Intergenerational Inspiration Marks 10th Year of The Purpose Prize

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Innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, and future-mindedness—these are the qualities that Purpose Prize winners over the past decade have demonstrated, and this year’s six Purpose Prize recipients continue this trend. Announced on November 13, the winners’ innovative projects include intergenerational music camps and advocacy on behalf of children with disabilities. The awards for these social entrepreneurs over the age of 60 will be presented by Encore.org, with support from the John Templeton Foundation.

Rev. Belle Mickelson, an Episcopal priest and former science teacher, lives in Cordova, Alaska. Her nonprofit, Dancing with the Spirit, exemplifies the notion of “intergenerational engagement,” a key theme in this year’s projects. Together with her son, a bluegrass musician, Mickelson uses music to connect children and elders, reaching around 700 young people each year who live in remote villages across Alaska. They learn Athabaskan songs and other pieces from the indigenous music tradition, alongside tunes by modern country music singers.

Mickelson’s earlier career included heading up a high school, where she taught fisheries and marine education to the sixth grade, as well as teaching at the University of Alaska. During that time, she visited many remote populations, often noticing how depressed they seemed. In particular, she was struck by the frequency of teen suicides in the community. “At that point I thought, what could I do—one person?” she told The New York Times. “We got them back on track with music and art. We taught them to play the ukulele, to play the guitar. Once they gained confidence with music, then they could tackle English and math.” When she was ordained an Episcopal priest, she found she had an instant calling card to visit Alaska’s remote villages.

“So many of this year’s winners are working to develop young people and improve the prospects for younger generations,” says Marc Freedman, founder and chief executive of Encore.org. “What characterizes so many of the Purpose Prize winners is not only entrepreneurial thinking, but they’re also pragmatic problem-solvers, as opposed to wild-eyed idealists. We wanted to show there was an undiscovered continent of innovation and idealism in the older population that could be just a powerful force for society as the work being done by people in their 20s.”

The prizes, totaling $225,000, were awarded to six winners who have made a significant social impact during their “encore years” by turning their wisdom to the challenges of today.

The 2015 winners of The Purpose Prize are:

  • Laurie Ahern, Disability Rights International, Washington DC. Journalist Laurie Ahern became an advocate for children held in abusive institutions, fighting torture, training activists, and improving lives in 36 countries. ($100,000 Purpose Prize)
  • Patricia Foley Hinnen, Capital Sisters International, Golden CO. Micro-lending champion Patricia Foley Hinnen promotes equality and economic justice through bonds that have funded 15,000 international microloans in the fight against the feminization of poverty. ($25,000 Purpose Prize for Financial Inclusion, sponsored by MetLife Foundation)
  • Jamal Joseph, IMPACT Repertory Theatre, New York, NY. Former Black Panther Jamal Joseph has created a refuge where thousands of young people can escape the violence in their lives, learn leadership skills, and create art for social change. ($25,000 Purpose Prize)
  • Dr. Samuel Lupin, Housecalls for the Homebound, Spring Valley, NY. In partnership with his son-in-law and grandson, Dr. Samuel Lupin has modernized the tradition of medical house calls, bringing essential health care to more than 4,000 homebound elderly patients. ($25,000 Purpose Prize for Intergenerational Collaboration, sponsored by The Eisner Foundation)
  • Rev. Belle Mickelson, Dancing with the Spirit, Cordova, AK. Rev. Belle Mickelson, a science-teacher-turned-Episcopal-priest, helps young and old fiddle in harmony, building connections with 2,000 youth in 29 remote Alaskan villages. ($25,000 Purpose Prize for Intergenerational Impact, sponsored by The Eisner Foundation)
  • Laura Safer Espinoza, Fair Food Standards Council, Sarasota, FL. Former judge Laura Safer Espinoza moved from the courtroom to Florida’s growing fields, bringing human rights and economic justice to more than 30,000 farmworkers and their families. ($25,000 Purpose Prize)

In addition, 41 Purpose Prize Fellows were honored for other inspiring work. Now in its 10th year, the group of winners and fellows totals 508, the recipients of more than $5 million since 2006.

The decade is a landmark in challenging the outdated thinking associated with traditional notions of retirement and the contributions of experienced adults. “When we started, there was some nervousness about whether we’d have an adequate pool of nominees, one substantial enough to award a minimum of five prizes a year,” Freedman recalls. “A decade, and 10,000 nominations later, that fear has turned out to be unwarranted. In fact, 10 years ago, the idea that people in their 60s and 70s and beyond were every bit as innovative as those in their 20s and 30s was blasphemy. And the notion that they were every bit as committed to solving society’s biggest challenges was not even considered seriously,” he continues. The prize is still America’s only large-scale investment in this group of people who combine their life skills and talents for the social good. “But we can’t wait to see what these creative, passionate innovators will do next,” Freedman concludes.

The 2015 Purpose Prize winners and fellows will be honored on February 10, 2016, at a gala celebration at the San Francisco Jazz Center. The evening will also include a multimedia tribute to a decade of honorees and their work.