So far, numerous applications for magazine and public relations jobs have produced nothing—often not even an acknowledgment, she says. Alai considered becoming a teacher, but the prospect of investing time and money in education courses and state certification seemed questionable at a time when many school districts are shedding experienced teachers.
She has found ways to use her skills in community service. Alai is on the Community Health Advisory Board for Morristown Memorial Hospital and works on the publicity committee for hospital fundraisers. She has become involved with the Rotary Club of Morristown, where she writes for the newsletter, and she recently helped raise money for Haiti earthquake relief. “It gets you away from thinking about yourself—‘Poor me, I have no career because my industry collapsed,’ ” she said. “For these people in Haiti, their world literally did collapse.”
An Unexpected Gift
For Memphis-born Chandra Hayslett, journalism was a calling, education reporting a passion, and New Jersey the place she wanted to make her career. So in January 2003, when Dick Hughes, her former editor at Gannett’s Home News Tribune in East Brunswick, New Jersey, asked her if there was anyone, anywhere he could call for her before he retired, Hayslett knew the answer.
“I said, ‘You know what? I really love New Jersey. I want to stay in New Jersey. Can you call The Star-Ledger?’” At the time Hayslett, thirty-five and full of can-do spirit, was a municipal reporter at Gannett’s Asbury Park Press. As a young reporter at The Home News (the paper merged with The News Tribune in 1996), she had competed against more seasoned Ledger reporters, admired the quality of their writing, and envied the resources the paper offered. The Ledger “was the destination paper.”
Hayslett joined the Ledger in September 2003, covering twenty-four school districts from the Middlesex County bureau. She loved the job. By the beginning of 2008, however, staff cuts made a dedicated education reporter an unaffordable luxury in the bureau and Hayslett was reassigned to a municipal beat, which she didn’t enjoy as much. And after three years without raises it was clear to her that the industry was in trouble. When the buyout was offered, she took it. Her husband is an engineer and they have no children; she decided she could afford to go, and did so on December 10, 2008.
“I thought I was marketable,” she says, “but I probably applied for 300 jobs and went on three interviews in 2009.” She notes that her eleven years of experience exceeded the requirement for many of the jobs she sought.
So she considered public relations. She started Hayslett Media Consulting from her home in February 2009 and picked up some clients, though not enough to live on. In March, while still looking for full-time work, she decided to volunteer a couple of days a week—press releases and clerical work—at her church, the 6,000-member First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset. It was partly just to get out of the house. She also thought her politically connected pastor, a former New Jersey secretary of state named DeForest B. Soaries Jr., might be able to help in her job hunt. But he was so busy that for eight months Hayslett never even saw him in the office.
When she finally did, she gave him her résumé. “He called me that afternoon and said I need you on my team,” Hayslett said, still excited at the memory. “I started January 4th.”
Hayslett is director of communications and marketing for First Baptist and its affiliated Central Jersey Community Development Corp., which runs five nonprofits that deal with such issues as housing assistance and foster care. “This is a gift from heaven, this job. I mean literally—it’s the church,” she said. “I loved journalism. I had a great run in journalism. I never thought I would be this happy after journalism. But I’m happier.”
‘A Pretty Wonderful Floor’
Brad Parks got his first byline on November 5, 1988, covering a high school hockey game for The Ridgefield Press in Connecticut. He was fourteen.