For thousands of people in the region, the last few years of economic decline have left them back at square one. Many have reconsidered their previous careers and found themselves in new, exciting and often more rewarding positions. Here are five stories of starting over, getting creative and moving on.

 

Danae DeShazer

Biggest fear

Facing the unknown.


Best part of my new job

Being a part of a living, breathing artist community where we create and produce professional theater for a changing audience.


Advice to other job seekers

Live in the moment. I spent months trying to figure out what to do with my life—and I missed living it. You have to learn from your mistakes, and just go for it! You’ll never know unless you go full throttle into the unknown.

Good-bye, New York City

After graduating from the University of Kansas in 2008, 23-year-old journalist Danae DeShazer landed what many young writers would consider a dream first job as a fashion blogger and web editor for Elle magazine.  

She moved from Kansas City to New York City’s Upper East Side in September 2008 and almost immediately began feeling that the job wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “Even though, on the outside, it seemed very glamorous, I was really unhappy with my job,” she says. “It was very corporate. We all stayed in our little cubicles. It just didn’t feel right.”

In February DeShazer lost her position to a company-wide layoff, but was hired back as a free-lance assistant, doing much of the same work. While attending fashion shows, working with models and writing for Elle.com, she started looking for other jobs.

In spring 2009, at her lowest point, DeShazer found herself in Central Park, listening to her iPod as loud as she could stand it, thinking about—well, everything. “I felt like I had failed,” she says. “I just started doing some real soul searching, and I decided that I wanted to work somewhere I felt appreciated, where I could be creative. And I knew that this [Elle] wasn’t it.”

In college, DeShazer had studied theater and drama, so she began searching for jobs in that field. A position at Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota came up on Playbill. “I had to Google Sarasota,” DeShazer admits.

She took the position at FST as marketing and public relations associate and moved here in September 2009. “It took a little time to fall in love with Sarasota,” she says. “And I do miss New York sometimes. But I wake up here and look around and really feel like I live in paradise. And I’m so happy to be doing what I’m doing. It took me a while to realize that I hadn’t failed

in New York; I’d just taken a different direction.”

 

Jim and Julie Costello

Most important strategy in opening your new business Research. We knew that if we were going to stay in Sarasota it had to be something that everyone needed, and it had to be an industry that was in a growth period.   

Biggest lifestyle difference

As a contractor, Jim used to eat fast food. He’s lost almost 30 pounds from being in touch with organics.

Biggest Challenge

Personal bandwidth. There’s just not enough of to go around. Like everyone else out there, we are just two parents trying to manage it all and find our way through these tough economic times.

 “I like that people are getting educated about what they put into their bodies.”

Growing a New Business

Julie Costello was a telecommunications and customer service specialist, and her husband, Jim, was a professional musician who worked in multimedia for an entertainment startup. But when they had a newborn daughter, Ainsley, they decided it was time for a change. So, in 2003, they packed up their lives in Los Angeles and headed to Sarasota, where Jim’s parents live.

They purchased a metal shop in Englewood, and Jim got his general contractor’s license. The business took off, carried by a wave of development, and provided the family with a stable and generous income doing metal fabrication for commercial and residential projects.

But as the industry came to a screeching halt in 2008, they found themselves in the same position as thousands of others in the construction industry: out of business.

“I had to do all the fun things that go along with closing a business,” says Jim. “And Julie and I just started brainstorming, trying to figure out what we were going to do.”

Having grown up in Southern California, Julie, 41, was used to having fresh, organic produce. Since moving to Florida, she had been frustrated by the limited selections offered by local grocers and farmer’s markets. One day Jim, 40, received a text message from Julie: “Why don’t we deliver organic produce?”

After doing research on the organic

food and beverage industry and dis-covering that sales had been increasing 18 percent since 2007, they began asking friends and acquaintances if they would be interested in weekly deliveries of fresh, mostly local, organic produce.

The answer was SunCoast Organics, which delivers 40 to 100 boxes a night, three nights a week from Bradenton to Port Charlotte. Now celebrating their first anniversary, the Costellos say business is growing so quickly they are trying to strike the balance between growth and quality. The weekly standard boxes—the Basic Harvest, Fruit Harvest and Veggie Harvest—all cost $15. Custom boxes and weekly specials are also available. “I’m so thankful that people have welcomed us into the community, and I like the feeling that you’re making a difference and that people are getting educated about what they put into their bodies. We’re part of a worldwide movement,” says Julie.

 

Heidi Weiler

Most important inspiration

From everyday people creating business opportunities from nothing. The key was that they were doing something they loved.

Most essential step in launching your business Stay focused! We get wrapped up in external details and lose sight of our bigger goals.

Advice to other unemployed professionals

Keep going. Persevere, meet and network with new people, and make yourself available. You never know who you may meet and who that person may know.  

On Par for Success

As the domestic automotive industry crashed in the recession, Heidi Weiler, national sales manager for one of the largest advertising firms in Florida, Re-Source Direct Inc., was one of the casualties.

“We ran nationwide campaigns for GM and worked on huge campaigns for dealerships all over the state,” says 29-year-old Weiler, who was living in Brandon, Fla. “Then dealerships started closing down, and ones that stayed open started canceling their contracts.”

This couldn’t have come at a worse time for Weiler, who had just had her first child and was still on maternity leave. Used to making a six-figure salary, Weiler found herself in the middle of her company’s total collapse.

“I started coming down to Sarasota and spending time with my family. Eventually I just realized that this is where I belong,” she says.

As she was looking for work, she met two PGA pros who were interested in offering coupons for special play days at private courses. “They wanted a golf card,” she says.

Drawing from the success of the nationally distributed Entertainment Book, which offers discounts and coupons at various businesses and

is often used in fund raisers for schools and other nonprofits, Weiler used her marketing background to expand the concept and create the online Par 5 Club.

For an annual $55 fee, the Par 5 Club allows members to take advantage of opportunities to play at exclusive private golf clubs and save at restaurants and on personal and professional services and entertainment. Weiler also began partnering with local nonprofits so that they could sell the card, keeping 30 percent of the membership fee.

People can join at Parfiveclub.com, and when they sign up they can also say if they want a portion of their fee to go to one of Par 5’s partner charities. The Par 5 card is also sold at some businesses and at fund raisers. Members shop online for their discounts, and when they find the coupon they want, they add it to their shopping cart.

Weiler makes every effort to find exclusive deals—such as play days at private courses like The Concession and The Founders Club—so members see the value. The play days have been big winners. “We have play days scheduled through season,” she says.

“I took a big income hit, but we expect to raise almost $100,000 [for charities] in the next year,” says Weiler. “It feels good to put yourself out there and feel like you’re making a difference.”

 

Pam Truitt

Best tip for jumping into the unknown

Nobody ever crossed a chasm in two short hops. If you are jumping, commit to it and don’t look back.  

Best advice for other job seekers

Remember who you are and have faith. I continued to stay involved in community organizations, and that kept me balanced.

Biggest challenge 

Going from being an expert in one field to a student in a new one has been a challenge—I had to keep reminding myself that I need time to grow.

Finding New Realities

After two decades spent working as one of Sarasota’s most well-known and respected urban planners and civic leaders, Pam Truitt, 59, found herself packing up her office and moving it into her home. Planning work was drying up, and she wasn’t as fulfilled by it anymore.

“I thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do, but this isn’t it,’” she says.

Truitt spent time at home, painted her kitchen, cleaned her garage and worked on her golf swing. “I played a lot of golf,” she says. “And I started thinking about what I wanted to do—not what I was good at, but what I wanted to do.”

She ran into Debra Jacobs, another longtime Sarasota civic leader and the CEO of The Patterson Foundation, and the pair began to talk about Truitt’s future. Always driven by “the need to make a difference,” Truitt was already onboard with what The Patterson Foundation wanted to accomplish—to encourage people to strengthen their communities and give generously to philanthropic endeavors.

Eventually, those talks led to an opportunity with The Patterson Foundation as a consultant, heading up two brand-new initiatives: The New Realities Program and the Student Emergency Fund.

The New Realities Program works to train a network of consultants to work with nonprofit arts groups interested in mergers and forming alliances or partnerships with other nonprofits—a growing need as financially strained organizations are forced to band together to stay afloat. The Student Emergency Fund is designed to provide emergency funding—for medical supplies and/or treatment—to students from low-income homes.

“We know that students will perform better in school if they have these funds available,” says Truitt.

The Patterson Foundation began implementing the fund this fall in six Sarasota County schools. Next year they plan on expanding the program to all 55 area schools, and have committed to at least three years of funding. Truitt is still making a difference, and she feels fulfilled. “I feel lucky—and excited—to be able to start over,” she says.

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