each other in the future for inspiration, for motivation, to hold themselves accountable to reaching certain goals.

SYDELL: Hutchins may have started something himself. He says there are now LaidOffCamps taking place in 20 cities around the country, and he's even had inquires from as far away as India.

But it has a very American feel. It's like a 12-step program or a barn raising where everyone is in the same boat and they're trying to give each other a hand out. And if this recession lasts much longer, it's likely that people will need each other's help even more.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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