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When Experience Matters: Making a Difference in Your Retirement

Local non-profit matches retirees with meaningful transitional service projects

In the few hours since starting her shift at St. Vincent de Paul’s Mesa Thrift Store, Josie has helped customers, organized items on the shelves and checked on some online Craigslist ads. With cheery Christmas music playing on the overhead speakers and customers filtering in and out, it’s been a fairly busy, yet relaxed morning for her.

Less than six months ago, this type of schedule was completely foreign to Josie. This year, she retired from Intel and had the opportunity to receive a unique retirement package. To help her transition, she joined Experience Matters, a local non-profit organization that connects adults over 50 with social service opportunities.

For the last 25 years, Josie worked as a Remote Operations Center Technician, with duties such as testing chips (processors) to see if they were good or bad, and repairing and monitoring equipment. For this job, she sat at workstation for 12 hours, working on a computer all day.

“It was a great long-term and good paying job. It gave me the stability I needed to raise my three daughters and make sure they got out on their own okay,” she says. “But near the end, I was ready to try something new. I wasn’t really enjoying my work as much.”

When Josie learned about the opportunity to find a service project through Experience Matters, she was excited for the chance to de-stress a bit and figure out what she wants to do next, all while helping others in her community.

“I want to keep working and I want to try something new, I’m just not sure what that is yet. This fellowship is giving me a chance to take the time to figure that out.”

As a nationwide program, Encore Fellowships are temporary work placement programs or projects designed to help corporate retirees transition into meaningful work in the social sector. Experience Matters was founded in Phoenix as a non-profit in 2009 and manages these fellowships for the state of Arizona.

According to Francesca Vanderfelt, Engagement Advisor at Experience Matters, the primary goal of the organization is to partner Arizona non-profits with experienced talent.

“There are so many valuable disciplines and skills that are developed through the corporate world over the lifetime of someone’s career. To be able to transfer those skills to the needs of our community is very powerful and very transformational,” says Francesca.

The Encore Fellowship is a 1,000-hour commitment program. Fellows (retirees) can work the 1,000 hours on a full-time basis for six months or part-time over the course of one year, depending on the needs of the non-profit and desires of the fellow.

Seeing a need in our retail services area, St. Vincent de Paul partnered with Experience Matters in the early fall.

“All of our thrift stores have needs. Since we’re mostly volunteer-driven, this partnership has been great for us,” says Alex Loya, Mesa Thrift Store manager.

When he found out about the new partnership, Alex jumped at the chance at taking on an Encore Fellow at the Mesa Thrift Store.

“I’m always looking for extra help at the store. Now that we have this program with Experience Matters, I’m able to divert some of the work load from me and our other two staff members,” he says.

Encore Fellow Josie works on Craigslist ads to resell valuable donations at the Mesa Thrift Store.

Alex hired Josie in October to be his right hand with posting valuable donation items online on Craigslist, eBay and OfferUp. While quickly learning this new job, she has also taken on other duties, such as unloading and sorting merchandise, processing donations, pricing items, staging furniture and ringing up customers.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better fellow,” says Alex. “She’s hard working and so easy to work with.”

Currently, SVdP has eight Encore Fellows, all of them from Intel and supporting the thrift stores in different ways.

“A lot of the Encore Fellows in the SVdP thrift stores are bringing in a background of process improvement and project management,” says Francesca. “Each fellow has a different focus. What we hope to accomplish by year-end is create better best practices so that the thrift stores can get the most value for the donations that come in. We also hope to see successful pilot projects being implemented at the different thrift stores roll out to all the stores.”

Before she began working part-time at the Mesa Thrift Store, Josie knew about the work of SVdP, but has learned so much more in just the 2 months she has been here.

“I think [SVdP’s] mission is important and I see it taking place here. Not only that, but it’s a completely different world than I’m used to, and I really like it. I was a little scared about my transition, but now I’m excited to learn about what really interests me and where I might be going next. And I love that this experience is giving me the opportunity to figure out this next stage of life, with a lot less stress.” she says.

Josie inspects a banjo for resale online at the Mesa Thrift Store.

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