Downsized, But Not Down And Out

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Nicholas Drossos accepts a certificate of appreciation from Valentina Janek after hosting the Long Island Writers Club meeting at Frank’s Steak, where he is a principal owner and general manager. At left is Donna Cariello, founder and president, Long Island Way. At right is Stephanie Larkin, founder and publisher of Red Penguin Books. (Contributed Photo)

Forget the historically low unemployment numbers; any number of economists can point out what is misleading about them.

One of the sad realities is that millions of white collar workers have been laid off and have never recaptured their earning power. They’ve dropped out of the labor force, settled for hourly employment or have become part of the so-called gig economy.

Valentina Janek, a Floral Park native and longtime resident of West Hempstead who recently moved to North Valley Stream, is one victim of this downsizing. In 2004, she lost her job as operations manager for CMP Media in Mahasset. Even including a period of employment with Nassau County, she has not held a post worthy of her experience and talent set since.

She’s also has had to overcome personal loss in this interval, as both her husband Ronald and sister, Maria, died within a short span.

Janek started the Long Island Breakfast Club to gather people who faced similar midlife, middle class employment challenges. Unlike the classic John Hughes comedy, which featured high school teens, this club featured older citizens who were trying to land suitable employment. According to Janek, the club got The Breakfast Club actor Anthony Michael Hall to come to a meeting once.

“I started the club as a joke, having been on so many interviews and being told I was too experienced, had an income that they would not consider, and [was] too old—without them saying it,” Janek said.

It was at the interviews that she met up with Stephanie Carlino, Chris Fidis, Patricia Locurcio, and JoAnn Fiorentino Lucas, who were cofounders of the club.

“We kept running into each other going for the same interviews and realizing that at 50, we would no be getting considered for the big corporate jobs any longer,” Janek said.

The five started meeting at different  diners to help each other, and the club now has grown to about 50 members. According to its Facebook page, the club “has provided career counseling, support and advocacy for experienced, in-transition professionals on Long Island. LIBC’s goal is to assist with providing referrals, companionship, business networking, contacts for interviewing and mentors for each individual’s success.”

Janek estimates that club members collectively have been on more than 3,000 interviews, but the corporate world was no longer open to them.

“We all convinced ourselves to become entrepreneurial and we now do gigs. Part-time freelance opportunities are easier to come by through networking and speaking to other people in the community,” she said.

In this interim, Janek put out a novel, In Love and Friendship, and last year published From Fired to Freedom: How Life After the Big, Bad Boot Gave Me Wings. According to her website, “This book is a compilation of inspirational, engaging, and even funny stories from people who have received the proverbial ‘pink slip’ and come out alive on the other side, better and brighter for it.”

Much of the material came from stories people told at the Breakfast Club meetings.

Along with her publisher, Stephanie Larkin of Red Penguin Books, and Donna Cariello from Long Island Way—whose motto is “Linking Businesses with Non-Profits for Good”—Janek started the Long Island Writers Club (LIWC) earlier this year. Its aims are to “provide instruction, support, encouragement and community to Long Island’s budding authors.”

Because she hoped to “upgrade” the meeting space for their monthly gatherings, Janek convinced Nicholas Drossos of Frank’s Steaks in Jericho to donate the space and offer discounts on the dinners.

The September meeting of the LIWC drew about 50 people, and Janek called Drossos, “our hero.”

“Valentina came in one afternoon and started talking about her group, and their program,” Drossos related. “She’s a well-spoken woman and had some nice things to say. I wanted to help her out [because her group is all about] helping people out.”

Drossos said he’s 62 and remarried, and has a 6-year-old kid.

“I always think of what would happen to me if I was out of work at my age,” he reflected. “The last couple of years have been tough in this business and I can’t afford to retire.”

Frank’s has been a fixture in Jericho for 31 years, while he and a partner have operated a Frank’s in Rockville Center for 17 years.

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, Frank’s will host the LIWC at 6:30 p.m. Janek will speak on the various publishing options available to authors.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19 at the same time and venue, author Linda Springer will talk about “strategies for managing every author’s two biggest issues—writers’ block and time management.”

The last meeting will be on Dec. 10. Cariello, LIWC founding member from Levittown and author of Ambassadors of Hope, will discuss “exploring character types and development in various genres, including fiction and memoir writing.”

Janek is also active on GovsRadio.com, associated with Governor’s Comedy Club in Levittown. She appears on Mondays and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m.

Visit www.longislanbreakfastclub.org for more information or email Janek at vjanek@optonline.net.

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