I spent nearly 30 years working in New York in the financial news and data industry for companies, including Dow Jones, Citibank and Thomson Financial. Near-simultaneous changes in my professional and personal lives kickstarted my own “encore.” First, I moved to San Francisco, California to be with my partner and closer to my immediate family.
Then, in 2008, I was laid off at age 50 as a result of a merger. A severance package afforded me the time to explore options and, in 2011, I began my Encore Fellowship, hoping to apply my professional skills in the nonprofit sector.
The work was business development and strategy for a small information technology start-up called AltruIT, a for-profit subsidiary of a nonprofit child and family services agency in California called Aspiranet. At face value, it looks like any Silicon Valley start-up. We have even developed a cool app targeting youth ages 16 to 25.
What’s different is that the young people we are targeting are either in, or have aged out of, the foster care system, in many states at age 18. The app, called HealthShack, is designed to equip (and empower) them to make a successful transition to adulthood.
I came to AltruIT with literally no knowledge of either the child-welfare system or the health IT industry and certainly knew nothing about foster kids. The realities they face are staggering, including a higher likelihood of homelessness, poverty and having a child after exiting foster care, and those realities became a compelling motivation for my work.
I now am in the third year of my encore, and three things strike me most about my experience. First, that the Encore Fellowship program truly is a gift! I shake my head in wonder, still, at the concept of being paid for a year to be a sponge (to learn about a new field, about the non-profit world, about myself.)
The second is that I’m slowly beginning to understand that this work – the work of making a positive impact in the lives of people – really does “take a village,” including trained professionals and advocates, but also business people like me.
The third takeaway can be reflected best in one of my recent work meetings at the home of HealthShack’s founder, Cynthia Solomon, who devoted the last 20 years to improving the lives of underserved populations, and recently died of cancer. We had gathered to videotape a conversation between her and two young adults from Stockton in Aspiranet’s extended foster care program. For me, the moment spoke to the essence of my encore, which has been about taking the time to experience being human. As corny as that sounds, it rings true for me.
My encore is the beginning of many beginnings.
(Anne Gable was an Encore.org Aspiranet Fellow in 2011.)