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Unemployment Was 'A Blessing,' Says Former Autoworker

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Getting laid off turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to 34-year-old Greg Kaminski, a high school graduate from Columbia City, Indiana (population: 7,000).

Up until four years ago, Kaminski worked at an automobile company performing just two basic functions: receiving orders and shipping orders. Receive, ship, receive, ship, rinse and repeat.

Although Kaminski was "comfortable" at the car safety plant, AutoLiv, and grateful for a steady paycheck, he recalls yearning to do more. But what? All he was familiar with, apart from automobile shipping and receiving, was a guttural pang whenever he saw a kid walking around alone: Kaminski himself was a raised in a fatherless home, and recalls being rejected, at the age of 5, by a "Big Brothers-like organization" because he was too young to qualify for a mentor. His childhood, in short, was "hell."

Fast forward to AutoLiv, September 2006. For months, Kaminski and his colleagues had been following the daily headlines of "Big 3" layoffs, and expecting the same fate at their company. He hedged himself by enrolling part-time at Huntington University to obtain a two-year associate's degree.

That fall, AutoLiv shuttered its Columbia City plant, and Kaminski and all his colleagues lost their jobs. But he received two years of free education through Indiana's Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). It was perfect: he could afford to top up his associate's degree with another two years and obtain his bachelor's. Now, Kaminski has one year to go before obtaining his bachelor's in Business Administration, with a concentration in non-profit management, from Huntington.

It was during these non-profit business classes that Kaminski discovered a way to hone his protective instincts for children. He and his classmates created the framework for JuneStar, named after the month Kaminski's son's was born, a non-profit that finds buddies and mentors for two of the neediest demographics in his community -- young children and the elderly.

The youth department was a no-brainer, given his own childhood experiences, but the elderly need was discovered during numerous site visits to nursing homes and discussions with local community centers.

"Most adults our age want nice homes and materialistic things, but what elderly want is just one single, meaningful relationship," Kaminski says. "We're going to try to bring people into the nursing homes to make the elderly's lives even better."

This summer, JuneStar received its non-profit tax code and is in the process of fund-raising, building its social networking presence and forging relationships with local community centers and churches. The team is gearing towards an official launch by the end of the year.

Kaminski hopes to infect his community with the volunteerism bug that has transformed his own life for the better, he says. For one, Kamiski says it has "opened his eyes" without his even having to step foot outside his town.

"The recession has been a blessing to me. I was more negative while working at the automobile company. Life's a lot different when you look at it positively," he says.

In the future, Kaminski hopes to increase the types of volunteer programs under the JuneStar umbrella and modestly aspires to be the most active non-profit in Whitley County.

"We're trying to revitalize volunteerism is our community, because times are tough and people tend to focus inwards," Kaminski says. "They don't realize that everyone is going through tough times. So we just hope JuneStar will make people start looking outwards, because there are a lot of nice people in this town."

Learn more about JuneStar from its website.

For more, visit our new Third World America section.

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