12/03/2010 01:54 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Lifeline for the 99-Week Unemployed Workforce

When he was 21, a friend of mine walked across the country. He used this 3,000 mile journey to raise money for Foster Parents. For his efforts, he received media attention every step of the way. At 25, he picked another charity and started off on his second Walk Across America trek. An hour east of his starting point at the Santa Monica pier, he was mugged, kicked in the head, and left for dead on a side street in Long Beach. The attack left him unable to talk for seven years.

Over the past 15 years, he has regained much of his mental agility, however, words sometimes collide and sound like nonsense when he speaks. While he could have qualified for disability at the time, he turned his back on government support, preferring to make his way back into the work force.

Shad doesn't tell people who want to hire him about this disability. For him, it was something that happened 15 years ago. It's over. And yet, in the hiring process, the occasionally misuse of words gets in the way. Over the years, he hasn't gotten the jobs for which he is highly qualified, and today is one of the 99'ers.

An excellent chef, Shad grew up in a family of cooks. His grandmother was Walt Disney's personal chef. His father, a Cherokee, died when he was young. His mother owned a restaurant in a small mountain town in Colorado, until she retired. He, himself, even cooked for Al Gore, on one occasion.

Now running low on money for rent, and food, he is responding to every Help Wanted Ad he sees. "I've even tried to get a job as a dishwasher," he says, "but they tell me that they are saving these jobs for the disabled." He doesn't see the irony here.

I've loaned him my car to search for jobs. I've hired him to rake the leaves. I've hired him to help prepare -- and share -- our Thanksgiving meal, then take home the leftovers.

Like a few other neighbors, I am serving as a lifeline for Shad because he has reached the point where he is reaching out and asking for help.

Asking for help was difficult for him, yet it has kept him from loosing his one room apartment. It has also kept a small amount of food on his table.

For those in the 99-week work force who haven't already done so, it's time to turn to friends, family, and neighbors. It's time to stand up, speak out, and ask for help.

Overcoming the resistance to ask for help is hard for most people to do. It's not even easy, even in a life-threatening situation.

For example, at age 56, a friend of mine was told by a financial planner that he should expect to live to age 104. He was told that his lifestyle and good health would guarantee him another 49 years. However a year later, on a bus ride home from the airport, he found himself short of breath and experiencing chest pains.

He called his doctor and was told: "It sounds like you are having a heart attack!"

The doctor gave him some instructions over the phone, then sensing resistance, he demanded: "This is what I am ORDERING you to do. I want you to stand up and ask in a loud voice: "Does anyone have an aspirin or nitro? Then call out to the bus driver and say: 'Bus driver, I am having a heart attack!'" The bus driver will know what to do.

By following "doctor's orders," my friend was forced to overcome his resistance to ask for help. Someone on the bus had both aspirin and nitro. An ambulance pulled alongside the bus in less than three minutes. He learned later that one of his arteries had been 100 percent blocked. Standing up and asking for help had saved his life.

If you're an unemployed 99'er and haven't asked friends, family and neighbors for help, it's time to stand up, shout out, and ask for help.

Have you helped a 99'er in need? Post a comment to share your ideas, if you like.