Non-profit helps career changes to public service


"That is a small area that is going to vibrate (blows a handmade harmonica) faster and you get a higher pitch. So you're teaching the principals of vibration in a fun way, because then all the students get to make one," said Nigel Ball of the Resource Area for Teaching.

It's not often you see someone light up when talking about a handmade, educational harmonica, crafted from a tongue depressor, rubber bands and old scraps of file folders, but Nigel Ball sure does. After nearly three decades working at Hewlett Packard, he said goodbye to his high-tech career and hello to his passion for public education.

"I wasn't ready in any shape or form to kind of 'hang up my boots' so to speak and go on gardening duty, I just had to find a different challenge," said Ball.

He is now director of marketing for a Bay Area nonprofit called RAFT, or Resource Area for Teaching. It re-purposes donated materials into creative, hands-on learning tools. That educators use to help teach students subjects like science and math.

"The ability to see the impact of what you do on a daily basis was so much greater and so much more rewarding that I was completely hooked," said Ball.

Nigel has found what's called an encore career.

"It's a second opportunity to do something different, you know, to get on the stage again," said Jim Emerman of Civic Ventures.

Jim Emerman of San Francisco-based Civic Ventures is helping facilitate such encore moves. This national think tank on boomers, work and social purpose has launched an encore careers campaign to help a highly-educated pool of baby boomer talent, like Nigel, use their skills and transition into a new chapter of life.

"We really need this kind of talent. There are all kinds of shortages of people to work with youth, people to work on health care issues, people to address environmental challenges that we face. The work that combines social impact, making a difference, personal meaning and a continued paycheck," said Emerman.

Nigel was hired after connecting with RAFT through Civic Ventures' Silicon Valley Encore Fellow program. This new pilot initiative is just one of many efforts to bridge people from midlife careers to encore ones in public service.

"You get to a certain stage in life you make decisions for different reasons," said Emerman.

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