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(November 25, 2009) Peggy Byrne lost her most recent job as a human resources manager in March. 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.

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 dumbfounded."

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 others.

"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.

Grand Forks Herald

Quote of the Day

"Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of."
- Benjamin Franklin

Colleen Gildea

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