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En español | An Episcopal priest and a former judge. A journalist and an artistic director. A doctor and an advocate for impoverished women. They’re the winners of the 2015 Purpose Prize, which recognizes people over age 60 who combine passion and experience to find new ways to solve tough social problems.
The prize, announced Nov. 13 by the nonprofit Encore.org, will award a total of $225,000 to the recipients, selected by a jury that included such notables as Michael Eisner, Sidney Poitier, Arianna Huffington, Jane Pauley and AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins.
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Meet the winners (each will receive $25,000 unless otherwise noted):
Laurie Ahern, 61, president, Disability Rights International,
Washington, D.C. On a trip to Uruguay 11 years ago, journalist Ahern found children in cages. “I knew my life had changed right then and there,” she says. Ahern started a campaign to end abusive institutionalization of children around the world and trains activists for the cause in 36 countries. She will receive a $100,000 prize.
Patricia Foley Hinnen, 62 , founding CEO, Capital Sisters
International, Golden, Colo. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia and then a federal employee with international assignments, Hinnen witnessed predatory moneylenders terrorizing female market vendors. “What I saw … in more than 60 countries was the increasing feminization of poverty,” she says. Using $1.5 million raised from $1,000 investment bonds available to average household investors, Capital Sisters has funded 15,000 microloans for women-owned businesses in Guatemala and the Philippines and aims for $15 million to fund 150,000 loans in five countries by 2020.
Jamal Joseph, 62, founder and executive artistic director,
IMPACT Repertory Theatre, New York City. The former Black Panthers member felt helpless and angry after the shooting death of a teenage neighbor in Harlem 18 years ago. “Kids in our community didn’t feel safe, and they felt hopeless,” he says. In response, Joseph created a place in Harlem for children to learn creative arts and leadership skills through a 12-week boot camp.
The Rev. Belle Mickelson, 67, founder and executive director,
Dancing with the Spirit, Cordova, Alaska. Mickelson heard about a rash of suicides among young people in an Alaskan village where she played fiddle in a jam session with elders in 1990. “I thought, ‘What can I do?’” she says. The teacher-turned-Episcopal-priest started a traveling bluegrass music program that connects children and elders in indigenous villages across the state.
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Laura Safer Espinoza, 62, executive director, Fair Food
Standards Council, Sarasota, Fla. A retired New York State judge living in Florida, Safer Espinoza learned that farmworkers were regularly subjected to forced labor, wage theft, physical and verbal abuse, sexual assault and safety violations. Major food buyers had agreed to purchase only from growers committed to proper working conditions, but there was no enforcement system. Enter Safer Espinoza and the Fair Foods Standards Council. Four growing seasons later, cases of forced labor, sexual assault and violence have vanished and the council is expanding to six new states.
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