New Web site is a one-stop job shop


MINNEAPOLIS — Peggy Byrne lost her most recent job as a
human resources manager in March. Her unemployment benefits run out in
February. Her health insurance expires in six weeks. She needs a job now.

While the clock ticks, Byrne, 59, a spunky former state legislator
from the 1980s and a former state planner, isn’t waiting around. She hops on
the computer next to her bed each morning and scours Web sites for job leads.

But Byrne became so frustrated with the piecemeal,
disjointed search engines she came across for laid-off workers that she decided
to create one of her own.

“It’s tough enough being unemployed without having
people scrounge for the information they need. It shouldn’t be a scavenger
hunt,” said Byrne, now one of 2.6 million jobless Minnesotans.

Determined to use her past experience to benefit others and
get herself a job in the process, she developed a Web site with scores of links
to job search engines, food shelves, housing and heating assistance programs,
free flu shot clinics, free legal clinics, cheap medical care, transportation,
job retraining programs, bargains and news articles about grants, loans and
thousands of other resources for the unemployed.

The site, which Byrne runs without pay, has won favorable
reviews from foundations, job counselors and placement agencies around the
state for its comprehensiveness and simplicity.

“I use Peggy’s Web site a lot with (our program)
participants,” said Bruce Thayer, a computer lab coach for the Goodwill
Easter Seals Dislocated Worker Program in St. Paul. Each week, Thayer helps
dozens of clients search for work and tap resources using computers.

Last week, one unemployed client who is behind on his rent
asked Thayer where he should go when he became homeless.

Thayer directed him to Byrne’s, and
soon heard him say, “Wow! This is amazing.”

Besides a list of homeless shelters, he also found emergency
rental assistance he never knew existed.

“I created
as an express site that put all the links that the unemployed need on just one
site,” Byrne said. One “eureka moment came when I went to an Edina
Community Center boot camp for the unemployed and learned that there were a
dozen more (job search engines) that I had no clue about. I was

She’d previously stuck to job search engines provided by the
state, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and But they didn’t
answer her questions about extending her health care, budgeting or where to
find bargains on food, gas and other products. State and nonprofit websites
segment information too narrowly, she said.

That wastes time that the unemployed just don’t have, said
Byrne who isn’t accustomed to waiting for anything.

“She was the first woman in history to go to the state
Legislature from (Ramsey County) and she was the youngest” woman elected
to the (Minnesota) House, at age 24, said Brian Merchant, Byrne’s job counselor
and the senior employment consultant at Goodwill Easter Seals Dislocated
Workers Program.


Byrne represented Frogtown in St. Paul from 1975 to 1982.
She has also worked as planning director for Minnesota State Planning, and was
the executive director for the Summit University Planning Council in St. Paul,
Merchant said. “And she served as the assistant deputy commissioner of
Children Families and Learning. She has a pretty impressive resume and background,”
he added.

After cost cuts claimed her most recent job as the human
resource manager for 180 Degrees — a nonprofit that helps newly released
ex-convicts — Byrne unleashed her frustration into finding a job while helping

“I enjoy being an entrepreneur and doing public service
… and I would like for the rest of my adult working life to work for the
unemployed,” ­Byrne said. “I’d like to make a living working in this
website stuff.”

There’s just one problem. There’s no money in it. Yet.

“I need to go and look for advertisers. Even the
foundations are in retrenchment mode and many can’t help,” Byrne said.

She spent her own time and money developing the website and
has relied on service donations to launch it.

Kris Jacobs, executive director for the Jobs Now Coalition,
said she liked Byrne’s idea and gave her an office for six months so that she
wouldn’t go batty from isolation while working from home. Jacobs also
introduced Byrne to the folks at Five On Four Web Design, who donated about
$5,400 in time and resources building Byrne’s site.

“Peggy worked on this for a long time and talked to a
lot of people,” Jacobs said. “She wanted to find out if she had a
good idea and how to improve it, and she has done that. There are other
websites, but we’ve found this one’s a very valuable tool.”

Still, Byrne needed a job, and headed to Goodwill’s
Dislocated Worker office in July. Goodwill Easter Seals gave Byrne a five-week
paid internship to finish developing the website.

Merchant is convinced that Byrne’s efforts will lead to a
paying job. Meanwhile, she’s living on home-equity loans, unemployment and rent
from the tenants in her duplex as she scours newspapers, state bulletins and
nonprofit Web sites each morning to update her Web site.

“I work on this full time. This is what I do day and
night. I am constantly on the lookout for useful links and ideas. I have just
finished a cheat sheet called, ‘What you can do when you are running out of
money,'” she said, chuckling.

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.