Unemployment leads to small business opportunities

November 26, 2009 3:06:40 PM PST
Unemployment rates across the country are still in double digits, despite some hopeful signs that the recession may be ending. But some people who lost their jobs are finding new ways to make money. When the boss gave them walking papers, they became their own boss.

For five years, Ida Petkus worked at place where she made a difference, counseling victims at a domestic violence center.

Then, one day last March, they told her it was over.

"My position was eliminated because of economic times," she said.

Petkus had built a career helping people, and at 53 years old, she wondered what else she was qualified to do.

"I remember turning in the key, and I said, 'I'll be back for that key,' meaning I'll be back," she said. "And they said, 'Well, start your own agency, don't let being laid off stop you.' So that's what I did."

And she did it with the help of the Self-Employment Assistance program, SEA.

Petkus founded Tree House Haven in Mount Holly, New Jersey. It's a non-profit, helping victims of domestic violence.

"I was in a very bad way when Ida came to me, and I can sit here and talk about it now...with some confidence that I have a plan and I have some resources," abuse victim 'Sara' said. "And I'm gonna make it."

Petkus the counselor got some counseling and training of her own.

"Well in the 13 years that it has existed in New Jersey, we we've pretty much been with it since its start, close to 8,000 businesses have been created," said Michael Glass, of the NJ Self-Employment Assistance Program.

The program gives potential small business owners free classes in areas such as marketing, fund-raising and book keeping. The Department of Labor offers the program in eight states.

Petkus began taking classes in August. In just a month, Tree Haven opened its doors.

Victims say they could not be more grateful.

"The first thing that comes to mind is hope," 'Sara' said. "Ida, my advocate, has continued to open the doors for me."

"I believe small business is going to make a difference in this country," Ida said. "I don't want to be medium or large, I want to be small, and I want to help. I like like where I am helping victims."

The self-employment assistance program offers entrepreneurial training and business counseling to workers who are receiving unemployment benefits.