These two people found ways to take sabbaticals from their jobs. February 28, 2006 She started a charter schoolWhen Timberland, the New Hampshire-based apparel company, began offering its employees full-time leave to perform community service, Fabienne Hooper, 48, thought the idea was great -- for somebody else. "There was not anything special I wanted to do," says Hooper, a process integrity manager at the company. Then members of her community, in Barrington, N.H., began setting up an arts-and-technology charter school in nearby Dover, which Hooper hoped would be a fit for her son, Richard, then 15. So she joined the planning sessions. "We couldn't afford an administrative-type person," she says. "That's when I started thinking about a sabbatical. I could be the liaison between the school and the board of education." When she presented the idea to Timberland, Hooper said she was willing to keep up with her job. "But my manager said, 'No way. You're going to walk out the door and not look back.'" Hooper started at the Cocheco Arts and Technology Academy on January 3, 2005, three weeks before it opened. "We didn't have a bus to take the kids. We didn't have a lunch program. We needed to figure out schedules." Still, the school took hold and has since doubled its enrollment, to 41 students. Her sabbatical over, Hooper gets hugs from students when she visits the classrooms. As for Richard, class of '08, "he went from hating school to passing his classes and talking about college," says Hooper. "He loves it." Advertisement He climbed the highest mountain Neal Jing took three years to come up with his sabbatical plan, but when he did, it was a doozy. The Intel manager, who was born in China, chose to use his eight-week, company-paid leave to climb Mount Everest. "China is really proud to have the highest mountain on its border," says Jing. "As a child, I was given the perception that climbing Everest is the greatest thing you can do." One problem: Jing had never seriously climbed. So he tackled Mount Rainier, in Washington State, and Aconcagua, in Argentina. He also made weekend treks up Camelback Mountain, near his home in Chandler, Ariz. In April 2005, ten months after he went vertical, Jing joined an Everest expedition. To keep costs down, Jing took the risk of going with an unguided team -- "the guided service walks with you, but here everybody climbs on his own" -- and chose the north side of the mountain, a tougher climb that costs $10,000 less than the south face. His expedition ran about $30,000, compared with $80,000 for cushier climbs. Jing also spent $20,000 on his pre-Everest training. Jing, then 40, made it to the mountaintop on May 21, one of only two group members to succeed. He later traveled to his hometown in China, where he was given a hero's welcome. "In real life, the challenge is much more than Everest," says Jing. "Climbing Everest, you have a clear goal. Life is not always so clear."