|Mitchell Smith , Solar Richmond|
|Visit Solar Richmond's website|
Mitchell Smith says he learned long ago if you don't have a job, make a job for yourself.
The 50-year-old resident of Richmond, Calif., teamed up with an electrical contractor in Oakland to create a new solar installation firm that just won its first competitive bid: a $100,000 contract with Oakland's Housing Authority to install solar panels on a 25-unit apartment complex for older residents.
|Julie Greene , Wakeland High School|
Wakeland High School
After several years as a stay-at-home mom, Julie Greene wanted to get back to paying work. But she didn’t want to go back to marketing.
Greene, who had come from a family of teachers, felt discouraged by the lagging performance of American students in science and math. So she took her respect for the teaching profession and joy of learning and set out to become a teacher at age 48.
“I did not want a job for which I had to sacrifice time with my daughter,” she says. “The corporate world was no longer the right place for me.”
|John Kostibas , Marcus High School|
Marcus High School
John Kostibas saw the problem in the educational pipeline. As a major player in the telecommunications revolution and an engineer himself, he noticed “a huge decline in American engineering students, all stemming from a math phobia they had in middle and high school.”
He was 54. “My thought was that if I can help them get over this phobia, I can direct more students into engineering and technology careers.”
“Two years ago I was a Silicon Valley veteran of nearly 20 years,” writes Penny Mudd in a guest blog on The Gate, the online home of the San Francisco Chronicle. She dreamed of the day when she could “make a direct contribution to society. Maybe be a teacher. Gone would be the 60-plus hour workweeks. No more massaging boy wonders’ unchecked egos. Hello, summers off and dinner at home at a reasonable hour.”
|Michael Burke , Experience Corps|
When arthritis forced Baltimore cook Michael Burke to end his career of nearly 20 years, he signed on with Experience Corps, a national, nonprofit program that pairs volunteers with elementary school students for tutoring and mentoring.
“Kitchens and restaurants can be chaotic places,” says Burke, now in his mid-50s. “I wanted a change.”
|Sharon Ridings , U.S. Environmental Protection Agency|
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Working for 21 years in the financial industry and six years in the gaming industry took a toll on Sharon Ridings. “I no longer found personal or professional satisfaction in the work I was doing, and I was ready to take a leap of faith,” she says.
|Dick Goldberg , Coming of Age|
|Visit Coming of Age's website|
Coming of Age
After working 25 years as a writer, Dick followed his heart and helped launch a Philadelphia nonprofit that helps individuals explore their future.
|Ann Higdon , Improved Solutions for Urban Systems|
|Watch a video of Ann Higdon|
|Listen to an audio interview with Ann Higdon|
|Visit Improved Solutions for Urban Systems' website|
|Contact Ann Higdon|
Improved Solutions for Urban Systems
Purpose Prize Winner 2009
Ann Higdon knows the despair of going nowhere. Homeless as a kid, she grew up with no love for learning and little hope. It took just one teacher's kind words to drive Higdon to try harder and finish school. Through the years, she has convened a chorus of professionals to similarly inspire high school dropouts in Dayton, Ohio. Higdon's organization, which includes three charter schools, helps area dropouts earn their diplomas while training for jobs in health care, construction, computer operations, and manufacturing.
|James Otieno , Karibu Rafiki Foundation|
Karibu Rafiki Foundation
James transitioned from a high-level H.R. job with a corporation into a leadership role in the nonprofit sector through a paid yearlong Encore Fellowship. He’s also starting his own foundation.
Otieno was vice president of executive compensation and services at Hewlett Packard when he took early retirement in 2007. At age 47 he had spent more than two decades in the corporate sector and was already thinking about a way to give back in his community.
|Cecil Whiteaker , Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department|
Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department
This Army veteran has transferred his skill from shepherding new recruits to mentoring younger employees and counseling inmates in a sheriff’s department.
Capt. Cecil Whiteaker, 63, joined a sheriff’s department in 1991 with 20 years of experience in the U.S. Army, including two tours of duty in Vietnam, one in Korea and seven years in Germany. “I’ve considered myself a mentor for some time,” he says. “In Vietnam, sometimes you were the `old man’ at 21. As I progressed in rank and position in the military, I often found myself in that role.”
He retired from active duty in 1986 and worked as a patrol officer for a police department near Atlanta, then served as a counselor for patients with mental illness and substance abuse disorders at a mental health hospital before landing in the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department in Lawrenceville, Ga.
The department values experienced workers as mentors to younger staff members – a quality earned it an Encore Opportunity Award in 2009. Whiteaker, who coordinates the department’s training programs, says he enjoys this unwritten, informal part of his job, explaining, “To me, mentoring means trying to do your best to see that people have the best job knowledge and people skills that you can give them so that someday they will pass those skills on to someone else.”
One of his protégés, Deputy Trenell Bullock, 33, says Whiteaker has enriched his understanding of law enforcement with a positive attitude and constructive feedback. “Having a mentor is important in the work that I do,” he says.
Whiteaker is valued as a mentor to inmates, too. “Most inmates are under 30 and recognize that a person 50-plus has a lot of life experience and has been exposed to a lot of life’s problems,” says Chief Deputy Mike Boyd. “That same inmate will not seek out that type of advice and counseling from a deputy much younger, who may be their own age.”
There are other benefits from having a multigenerational work force. Whiteaker explains, “I find myself working with baby boomers, Xs, Ys and some Zs. I feel those 50 and older bring the work ethic to the department. They work hard and do a good job. Their life experience often influences the younger generation to strive a little harder. I see more change and acceptance of the older workers by the younger workers the longer they work closely together. I see some attitudes of the older workers change once they get to know and understand the younger workers. It works both ways.”
It’s a support system that paid off for Whiteaker in a personal way when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. “It took some time, but with an excellent treatment team and the care and love from my families – my wife and children and my ‘blue family’ (law enforcement) – I came back.”
He is, he says, “a survivor” who looks forward to continuing to help others. “My combination of military, law enforcement and hospital experience has been invaluable in my current job. I have had a great life and would not trade any of my experiences for anything.”
Read more about the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department
Learn more about Encore Employers who value experienced workers