Dwight Powery took six months off when he left Hewlett Packard after a 28-year career with the company in global account management and operations.
"But after awhile, I felt like, 'I've got to do something,'" said Powery who, at 51, already was an active volunteer with several nonprofits as well as a youth basketball coach.
Powery signed on as an "Encore Fellow" with the task of implementing a technology plan at InnVision Shelter Network, the Menlo Park-based nonprofit that provides homeless services in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
He hit it off with CEO Karae Lisle, soon switching from part-time to full-time, with his $25,000 stipend paid by the nonprofit. When his fellowship officially ended this month, Powery joined the regular InnVision Shelter Network staff as vice-president of strategy and technology.
Encore fellowships are the brainchild of Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Encore.org and author of "Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life." He led the creation of the Experience Corps (now AARP Experience Corps), organizing people over 55 to work on improving education in low-income areas, as well as The Purpose Prize, an annual $100,000 award for "social innovators in the second half of life."
The fellowships — now nation-wide — have been running in Silicon Valley since 2009 with support from companies like HP, Intel and Cisco Systems.
"A lot of people are saying, 'I'm only 55 or 65 and I still have a lot to contribute,'" said longtime technology executive Jere King, a Palo Alto resident who spent her 2012 Encore Fellowship working on marketing, IT and finance projects for Abilities United, which serves people with disabilities.
King was in her last week on the job as a vice-president at Cisco, where she had worked for 16 years, when a senior manager suggested she pilot-test the Encore Fellowship, with the company paying her stipend.
The fellowship at Abilities United, where she already was a board member, gave King "the ability to transition into the nonprofit world and sort of ease into retirement and contribute back in a new way," she said.
Lori-Ann Tarter, a 2013 Encore fellow, put her 25 years' experience in advertising, marketing and media planning to use at the Redwood City-based Center for Excellence in Nonprofits.
Tarter, who years ago worked in high-tech advertising and later as an independent consultant while helping with marketing in her husband's engineering consulting business, heard about the Encore Fellowship from a friend in her book club.
With her younger child approaching high school graduation, Tarter seized on the fellowship as one way to come to terms with her soon-to-be empty nest.
"I notice that a lot of my friends are looking at each other and saying, 'Gosh, what do I do? Once the last child graduates, everything stops. All that volunteer work I did has been tied in with (the children's) lives. Now I'm ready to get paid again.'
"The other side is, you don't necessarily need to make the same size salary and you may not need benefits. It's a great way to tiptoe back into the working world in a nonprofit environment."
Tarter said nonprofit managers have told her Encore fellows offer levels of talent and experience they otherwise couldn't have afforded.
And after decades in the corporate world, fellows King and Powery said the mission-driven nature of nonprofit work was a refreshing change.
"You're dealing with very passionate people solving challenging problems and it's an exciting environment to work in," King said.
But corporate America typically is far ahead of nonprofits — even those in Silicon Valley — when it comes to the operational side of things, with frequently outdated technology and other systems.
At InnVision Shelter Network, Powery has worked on implementing an online payroll system and is overseeing the rollout of new communication systems and routers to the agency's 240 employees in 18 locations, made possible by a nearly half-million dollar grant from Cisco.
"We're starting to use more of the technology to our advantage," Powery said, tiptoeing into systems like conference calling and Webex.
"There's a fine line between when to do it remotely and when to do it in person. Karae and I have talked about this — we don't want to go to one extreme."
One thing that attracted him to the agency, Powery said, was "the business view they took of things.
"They always have the mission in mind — getting people off the streets, getting them into supportive housing, out of homelessness, helping them find a job, case management, client services — but they're always looking at how to make it more effective.
"It's not just 'the mission at all costs.' That's what I enjoy about being there."
But as newcomers from the corporate world, he stressed that Encore fellows must "learn about the new sector, or business, you're in.
"You can't just come in and say, 'I was this executive at HP so I know how to do it.' You have to say, 'Here are some skills I have but I know nothing about homelessness. What can I learn? What can I read? Who are our partners? How does the funding come?'
"So there's a whole new learning curve I've had to go through this last year, which is great. The one thing with Encore is it gives you the ability to use the skills you're good at, and learn while you're there."
Powery said he's come to appreciate the complexities and different types of homelessness, including the mental health and family issues involved.
"I never knew about families that are homeless," he said. "It makes it exciting to know that what I'm doing has an impact."
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