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Getting back to work – Group aims for new revenue

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By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM — Having lost two jobs, Damian Burkel has made it his mission to help people who have been laid off.

In 1992, Burkel created Professionals in Transition, a Winston-Salem nonprofit that provides support for unemployed professionals and their families.

Now, PIT itself is in transition. After running the organization from his house for more than seven years, Burkel for the past year has worked to make the operation more businesslike.

He opened an office, landed grants from local foundations and has formed strategic alliances to help his nonprofit become more professional.

He’s also preparing to launch a Web site that he hopes will generate revenue through corporate sponsorships.

“The name of the game is collaboration, not competition,” says Burkel, a former senior department store buyer in Cleveland for May Department Stores Co., and former merchandise manager in Winston-Salem for the Fuller Brush division of Sara Lee Corp.

Burkel has modeled PIT on Al-Anon, the international group that provides support for family members of alcoholics and is affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Al-Anon changed my life when I was 18 because I was looking for support to help deal with alcoholism in our family,” he said. “When I was out of work, surely I thought there was an Al-Anon for the unemployed.”

While both groups share the goal of providing a “safe space” for people, he said, there’s a big difference.

“Alcoholism is a disease,” he said. “Unemployment is a temporary condition.”

Professionals in Transition, which has assisted more than 1,000 individuals and family members, has received grants of $35,000 and $25,000 from the Winston-Salem Foundation, and $7,500 from the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro.

The group has teamed up with Family Services Inc., paying it a management fee to help manage PIT’s books, provide executive training and generally help Burkel learn how to manage the organization.

PIT has joined CareersNOW, an alliance of 11 groups in the Winston-Salem area involved in getting people back to work. On April 24, members of the alliance – including PIT – talked about their services at a meeting with area employers.

PIT soon will launch a new Web site to link people who have lost their jobs to a broad range of resources they can use to ease their transition and find jobs. The site, for example, will let people post their resumes for free.

The site has been designed by buy2share.com, a one-year-old online merchandiser in Sarasota, Fla., that focuses on the nonprofit market. Buy2share splits its profits evenly with its 35 nonprofit partners.

In August, the site will include a link to an online course in reemployment that Burkel – who works as a consultant to buy2share — is helping Forsyth Technical Community College develop.

Burkel, who hopes to recruit corporate sponsors for the site, ultimately wants to build local PIT chapters throughout the United States.

For information, call 757-1049 or visit its current Web site at www.professionalsintransit.org.

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