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Older Nonprofit Workers Get $100,000 Awards for Their Work

Resource type: News

Chronicle of Philanthropy |

Original Source

By Heather Joslyn

Six nonprofit workers in their 60s and 70s today have been announced as the winners of the third annual Purpose Prizes, given by Civic Ventures, a nonprofit group in San Francisco that promotes projects that use the skills and experience of older Americans.

Each of the prize winners will receive $100,000.

The prizes, supported by Atlantic Philanthropies and the John Templeton Foundation, recognize people older than 60 who are engaged in innovative work to create social change.

This year’s winners were selected from more than 1,000 nominations; for the first time, the prizes recognized Americans whose work primarily benefited people in other countries, according to Jim Emerman, the Purpose Prize director; one $100,000 winner was added to the traditional set of five to accommodate the change.

Finalists were selected by a panel of 23 judges. This year’s panel—chaired by Sherry Lansing, the former Paramount Pictures studio head who now leads her own foundation—includes accomplished individuals from nonprofit organizations, business, government service, and the news media.

This year’s prizes also include nine awards of $10,000 each, distributed among 10 people. 
In the third year of the awards, says Mr. Emerman, judges are seeing increasing interest among the nominees in environmental concerns and related issues, such as the quality of the food supply, and a greater number of nominees—and finalists—who are scientists and engineers who seek to use their skills to solve social problems.

In addition, he says, work focused on helping young people or improving education represents “a big chunk of the nominations every year. There’s a lot of interest in people at this stage of life in leaving the world a better place for the younger generation.”

This year’s $100,000 winners work on a variety of projects, including efforts to rid consumer products of toxic chemicals, create simple farm machinery for developing countries, prepare incarcerated youths for life after their release, include rural black Americans in the “green” economy, recruit mentors for resettled refugees, and raise scholarship money for Latino college students.

The top-prize winners are:

Arlene Blum, 63, founder and executive director, the Green Science Policy Institute, Berkeley, Calif.

Ms. Blum, a biophysical chemist, founded her organization last year to advocate for the removal of toxic chemicals from consumer goods. Most recently, the institute helped win regulation of the way in which electronic equipment is manufactured, and is currently pressing California regulators to reduce the use of toxic fire-retardant chemicals in furniture and children’s products made in the state.

Joost (Jock) Brandis, 63, director of research and development, the Full Belly Project, Wilmington, N.C.

Mr. Brandis, a former film lighting director born in the Netherlands, won for his work with the Full Belly Project, which creates and distributes simple agricultural machinery to people in developing countries, to help them more easily raise food and generate income.

During a trip to the African nation of Mali in 2001 to help a friend fix a local, solar-powered drinking-water system, Mr. Brandis got the inspiration to create a simple, low-cost peanut sheller to help poor Africans prepare ground nuts for sale. He invented the Universal Peanut Sheller, which costs $28 each to make and has helped raise incomes in African villages by as much as 20 percent, according to some studies. The Full Belly Project has placed the shellers, and similar machines, in 17 countries, training local entrepreneurs to manufacture and distribute the machinery.

Mark Goldsmith, 72, founder and president, Getting Out and Staying Out, New York.

The group Mr. Goldsmith created offers prison inmates an array of mentor services to prepare them for productive lives after their release, including personal coaching, instruction in the basic daily skills adults need, and guidance in furthering their education and succeeding in their jobs. Participants in the program sign contracts, agreeing to attend school and accept coaching from the program’s mentors (most of whom are former corporate executives, like Mr. Goldsmith), and upon their release they receive clothing, an alarm clock, and other supplies to help them start their job search.

Mr. Goldsmith became interested in helping prisoners while volunteering as “Principal for a Day” at the school for inmates at Rikers Island prison. Getting Out and Staying Out participants from Rikers have a recidivism rate of only 10 percent, compared with 66 percent of all ex-offenders from Rikers.

Joe James, 61, founder and president, Corporation for Economic Opportunity, Columbia, S.C.

Mr. James left a job at the South Carolina commerce department in 2004 to create the nonprofit Corporation for Economic Opportunity, a development group that focuses on enhancing opportunity for low-income people and poverty-ridden cities and towns. The group’s Greening of Black America program helps black farmers sell produce directly to nearby farmers’ markets, increasing the food producers’ income and reducing the costs needed to transport their produce. The organization is also helping facilitate the production of inexpensive biofuels to further boost farmers’ income and lower their operating costs. The Greening of Black America effort is credited with helping Mr. James’s group make progress on its goals of stabilizing the region’s decreasing numbers of black farmers and alleviating rural poverty.

Michele McRae, 71, director, Giving + Learning, Fargo, N.D.

Ms. McRae, a retired language professor, runs Giving + Learning, which enlists more than 500 older adults to serve as tutors and mentors for immigrants from such strife-torn nations as Iraq and Somalia, many of whom have been resettled in North Dakota by the federal government. 
The charity, begun in 2001 as a pilot effort by Catholic Health Initiatives, offers recent immigrants such services as English-language instruction and tutoring for high-school-equivalency and driver’s tests. Mentors also give program participants guidance in securing jobs. 

Catalino Tapia, 64, founder and president, Bay Area Gardeners Foundation, Redwood City, Calif.

Mr. Tapia formed the Bay Area Gardeners Foundation in 2002 to help raise money from the wealthy clients of local gardeners to support scholarships for young Latino students. Last year, the fund awarded grants to 18 students; all recipients were from low-income families and each has pledged to give 20 hours of community service for each year in which they receive scholarships from the group.

The charity’s founder arrived in America from Mexico at age 20. Though he came to this country with only $6 in his pockets and his education ended in the sixth grade, he built his own gardening business. He says he was inspired to start the Bay Area Gardeners Foundation after seeing one of his sons graduate from the University of California at Berkeley’s law school.

To learn more about efforts by older Americans to promote good causes, see our Regeneration section.

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Civic Ventures, Purpose Prize, senior citizens