RIVER EDGE, N.J. — John Fugazzie of River Edge lost his pension, life-savings and home in the economic downturn of the late 2000's.
He suffered long stretches of unemployment before founding "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" in 2011, a free, volunteer weekly job-search support and networking group aimed at unemployed adults.
It is for this effort that the River Edge native has been nominated for Ramapo College's Russ Berrie award, which recognizes "uncommon and unsung local New Jersey heroes" with cash rewards.
"When I was out of work I went to support groups for unemployed people but I found them to be so negative that they made me depressed," said Fugazzie, who was a high-paid executive when he was laid off. "I thought there was something to the idea but it needed to be more structured and positive."
Five years later and Neighbors Helping Neighbors has helped more than 550 people find jobs, boasts an extensive network on LinkedIn and Facebook, and has opened up meeting groups at NJ Community Colleges, and a new international group in Madrid, Spain.
"The success over the past five years has been really unbelievable," said Fugazzie, who attributes his organization's accomplishments to his "pay it forward" ethos and empowering forums.
Fugazzie has been invited to the White House multiple times to advise on the nation's unemployment crisis and currently serves as the Executive Director for Hudson County Workforce Development Board.
He is also an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and founded the Institute of Career Education as a resource for job seekers nationwide.
CLICK HERE to nominate Fugazzie for the Russ Berrie award.
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