LYNDEN - When Gerrit and Ann Nydam moved back to Lynden from Montana in July, they returned without jobs - but didn't worry too much about finding work.
After all, the graduates of Lynden Christian High School had roots in the area and had never had a hard time finding employment in Whatcom County.
Not this time.
"I was very optimistic that I would find something," Gerrit, 52, said. "I didn't think it would be this tough. I really didn't."
That's because Gerrit had lived in Whatcom County for 42 years and said most people in Lynden knew him. And when Ann returned to Lynden last time - in 2001 after 20 years of living in Southern California - she found a job six weeks later.
When the couple moved to Montana in 2007, where Ann's father had moved the year before, they again found employment easily.
But with the economy still in the doldrums of the recession and Whatcom County unemployment hovering around 8.1 percent, the Nydams are struggling and living off the last of their share of the proceeds from the sale of their home in Helena, Mont.
"That's going to be gone as of the end of this month," Ann, 55, said. "We'll be down to zero."
They quit good jobs in Montana to return to Lynden - they wanted to be close to family again and to escape Montana's harsh and frigid winters - so they can't collect unemployment.
"We have no money coming in. It's just hemorrhaging out," Gerrit said, adding that he's applied to some 80 jobs, to no avail so far.
Ann has found part time work at a wine shop in Fairhaven whose owner knew her and offered her a job.
"It's not like he was desperately looking for somebody," Ann said. "I appreciate the fact that he gave me the opportunity."
Despite their financial straits, they say they have a saving grace in Ann's father, Al Mulder, who shares a rental home with them.
For the Nydams, the shared living arrangement isn't caused by the recession's impact on their lives; it isn't even new.
"The three of us get along real well," Ann said. "It's been a blessing for all of us."
They bought a house together in Helena, partly because Al Mulder, though self-sufficient, was lonely.
As the last of the sale proceeds trickle away - money that they had planned to use to buy a house in Lynden - the Nydams said they are fortunate Mulder, a former builder, has been able to pay the rent on the house and most of the utilities until they get back on their feet.
"It's nice for us financially because he's willing to support us that way," Ann said. "And so, in turn, anything we can do to help him in any way, shape or form, we do."
The Nydams have discussed the possibility of applying for food stamps if Gerrit's joblessness stretches into March and beyond, because they don't want to place an additional burden on Ann's father.
"That would be a last resort if we exhausted every other source," Ann said. "We know it's there. We know it's available. If we can avoid it, we will. We're hoping it won't come to that."
She added: "There are other people out there that are way more needy than we are."
Agencies that help people access social services say the Nydams are not alone in their struggle, noting that the recession has led to increasing calls for assistance.
That includes help paying for home energy bills, eyeglasses, bus tickets and rent, according to the Opportunity Council, which serves residents in Whatcom, San Juan and Island counties.
Demand for food stamps also has risen, according to Opportunity Council officials who say they are seeing people who have never applied for food stamps or other types of public assistance before.
As for their job-seeking efforts, Ann said she'll start again later in April. She has experience as an administrative office assistant and said she wouldn't mind finding work for another couple of days a week.
"Right now, it's going to be easier to find a part-time job than a full-time job anyway," she said.
For Gerrit, who has experience in manufacturing and customer service, the job search continues - with a change in strategy.
He figures he has a better chance if he talks to people, instead of relying on the online applications that are part of today's job searches. So he's networking face to face, with people he knows in Lynden, in church and where he used to work.
Gary Smith, regional manager of the Northwest Workforce Council, said that's a good way to go about it.
"That's a front-line strategy. Networking is a way to a job: how many people know you're looking, what skill sets you have. You build that exponentially, your chances grow equally," he said.
The council is a partnership of employment and training services providers that help businesses and job seekers in a four-county area, including through a career center in Bellingham.
Since 2008, the number of job seekers in the region who have turned to them for help has jumped by 185 percent, according to Smith.
"It shows the demand on the system," he said.
As for Gerrit, he hopes his job hunt will soon come to an end. The feed mill in Ferndale where he had worked for 22 years has a job opening. A salesman there, who knew he was looking for a job, contacted him and told him about it
He has an interview Tuesday, Feb. 15.
TO FIND HELP
Job seekers may find assistance through WorkSource Northwest, which offers services to job seekers and businesses in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan and Island counties.
Contact its career center, WorkSource Whatcom, at (360) 676-1521.
Learn more online at worksourcenorthwest.com.
This is part of an occasional series on how Whatcom County residents are handling the recession. For other stories from the series, go to bellinghamherald.com/recession.
If you've made some changes because of the recession that you think others would be interested in learning about, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with a quick outline of what you did and how best to contact you for upcoming articles.