When County Bank in Merced, Calif., failed last year, the subsequent job cuts hit its former chief executive Thomas Hawker hard. He would log on to a Web site the former employees created to swap information on job openings, only to see posts about how they could not find work.

"I felt a real sense of frustration that I could do nothing to help them," says Hawker, 66. "And that led me to looking for other things that I might be able to do to feel more useful."

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