John Fugazzie founded the
organization at his local library two and a half years ago, and it’s grown to
become a more than thousand-member support and networking group for the
unemployed, earning attention for its successes in helping the small groups navigate a rough job market.
To date, the organization has 27
chapters, most of them in New Jersey, Fugazzie said. It grew
through word of mouth from the original group, and since national attention
began to spotlight the job seekers – profiles in the New York Times and USA Today, among others – the organization hopes to expand beyond the
Garden State. In January, a group launched in Boston, and a Washington, D.C. chapter is expected to get up and running this month.
“There’s a lot of people out there that want to help their communities,” Fugazzie says. “It’s really a grassroots growth.”
Fugazzie spent more than 40 years in sales and marketing in the food industry before being laid off in 2011. The group he formed to help others in his situation focuses on the need to “retool” for new job market realities he says are not going to disappear, even as the U.S. economic inches toward recovery from the financial collapse of 2008.
“The economy is a problem and it’s going to be a problem for a while,” he said. “The speed of change, globalization, the speed of the internet has changed things.”
The organization is a networking group based on a “pay it forward” model, where members build on each other’s connections and share new connections and insights when they eventually find employment. The network has become increasingly important as the number of unemployed has outpaced job openings, Fugazzie says.
“Networking is the only way to get a job today,” he said. “Some companies aren’t even posting jobs now because they’ll get a thousand replies.”
The group’s model can be replicated anywhere, sprouting up from the grassroots at the guidance of dedicated volunteer coordinators. Fugazzie said that from the national attention, including commendations from Gov. Chris Christie and an invitation last year to the White House, he has “built an incredible network of national people” to help that cause, and is hoping to focus on expanding to areas where the unemployment numbers remain dire.
The local model has worked,
and the organization boasts 328 success stories, Fugazzie said. Forbes recently ranked the
organization’s website among the top 100 resources for job seekers, and its founder will be meeting with the secretary of labor next month, shortly after the Washington, D.C., group launches.
A partnership with Microsoft is also expected to bring the cause to Toronto, Colorado, California and Connecticut.
“It really gives some validation,” Fiugazzie said of the recognitions. “It’s been incredibly rewarding to see the success we’ve had.”
Neighbors Helping Neighbors meets weekly at the libraries of the following Bergen County towns: Ridgewood, Westwood, Bergenfield, Waldwick, Fair Lawn, Oakland, Emerson, Oradell, Hasbrouk Heights, Mayowood and River Edge.