Nothing can feel more lonely than being unemployed. Moving from days spent with an office full of co-workers to days spent alone at home, or from a calendar heavily scheduled with phone calls, appointments, and meetings to more time than you know how to fill can be demoralizing to say the least.

Knowing that there are millions like you who have lost their jobs in the last few years of the recession doesn’t necessarily help if you don’t know how to connect with them.

That’s the situation #b#Maureen Cozzi#/b# found herself in after losing her job in early 2009. “Looking for networking groups was one of the things I was assigned to do by my outplacement counselor,” says Cozzi, a Hamilton Square resident who had spent her 20-plus working career in Manhattan. Not only did she not know many people in the area, she also found there were very few groups available for her near her home.

One group she did locate was the well-known unemployment support group that was founded in 2002 at St. Paul’s Church in Princeton. Cozzi became a regular member of the group, but unfortunately discovered that it was in the process of disbanding. “After seven years the two founders were just burned out,” says Cozzi.

The group at St. Paul’s broke up in the fall of 2009, leaving Cozzi and many other unemployed people throughout central New Jersey without any support network.

It didn’t take long for Cozzi to solve that problem. “I made the decision to start a new group,” she says. “I wrote the charter, approached my pastor at St. Gregory the Great, and we began meeting in February.”

The St. Gregory the Great Networking Group meets next on Saturday, December 18, at 8:15 a.m. at the church, located on Route 33, where it meets Nottingham Way in Hamilton Square. The group meets every first Wednesday and third Saturday, free. E-mail sggngroup@gmail.com.

In putting together the group, Cozzi learned some valuable lessons that translate well into any new endeavor.

#b#Don’t reinvent the wheel#/b#. The first thing Cozzi did was talk with Mary Anne Kennedy, one of the founders of the St. Paul’s group. It was good to have someone experienced to talk with, she says. It reduced the amount of research she needed to do and also gave her some ideas on how to do things differently.

#b#The democratic approach#/b#. The first change Cozzi made was the structure. “In the other group two people were totally in charge,” Cozzi says. “They did all of the organization — everything, for seven years. That’s a major reason why the group disbanded.”

A team approach is the best way to spread the burden and insure that the group will continue, even if one or two people can no longer take the reins. Cozzi has several people on her team, including a programming person who arranges for speakers, several meeting moderators who can run a meeting so that one person is not forced to be there every time, a refreshment committee, a set-up committee that arranges for AV equipment and sets up chairs, and a technical person who handles two online discussion groups, one on Yahoo and one on LinkedIn.

Don Fiordelisi runs the online groups, which currently have more than 300 members each. To join the online group you must attend at least one meeting, Fiordelisi says.

One of the biggest advantages of the online groups is that it is easy for a member to post information about available job listings. “If someone hears about a job and it’s not right for them, or they just want to share, they can post all of the information online so that others in the group can apply for it,” he says. Many members also find it an easy way to let the group know when they become employed again. “It’s nice when we hear that someone in the group has gotten a new job,” he says.

Fiordelisi joined the group after being laid off as a project manager at Bristol-Myers Squibb. He is typical of many unemployed in this area. He received an MBA from Johns Hopkins University in 1982 and has worked in the financial services and pharmaceutical industries for more than 20 years.

While he had been unemployed for short periods of time between positions before, this time around it is different, says Fiordelisi. “The recession is longer, and there is still not the confidence that it will turn around quickly. I think a lot of people are looking to the government to solve the problem, but the government can’t solve it. It’s the private sector that needs to have the confidence to start hiring again.”

#b#The group#/b#. The formats for the Wednesday and Saturday meetings differ. While both include time for each person to give a 30-second introduction and about an hour of open networking, the Saturday group features a guest speaker; the Wednesday group includes a discussion of a particular topic, often a follow-up to the previous speaker’s program.

“We have an on-going cycle of programs because we always have new members coming in,” says Cozzi. Typical topics include tips on writing a resume and interview skills, as well as techniques and advice on researching the job market and targeting the right market. Recently Janie Herman, the technology director at Princeton Public Library, spoke to the group on the resources available through the Princeton Library.

While the group has not kept statistics on how many members have found jobs, Cozzi herself is one of the successes. Cozzi received her bachelor’s degree in business and computer science from Adelphi University in Long Island and her MBA from Hofstra “over 20 years ago.” Her resume includes work at the Federal Reserve and Morgan Stanley (from which she was laid off in 2009). A few months ago she found a new job with CIT Group in Livingston.

But finding a job has not dulled her enthusiasm or commitment to the unemployed support network. Continuing her work, she says, is just her way of giving back to the network of unemployed people who supported her when she was in need.

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