Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Two local women turn unemployment into cash crop

Talk about turning lemons into lemonade.

Two Sarasota women laid off from their jobs this year and down on their luck after running through their savings can officially add another title to their belts: Entrepreneurs. And successful ones at that.

Stephanie Aucoin, 48, and Barbara Bourn, 59, were back to square one a few months ago after being given lay-off notices from their respective companies. Money in both savings’ accounts quickly disappeared; Aucoin had to borrow $10,000 from her parents to make it. Bourn had to sell her house, like so many others.

They didn’t wallow in their misfortune for long. Bourn and Aucoin put their heads together and came up with an idea to bring attention to the unemployment plight of so many: wristbands.
Every worthwhile cause lately (and a few NOT so worthwhile) has its own wristband, but not the jobless cause. These two ladies decided a whole lot of people could benefit by wearing one. And they made them screamin’ mustard yellow with bold black lettering: LAID OFF NEED A JOB.
Can’t miss ‘em. And just being seen with one of these babies on your wrist is good self-promotion. Aucoin found that out first hand, too. An exec riding up in an elevator with her saw the band, was intrigued, and offered her a position on the spot! See, fairy tales do come true after all.

The pair put their ingenuity into the business, put up a website and got themselves on Twitter for networking. And, after some local coverage, the Wall Street journal picked up the story and gave them some national media attention! Something tells me they’re sales may go up.

After five weeks, their site boasts over 500 hits daily. They’ve got a ton of followers on Twitter, and have sold more than 4,500 bracelets. Enough to cover their investment and pocket almost $9,000 in profit. Not bad for two girls just trying to make it. Great inspiration for the rest of us!

You can visit them on the web and get their full story, get yourself a bracelet (even if you don’t need one, something tells me they may be a hot commodity after the media attention) at:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rate of homeless children increases 131 percent

Think for a moment about being homeless.

And not just you, I mean your entire family, including the children. Where would you guys all go during the day, to get out of the heat? Wander in and out of stores? Where is your family sleeping for the night? The shelters won't open until at least 6 p.m.

And three meals a day? Well, the line at St. Vincent dePaul is wrapped around the building everyday. I've driven by and seen it. And past that, what about drinks? Snacks for the kids?

The children need to go to school. Will they understand having to bathe and dress every day at the Salvation Army? Or the YMCA? Where are their school clothes and supplies coming from?

What if you get sick? What if they get sick?

And being homeless carries a stigma: people look at you and your family and think, Lazy. Drunk. Stupid. Disease-ridden. Not in my backyard.

Think it's impossible? Let me provide you with some scary numbers: the Pinellas County Coalition just released its annual head count for the area's homeless, and the number of children has doubled in two years. It has gone from 96 children under 18 in 2007 to 2,224 this year. That's an increase of over 130 percent.

I want to repeat that last figure, because it sounds vaguely important: Over 2,200 kids right now in Pinellas County have no home.

Why? Officials of course blame the economy. More families are homeless than ever. For some people in the Tampa Bay area, it's as close as one missed paycheck. When the breadwinner gets laid off, often these families are on the streets within 30 days. Shelters, food pantries and donation services can't keep up; their resources are strained. Simply put, need is up at an exponential rate, monetary donations are down. The coffers are almost dry.

Also drawing on those resources is the large, intangible group of working poor, the ones that don't get a head count every year. Without help from soup kitchens and places that provide donated clothing and household items, they're looking at that 30 days real quick. Survival becomes minute to minute.

So what do we do? What can we do? Where does relief start? Individual donations? Leaning on our politicians? Legislation? I read quite a bit of speculation, but no clear answer.

Maybe it starts here at home. Shopping locally and keeping our money in the area, making sure our local businesses thrive. Giving what we can when we can, and helping out by donating gently used things to services that get them in the hands of people that need them. There has never been a better time than now.