I spent 20 years with Intel and as I approached retirement, I heard about the Encore Fellowships program. I felt it could be a viable track into retirement; doing something that I really had a passion for and giving back. When I heard about the project at Habitat for Humanity, conducting a survey to gather data about the impact that new homes had on families’ lives, I became more excited. Although at the time, I didn’t have a total understanding of what Habitat did, I did know that they built houses. Construction was an area of interest for me. I majored in architecture, however, through my work career, I followed more of an engineering discipline and finished my career as an engineering manager in the construction environment. So, this is where the construction and design side of building homes intrigued me. In addition, I’ve always had an interest in data mining and statistical analysis, interpreting what the data tells us, and I thought the survey development would be an opportunity to continue my interest in analytical review.
Before engaging with the fellowship, I had not done much volunteering as an individual on my own, but more as part of a corporate group. We would set out multiple times a year and participate on a volunteer’s day of work at various nonprofits. We paint the walls of a building or pack up beans at a food bank. We really did all kinds of projects, whatever the non-profit needed us to do. At the time, I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to the mission and the vision of the organizations that we volunteered for, but mainly the task at hand. Now, I’ve learned that you really get a better sense of appreciation for the work that you do, if you even have a small understanding of the organization’s mission and vision. At my work here at Habitat, I’ve tried to instill that we communicate our mission and vision when we have large groups or when individual volunteers come out. You could be picking up future volunteers as well as future donors.
My first weeks on the fellowship were definitely a challenge in terms of assimilating into a new work environment, especially coming from a high-stress corporate perspective. Here, it was a slower process, working with both staff and volunteers. The staff here was very gracious and welcomed me, even as I still kept trying to apply processes from the corporate perspective into the nonprofit world. As with any new role, there were several challenges that I faced: the lack of standardization from a computer software perspective, and the documentation of processes and procedures, everyone seemed to have them, but no formal documentation seemed to exist. One thing I did not miss was all the meetings that I had in the corporate world.
The home ownership impact survey I worked on went out to all the families that we had built homes for…that’s nearly 200 homes as Greater Albuquerque Habitat for Humanity builds approximately six houses a year, and have been in the area since 1987. The basis of the survey was to understand the impact of a new home on these families, how has it impacted how they live, what impact has it had on the kids, health, etc. We found many positive impacts from better grades for the kids to better overall health. In addition, we wanted to understand from a construction and layout of the home: Did they feel they had a large enough kitchen? Was the family room big enough to accommodate family needs? These responses helped us look at our plans and helped us make changes on how future houses are built.
After completion of the survey, I still had some time left on the fellowship, and they needed some help updating records in the mortgage department. So from my knowledge base and experience in Excel and Access, I took what they had and turned it into a mortgage spreadsheet with many automated functions. I guess they were satisfied and liked the work that I had done, because at the end of my fellowship they offered me a position as the Operations Manager. I now have ultimate responsibility for four departments—Construction, Volunteer, a new IT area to standardize our infrastructure and Family Services and Mortgaging departments.
I find the nonprofit and specifically Habitat for Humanity work extremely satisfying, compared to the high stress corporate work that I’ve done in the past. The end result is completely different. Our focus at the end of the day is “No one in Greater Albuquerque area will live in substandard housing” …it’s such a great vision.
Homes are not given to individuals, they still have a mortgage payment, but it’s at a 0% interest rate. We’re really trying to break the mold of poverty. If a family is on Medicaid or food stamps, the kids see that, and they could end up on Medicaid and food stamps as well. Trying to bring families into productive home-ownership is how we hope to change lives and the poverty model.
I think the overall EFN program is an ideal transition into retirement, and it gets a great vision out there: The nonprofit world is missing the expertise of retiring professionals and the EFN program gets the expertise in front of the nonprofits for their use. Without this program, I’d have found a part-time job someplace that wouldn’t be as fulfilling – or I might have said, the heck with it, and moved on to retirement, sitting home and doing yard work all day long, instead of making a difference.