Encore Fellows Tackle Tech Projects

By Mary Anne Chute Lynch

When Mitchi Haight drives from Sacramento, Calif., to her retreat home in Washington state, she passes a sign on the highway for the Pacific Crest Trail.

“I always want to get off,” and explore the trail, she said. For the last year, she’s been exploring the PCTA from a different angle and applying her vast technology experience at every step.

Jacqi Feerick recently hiked a section of the PCT near Squaw Valley through the snow, retracing a hike done several months earlier with a group from the PCTA—a hike that crossed paths briefly with a southbound PCT thru-hiker. She, too, has been studying the PCTA from top to bottom over the last year and now has a true appreciation for what the PCTA is accomplishing.

“It is totally coincidental that we are at the same place” at this time, Mitchi said.

The two collaborated briefly when they started at Intel Corp. 20 years ago. When the company offered them early retirement packages last year with the opportunity to explore the nonprofit world as Encore Fellows, they signed on.

Jacqi Feerick on the PCT. Photo by Teresa Raichart

The national Encore Fellows Program is meant to be “a transitional opportunity, which takes people who retire from the corporate environment to nonprofits,” Jacqi said.

The program matches your skills to the nonprofit and its needs.

At age 57, Jacqi wasn’t thinking about retiring from her Treasury job when the fellowship opportunity arose last year. But she considered it. “You have to work hard with my job, and it was time for a career change,” she said. “I was eligible for retirement, so it was too hard to turn down.”

The retirement offer came three years early for Mitchi as well. “I was planning to retire at 60,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to work for a nonprofit. I’ve always wanted to do something that was more meaningful.”

With a larger-than-expected number of newly retired workers longing to serve in nonprofit organizations, PCTA reached out to the American Leadership Forum’s Encore Fellows Program, seeking to connect with talented retirees. The PCTA’s Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Teresa Raichart had two projects waiting to be tackled. “We interviewed them, they interviewed us,” Teresa said.

Realizing they were a mutually good fit, Jacqi and Mitchi found themselves bringing their business expertise to the PCTA’s Sacramento headquarters last December. Intel pays each of them a stipend for 1,000 hours of service, at no cost to the PCTA.

“Jacqi used her professional experience to help me with some projects I wasn’t able to get to,” Teresa said. “She has been helping us set up good systems in technology and human resource management.”

The PCTA has employees in three states and each state has different labor laws, plus some PCTA regional representatives cross state lines in their work. “I was working on their worker’s compensation, making sure everything was in order and that processes were good,” Jacqi said.

“It was really great having a different perspective,” Teresa said of Jacqi’s insights. “Many of us only have worked in nonprofits, and it was really helpful to think about things in a different way.”

Mitchi’s experience in software development and project management has been used to analyze and streamline the PCTA’s database system, making it more efficient. For example, PCTA must track the work of more than 2,000 volunteers putting in 100,000 hours or better each year.

Mitchi Haight and PCTA Trail Information Manager Jack Haskel at the PCTA office. Photo by Teresa Raichart.

“Mitchi is looking at upgrading our database to track volunteer hours, to whom we’ve issued permits, tracking all kinds of contacts,” Teresa explained. “The process she’s taking us through has been great. It’s something we can use in the future.”

After working 20 to 25 hours per week with the PCTA, Mitchi has grown to appreciate the flexible work schedule and being able to work remotely.

“It’s been a really great experience,” she said “It’s definitely not as stressful. It’s very interesting. I am amazed at what they can do with so few people.”

And she is torn about whether she wants to go back to full-time work. “When I was in college I hiked a lot,” she said. “There are so many things I want to do in my retirement.”

Jacqi similarly wants time for crafting, quilting and tent camping with her husband. “We will be doing that a lot more,” she said. “My interest has been piqued.”

But, Jacqi is not yet ready to retire. “I am definitely going to go back to work,” she said. “It was a great opportunity for me to be challenged. I received some great experience.”

As for the PCTA’s experience with the Encore Fellows, Teresa said: “If we have the right project and the right person, we would do it again, because Jacqi and Mitchi have been great.”