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December 02, 2010 - Image 64

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2010-12-02

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Livelihoods upended by circumstance
force a need for reinvention; three locals
demonstrate it can happen-- in Detroit,

By Bryart









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here is something
special about the hu-
man spirit that keeps
us believing tomorrow will
be better than today. This
has been especially true
with our national character;
when befallen by tragedy or
disaster, our audacity to seek solace in the
future endures — even thrives.
Yet, entering the fourth year of an eco-
nomic upheaval so substantial it has cost
the state of Michigan nearly 800,000 jobs
and more than 500,000 of its citizens,
few would fault a Michigander who threw
in the towel, called it quits and moved to
greener — or at least warmer — pastures.
In the waning days of this current cen-
tury's first 10 years, it seems near impos-
sible that two halves of the same decade
could be so radically different. In De-
cember 2000, as the afterward was being
written on an unprecedented economic
expansion during the 1990s, the outgoing
administration announced a projected 10-
year budget surplus just shy of $5 trillion
— and the nation was enraptured.
By mid-decade, with his successor's
$1.4 trillion tax cut temporarily secured,
the nation's debt clock — once dormant
— was again tabulating calculations of
how much each American owed to the na-
tional debt. Yet, times were still relatively
prosperous as housing prices soared and
easily available credit allowed even the
little guy to live large.
Today: a third president since then
occupies the White House; those $1.4 tril-
lion in tax abatements are set to expire,
raising nine out of 10 Americans' tax obli-
gation — and the projected budget deficit
for the current fiscal year has achieved
near parity in cost with the entire decade's
tax cuts.
Bringing it back home, in September
of 2000, the federal Bureau of Labor Sta-
tistics stated the unemployment rate for
the Detroit metropolitan region was 4.3
percent; at the same period mid-decade,
the rate had climbed to 8.3 percent. In
September 2010, the last month for which
official statistics are available, the Detroit

22 December 2010 I RED


111 I


region claimed an unemployment rate of
14.4 percent.
Of the 49 largest metropolitan areas in
the country, with a population exceeding 1
million, Detroit is only behind Riverside,
Calif, and Las Vegas in having the highest
unemployment rate in the nation, the
lowest being the Washington, D.C., area
at just under 6 percent.
And, behind the statistics lie the real
people who are affected by this downturn.
The staggering amount of capital lost dur-
ing the last several years, both financial
and intellectual, may never be fully
Nevertheless, in the face of circum-
stance, those whose backs are against the
wall — and whose families rely upon them
for sustenance — have little choice but to
carry on. There is no personal congress
to raise the debt ceiling, no individual
federal reserve to print currency. There is
only the drive to fight another day.
The stories of the three people you
are about to meet are unique to them-
selves — yet each echoes a shared theme:
Circumstance forced a change upon them
without their permission. And, true to
American form, all have surpassed their
own expectations to emerge stronger than
The call for reinvention, like that
intangible quality dubbed greatness, is
sometimes thrust upon those least sus-
pecting it. Overlay that necessity with our
area's sputtering economy, and you have
conditions near perfect for the mythical
Sisyphus himself.
Yet, these three endured, transcending
obstacles to enjoy new careers. They made
it happen with support from spouses
and family, friends and strangers alike —
perhaps even providence itself — and they
did it here, in Detroit.

It was a safety net most of us only
dream exists — a profitable business
started by a father and passed on to his
son. To Stephen Greenwald, 38, of Hun-
tington Woods, it was both the safety net

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ing a new career with temerity
he always had but never asked for
and dogged persistence. He
— and was ultimately taken away
said there wasn't a career expo
by circumstance.
unattended, a lead unexamined
Greenwald was a freshman in
or a networking opportunity
Ann Arbor when his father, Bud-
not seized.
dy, founded United States Check
"I made sure to set weekly
Cashing and Payroll Advance in
goals in terms of how many
1990. With the ensuing success of
resumes I would send out, how
the family business, the younger
many networking meetings I
Greenwald chose to pursue law,
Greenwa Id
would attend and how many
enrolling at Wayne State Univer-
people I would reach out to,"
sity's law school upon graduating
he said. "When I accomplished
from the University of Michigan.
After earning his J.D., and a year ofprivate those job search goals each week, I really
practice, he was called upon by fate to leave did feel like I accomplished something
law and join the family business; in 1998, his positive and that I was in control of my
father was diagnosed with cancer.
Describing himself fearless when it
Eventually running the daily operations
came to asking people for career advice,
of the company, the younger Greenwald's
achievement of financial success belied the Greenwald eventually came to the atten-
tion of ComForcare Health Care Hold-
unease of his father's deteriorating health;
ings Inc., a burgeoning home healthcare
Buddy Greenwald passed away in 2001.
company in Bloomfield Hills where he was
A subsequent marriage to Dr. Helene
eventually hired as its director of compli-
Greenwald and the birth of their first of
two children helped give Greenwald the
Well into his second year there as a C-
affirmation he was living the life he always
level executive, he is charged with oversee-
imagined. That sense of security was to be
ing the company's nationwide expansion
short-lived, however.
"The state of Michigan passed a law that plans, ensuring franchisees receive the
support necessary for success. Reinven-
adversely regulated my business," Green-
tion was a journey he never asked to take,
wald said. "I knew I was in trouble when
but he said he is all the better for having
I looked at my first six months of 2006
taken it.
[cash flow] versus the second six months;
"My wife and family were tremendous,"
I was off nearly 50 percent due to the new
he said of his metamorphic marathon.
"They truly wanted only what was best for
With monthly revenue halved, com-
bined with an ill-timed bank loan for
expansion, the seeds for what would even-
tually lead him in the fall of 2007 to shut-
ter the business were sewn that previous
Imagine founding a business, enjoying
summer when the bank called in his loan.
financial and critical success and operat-
"My biggest emotional challenges
ing as its principal for most of your adult
were depression and loss of confidence,"
life. Your achievements afford luxuries
Greenwald said of the 11 months he was
that, through hard work and good stew-
unemployed after losing the business. "We
ardship, include vacations, financing your
definitely cut back on our spending; I also
children's college education and still
took on some additional daycare respon-
having money in the bank.
Then imagine it ceases to exist.
Fortunate that his wife, a child psychol-
For Robert Schwartz, 50, the afore-
ogist, earned enough to ensure the lights
mentioned is no allegory; his career as a
stayed on; and between an occasional
freelance job, Greenwald approached find- residential homebuilder and land


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