Ten Innovators Nab Purpose Prizes
An Oakland housecleaner finds a new role as an environmental watchdog for her inner-city neighborhood. A former Cleveland school official battles to keep thousands of families in their homes. A retired New York lawyer plants millions of trees in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
These innovators are all over 60 and are among the winners of the 2010 Purpose Prizes, annual awards that recognize social entrepreneurs who use their experience and ingenuity to make a difference in their community or the world.
"Several Purpose Prize winners are tapping the strength of their neighborhoods -- tackling local problems by organizing people for a stronger voice against issues like foreclosures and industrial pollution," says Purpose Prize Director Alexandra Kent. "All of the winners are using their lifelong experiences and leveraging their networks in encore careers to remake their communities for the better."
Civic Ventures, a San Francisco group that helps people find meaningful work in later life, has awarded its Purpose Prizes for the past five years. In Philadelphia tonight, five winners receive grants of $100,000 each, while five others receive $50,000 grants to continue their work.
Despite the diverse nature of their undertakings, the honorees all share a common passion for the nonprofit projects they've launched at what is traditionally considered retirement age. That's a good take-away for anyone considering nonprofit work.
"Start small," Kent says, "and take steps that leverage your skills and networks, knowing that now more than ever we need big ideas that come from experienced and passionate people."
Here's a snapshot of this year's Purpose Prize winners.
Hometown: Rockford, Ill.
Organization: Community Collaborations Inc.
Mission: Barsema understands the troubled men and women who congregate at Carpenter's Place, the homeless shelter he opened a decade ago. Years earlier he was one of them, losing his marriage, house and business to alcoholism before hitting bottom. Eventually Barsema got sober, started a construction company and opened the shelter in Rockford, 80 miles northwest of Chicago. He soon quit the construction business to run the homeless shelter full time. In 2006, he developed software to link area outreach programs like his so they could do a better job of working together to assist people in need. Today, 140 agencies in seven states use Barsema's software. Harvard University honored Barsema with its "Bright Ideas in Government" award in October.
Attitude: "I couldn't go back to just construction," he says. "It was nothing of real lasting value. If I could help someone, that was of lasting value."
Hometown: Marylhurst, Ore.
Organization: Africa Bridge
Mission: Childs grew up in Tanzania, the son of a British ex-pat agricultural officer, but left for college and didn't return until 35 years later,. That was in 1998. By then, the country had been devastated by poverty, and HIV/AIDS had made orphans of 30 to 40 percent of children living in rural villages. Within two years of his return visit, Childs left an executive position at Abbott Laboratories and started Africa Bridge, a nonprofit economic development organization that helps rural families start agricultural and livestock cooperatives to earn money for themselves and the orphans they're raising. In the past decade, Childs and his Africa Bridge staff have set up co-ops, schools and clinics in 16 villages. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a board member, and organizations such as Abbott and Newman's Own Foundation are backers.
Attitude: "It's a great thing. The kids can go from sleeping on a dirt floor to sleeping in a concrete home on a bed with a blanket," Childs said in a TV interview earlier this year.
Hometown: Oakland, Calif.
Organization: West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project
Mission: The grandmother of 11 and one-time housecleaner became an air-quality crusader in the mid-1990s to combat pollution caused by the freeways, factories and port that ring her poor, mainly African-American West Oakland neighborhood. After Gordon and her neighbors successfully lobbied the Environmental Protection Agency to declare a local freeway project a Superfund site, she was inspired to start the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project to study other local eco-issues, most related to the Port of Oakland. Gordon's accomplishments won her an appointment as a port commissioner, a role she's using to monitor the facility's steps to go green, including electrifying docks by 2014 and retrofitting port-bound trucks with pollution filters. Gordon "has lifted up the spirit of the West Oakland community by getting environmental information out there and making it common knowledge," Oakland Deputy City Administrator Margaretta Lin told Civic Ventures. "She never gave up."
Attitude: "Even when you face adversity, there is something that can spark you, move you, get you engaged," Gordon says.
Organization: Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People
Mission: Inez Killingsworth was helping families who got behind on their mortgage payments keep their homes long before the recession decimated Cleveland's housing market. But in the past two years, that activity has mushroomed. In 2009 alone, Killingsworth's 17-year-old nonprofit aided 8,000 Ohio families -- with more than 80 percent receiving some form of loan modification that helped them stay put. Killingsworth previously worked in building operations for Cleveland public schools and was close to retiring when she developed a taste for community activism. In 1993, she started a nonprofit to help homeowners in Cleveland's Cuyahoga County deal with neighborhood issues. By the late 1990s, she had zeroed in on battling predatory lenders. Three years ago, Killingsworth took the foreclosure counseling agency statewide, renaming it Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People (ESOP). Since then, she has testified before Congress and gotten local banks to agree to create procedures to avoid more foreclosures. Last year she raised $2.8 million in grants from government agencies, foundations and charitable groups to support her work.
Attitude: "ESOP has a well-earned reputation for loading up buses with ripped-off homeowners and traveling to the homes of CEOs and managers of local predatory lenders and throwing sharks at these loan sharks until they agree to fix their bad loans," Killingsworth testified before a Congressional subcommittee in 2007. "Some tell us that doing this isn't nice. I suppose they are correct, but we don't think what these lenders have done to our neighborhood is very nice, either.
Judith Van Ginkel
Organization: Every Child Succeeds
Mission: As a girl, Van Ginkel tagged along with her pediatrician father on house calls. Decades later, she runs a program that sends counselors on similar house calls to first-time, low-income mothers. Since 1999, Every Child Succeeds has made more than 300,000 early-intervention visits to 16,500 families in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky. It's made a difference. Mortality rates for children in the program are 30 percent lower than the national average and less than half the rate in Cincinnati, according to a 2008 study by Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, which helped found the program. Van Ginkel was a 60-year-old hospital administrator when she started the program and has expanded its offerings to deal with childhood literacy and maternal depression. Admirers call her a tireless fundraiser; under Van Ginkel's guidance, Every Child Succeeds has developed 15 retail products to generate revenue, including web-based data collection software.
Attitude: "The more who are willing to help, the more children succeed," she writes in a blog post.
Barbara Chandler Allen
Hometown: Lafayette Hill, Pa.
Organization: Fresh Artists
Mission: Retired museum administrator Barbara Chandler Allen drew from what she knows best -- the world of art -- to raise money for Philadelphia's cash-strapped school arts program. Allen's two-year-old nonprofit licenses student artwork, blows it up to poster size and offers it to companies in exchange for donations for classroom art supplies. In 2005, the district commissioned Allen to find art for its 85,000-square-foot headquarters but gave her next to nothing for a budget. When people inquired about buying wall-size enlargements of student work, she came up with the idea for Fresh Artists. Since then, Allen has created a gallery of 350 images, raised more than $325,000 and donated more than $100,000 in supplies to 265 schools. Last year, she also gave $800 art grants to seven public school art teachers. Not only does the organization fill a dire need, Allen said in a 2009 radio interview, "It's the children paying it forward to each other."
Attitude: "I've decided that for what's left of my life, this is what I want to be doing," she says.
Hometown: New York City
Organization: Global Partnership for Afghanistan
Mission: Freyer's passion for Afghanistan began in the 1960s, when she interned for the Afghan ambassador to the United Nations and grew as a newlywed when she and her husband trekked through the country as part of a two-month car trip. The 9/11 attacks rekindled her interest, and in 2002 Freyer helped start an organization to bring trees back to a country whose landscape had been swept bare of forests, farms and orchards during decades of war. An international litigator for a major New York law firm, Freyer retired last year to work on the effort full time. She directs an organization that has grown to 180 people and an annual budget of $6 million. The result: More than 8 million poplar and fruit trees have been planted in 12 provinces; tree-planting projects in five more provinces are set to start this year. Her organization also helps Afghan farmers build storage facilities and water management systems and runs agriculture training programs.
Attitude: "So many people want to do something good and make a difference for others -- people who are in this stage of life who've had successful careers -- and they don't know where to turn," she says. "My advice is to think about what moves you, then go do something about it."
Hubert "Hubie" Jones
Organization: Boston Children's Chorus
Mission: Jones had retired from an academic career when an outing to a Chicago children's choir performance set him on a new project. Jones, the first African-American dean of Boston University's School of Social Work, decided that starting a similar children's choir in Boston could promote artistic excellence while also helping kids bridge racial and socio-economic divides in the city. He began the Boston Children's Chorus in 2002 with 20 students. Today the group -- dubbed the "Ambassadors of Harmony" -- has 400 elementary and high-school members singing in nine choirs. Forty-three percent are African-American, and almost half are from households with incomes of less than $50,000 a year. Jones has raised enough money from foundations, governments, corporations and individuals to underwrite chorus appearances across the country and as far away as Japan and Jordan.
Attitude: "Be clear about how you can leverage your social capital to acquire human and material resources to be successful," he says. "It only takes a few people fiercely committed to make change to achieve important results."
Hometown: Raleigh, N.C.
Organization: New Voices Foundation
Mission: Stedman's agency helps children who can't walk or talk due to severe physical impairments attend public schools. The nonprofit works with schools, therapists and parents to assesses children and is building a special school for students in the Raleigh area who need intensive services. Stedman started working with physically disabled children as a psychologist-in-training in the late 1950s. He later helped design the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and had a hand in founding the Special Olympics. But his interest isn't just professional. His daughter Lara had cerebral palsy and couldn't speak or move. She died in 2002 after getting a college degree with help from the kinds of technologies New Voices now provides to many other children.
Attitude: "I don't intend to leave -- either as a board member or an advisor -- until they carry me out the door," he says.
Hometown: Whitesville, W.Va.
Organization: Coal River Mountain Watch
Mission: A Vietnam veteran and former tool and dye shop owner, Webb has spent the past decade fighting to end mountaintop coal mining in Appalachia, where the practice has razed trees and animal habitats. Webb started one environmental group, Mountain Justice, and is a community organizer for another, Coal River Mountain Watch. He's appeared before the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development and helped plan the Sept. 27 Appalachia Rising demonstration in Washington, D.C., where 100 people were arrested. Webb has helped people see they can stand up for themselves, says fellow activist Andrew Munn."This is the first step toward permanently changing the political dialogue, and Bo is leading the charge," Webb says,
Attitude: "Being a businessman allowed me to get in the face of the coal industry and the governor and regulatory agencies and still maintain good relationships with them," Webb says. "Being a Marine gave me the toughness to look them dead in the eye and not flinch."