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Sometimes a story comes along that is so powerful and impactful that all we can do is shake our heads in wonder at the feat. Today that story is about Jenny Bowen and her non-profit organization, Half the Sky Foundation.

Fifteen years ago Jenny saw a news photo of a starving Chinese girl and decided, with her husband, to adopt a baby from China. The adoption process revealed conditions in Chinese orphanages that appalled her – rampant neglect, and the resulting effects of children with severe developmental delay. The 20-month-old girl Jenny adopted, Maya, was extremely withdrawn and could neither walk nor talk. But after one year in her new home Maya was happy, healthy and quickly catching up to her peers developmentally.

The experience prompted Jenny to found Half The sky with the intent of transforming the way China cares for all its orphaned children. That’s right: One woman in Berkeley, Calif., set out to change age-old practices in the entire Chinese government. Using theater skills from her career as a screenwriter and filmmaker, she persuaded China’s government to allow a limited pilot program. If the results were good, she was told, China might consider expanding the effort.

Turns out the results were beyond good. The officials were blown away at how well orphans responded to loving, nurturing care. Today Half The Sky, with 1,800 staff members in 51 Chinese cities, is training every child welfare worker in China and building the official government Web site for the child welfare system. “There’s a light on in China and they [will] never go back into darkness again,” Bowen says.

Learn more about Jenny Bowen’s story in a Today Show “You’re Life Calling” feature with Jane Pauley on February 14 between 8:30 and 9 a.m. ET. Following the Today Show at 10 a.m. ET, Jane Pauley will be talking with Jenny on her call-in radio show, Ask Jane.  you can join the conversation at 1-855-444-JANE (5263).

For her phenomenal work and impact, Jenny Bowen is a winner of the 2011 Purpose Prize, awarded annually by Civic Ventures to five people over 60 who are working to change the world for the better. Know someone 60+ who is changing the world for the better?  Nominate him or her for the 2012 Purpose Prize.

Half The Sky is one of only 16 nationally recognized foreign NGOs in China – and the first ever to form a partnership with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which oversees the country’s orphanage system. The organization runs programs addressing all stages of childhood and recently launched its China Care Program, which offers free medical services, including surgery for disabled orphans.

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