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After Layoff, Volunteering Gives Comfort
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Tom Heckell worked for IBM for 22 years -- until this winter. 

"On January 21, I got a call from my boss. Unfortunately, my job was eliminated."

It was a call he wasn't expecting. 

"I always dodged the bullet in the past, so I wasn't quite ready to deal with it."

He made calls to his contacts at all levels of the company, to see if anyone could find a new slot for him. Nothing was open. Then...

"I got an email from the Harvard Business School Club of Connecticut asking for volunteers. And I had gotten a few of these over the years, and had never found the interest or the time to do it. I was actually looking for something to do."

The email was from the alumni group's Community Partners program. It recruits Harvard alums for volunteer consulting projects across Connecticut.

This one was for a social service agency in Darien, where Heckell lives. It's called Person-to-Person, or P-to-P. It provides assistance for families in economic emergencies. Food, clothing, furniture.

It wanted some help with its strategic vision as it faced historic demand for its services.

Ceci Mahar is P-to-P's executive director.

"We have more people coming to see us than we ever have had before. We're running about 90 percent ahead of our food requests than we were two years ago."

Tom Heckell interviewed other area nonprofits, to see how P-to-P fit in.  It was clear pretty quickly that this was a little different than the sales and market analysis he was used to. 

"I remember at one of the first meetings, we mentioned doing a SWOT analysis. And the MBAs were familiar wtih the term, but nobody from P-to-P was familiar with that term--which of course is strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It's sort of a classic consulting matrix that you do."

The project took three months in all. About a dozen volunteer analysts looked for efficiencies in each of its programs. The big test was whether each service connected back to its mission. 

Community Partners presented its final report at a late-night board meeting in a church basement. 

Gautam Ramchandani led the presentation. He's president of the Harvard Business School Club of Connecticut and started Community Partners in 2004.

"There's more satisfaction here, because we're really giving of our own time willingly. We're not doing because we're getting paid."

He works in high-tech, but he dedicated 20 hours a week to running this project.  

"And the collegiality of the team members is really different in this not-for-profit pro-bono world as compared to the for profit world where people tend to look out for themselves. Ultimately the profit motive does override many other motives. So i find this really fulfilling."

For Tom Heckhell, facing a new future he wasn't expecting, this offered some perspective.

"When you work for IBM and you've had a fairly priviliedged background--when you've had a chance to go to Harvard business school--quite frankly, you just don't appreciate and see the kinds of problems that your neighbors have."

And now, armed with graphs, charts, and new directives, Person-to-Person is looking to address those problems a little more effectively.