Jobless but not hopeless, network cultivates ideas

A wife, mother of three and grandmother of one, Debbie Halpine knows the importance of providing for herself and her family as much as anyone.

So when the 43-year-old Grand Junction woman lost her job last November, she submitted countless resumes and job applications, banking on her 20 years of experience in office, clerical and accounting work. Yet over a five-month period, she didn’t score a single interview.

“I just kept coming up against walls,” Halpine said.

Romana Castro tells a similar story of frustration. She’s been out of work for nearly two years, in spite of working in the fast-food, retail and housecleaning industries. Her pregnancy with her first child complicated her job prospects.

“Nobody likes to hire pregnant people,” she said.

But rather than bemoan their unemployment status, Halpine and Castro are going about identifying work opportunities no one else would give them.

The two women are among a group of unemployed Mesa County residents engaged in Discovery 9 NetWorks, a newly formed, grassroots program aimed at creating new businesses and expanding existing businesses.

“No one in this group is saying, ‘Give me a job,’ ” Discovery 9 founder Krystyn Hartman said during a news conference Wednesday. “Everyone is exploring what they can do in this economy.”

Hartman and David Porfirio, manager of business services at the Mesa County Workforce Center, came up with the idea for the free program in March while having lunch and discussing Mesa County’s high unemployment rate.

The initial Discovery 9 group consists of Hartman, Porfirio and seven unemployed people whom Porfirio selected through an application and interview process.

Porfirio said he chose Halpine and Castro, who are currently interning at the Workforce Center, and the others based on their diverse skills and willingness to contribute.

“There are thousands of people like them in our community,” Porfirio said. “Our job is to find them.”

The group, which formed last month, will meet twice a month for a year. Their mission is to brainstorm work opportunities and identify business vacuums in the community.

Hartman, who publishes Grand Valley Magazine, said the group’s efforts already have produced fruit. Members are exploring three potential business development opportunities. One, a high-end custom metal plating service, has drawn the attention of West Star Aviation and Plating Specialties.

Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will serve as a resource and supporting agency for Discovery 9.

“The opportunity to spur entrepreneurship and to create economic activity locally is very exciting,” she said.

Discovery 9 is in the process of filing for nonprofit status.


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