Offering help, hope, U.S. "job clubs" see surge

Tue Mar 3, 2009 9:33am EST
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By Carey Gillam

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) - Tom Skidmore has been out of work only since December. But when his former employer filed bankruptcy in January and his severance evaporated, Skidmore knew he didn't have much time. As the sole breadwinner for his family of five, he had to find work fast.

So he joined a job club.

Part networking opportunity, part therapy group, jobs clubs are rapidly emerging as hot spots for job hunters in America. The clubs, which are springing up in large U.S. cities as well as small towns, act as places to share fears over depleted savings accounts, polish resumes, practice 30-second personal pitches and hone survival strategies.

"When you are laid off it is very disorienting. It was a real shock to my system," said 43-year-old Skidmore, of Overland Park, Kansas. He had worked in the telecommunications industry for 11 years before being laid off.

Skidmore routinely visits four different clubs each week, and has come to view fellow attendees as a "new work family." Members help each other hunt down fresh job opportunities and cushion the blow of rejection letters.

Many veteran clubs from previous economic downturns have been overwhelmed a doubling or tripling in attendance the last six months, and new ones are forming rapidly to keep pace with the rising ranks of the unemployed.

"It's a really tough environment right now," said Fred Fosnacht who leads a weekly club at the Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Olathe, Kansas. "It's a very emotional roller coaster ride for a lot of people."

The roller coaster is expected to become more crowded.   Continued...

<p>Kim Childers, who has just been laid off from his job at JC Penneys, introduces himself to the other "job club" members during an early morning meeting at the Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Olathe, Kansas February 25, 2009. REUTERS/Dave Kaup</p>