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LaidOff Campers See Sunny Side in Downturn

New America Media , News Feature//Video , Words: Rupa Dev//Video: Paul Billingsely Posted: Mar 11, 2009

Editor's Note: The economy is down and job competitiveness is steep, but optimistic attendees of LaidOffCamp San Francisco seemed to embody the idea expressed by Pres. Barack Obama, that "the crisis is a time of great opportunity. Attendees had varied backgrounds, skill sets and employment status, but they shared a common take on the recession: Unemployment can be viewed as an opportunity, not a tragedy. Rupa Dev is a reporter and online community manager and Paul Billingsely is a content producer for NAM

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. The economic doom and gloom was nowhere in sight when more than 300 Silicon Valley community members brimming with resilience and optimism came together March 3 at LaidOffCamp San Francisco at Temple nightclub.

LaidOffCamp, founded by Chris Hutchins, 24, is a discussion-oriented, unconference--self-organized loosely organized--for the self-employed and unemployed to connect and help each other survive the ailing job market.

"You could start a company, volunteer, freelance--there are all these things you can do instead of looking for a job," said Hutchins, who was laid off in December. "If a job is what you want, there just might be a better way to find it."

Since launching in late January, LaidOffCamp has attracted widespread buzz. More than 16 LaidOffCamps are being organized across the nation, and there is talk about bringing LaidOffCamp to New Delhi, India. LaidOffCamp San Francisco was organized by a team of volunteers, which included Daniel Brusilovsky, a 16-year-old high school student who helped with planning and setting up the unconference before heading to school later that morning.

Participants seemed to embody the idea expressed by Pres. Barack Obama, that "the crisis is a time of great opportunity. Attendees had varied backgrounds, skill sets and employment status, but they shared a common take on the recession: Unemployment can be viewed as an opportunity, not a tragedy.

Getting laid off is actually an opportunity to reflect on the things you really want in your life, said Rahmin Sarabi, co-founder of Unclasses, a side project that connects people who want to learn about a topic with those in their area who want to teach it.

Its a community event, so there were many people from different walks of life, said Danielle Marshall, a wardrobe consultant who drove from Sacramento to recruit talent for the fine jewelry company she works for.

But few people actually landed jobs that day or expected to do so. The main agenda was sharing resources.

"At LaidOffCamp, it wasn't about finding a job," said Eric Wu, co-founder of RentWiki.com, an online community for finding advice and recommendations about neighborhoods and rentals. "It was about connecting with someone around an idea or a vision for a company and figuring out how to work together."

In the entrepreneurial spirit of earlier Silicon Valley pioneers, attendees said they were looking to leverage their education, skill sets and interests to create their own jobs. Some are starting companies; others are taking on freelance work. Some people have turned to pro bono or unpaid projects to beef up their resumes.

Sarabi presented a session on unclasses, or "people-powered classes" as he described them, and attendees were particularly receptive to the "by the community, for the community feel of his informal education model.

This "self-starter" mentality was the focal point since attendees propose and present session topics. Sessions included Positioning Yourself in the Green Economy, Social Media for Career Networking, Extreme Budgeting, and Resume 2.0.

"Everybody we talked to had something they loved that they wanted to teach to others," said Sarabi. Attendees signed up to teach unclasses such as: Memoir Writing, How to Cook Persian Stew, Cheap Vegetarian Cooking, and Casual Distance Running.

Gary Wilson, a photographer, volunteered his lens and time to take professional photos for LaidOffCamp San Francisco.

LaidOffCamp gave me the opportunity to do a little networking and add some photos to my book, said Wilson. "It's the first unconference I've been to and I've enjoyed it."

At 6 p.m., the hoards had thinned and Temple was transformed back into a nightclub. A small crowd remained, mixing and mingling as a DJ spun tunes. Among them was Rajiv Doshi, a laid-off young professional who worked as a volunteer for the event. His optimism was unfaltering.

There are always opportunities, even in a down market, he said. "I never give up hope."

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