Building Charities for a New Age


The Chronicle of Philanthropy - September 14, 2006 | Suzanne Perry

Five $100,000 prizes awarded to older people who find innovative ways to help society

A new prize program that aims to help reshape the way Americans view older people has given five awards of $100,000 each to nonprofit leaders — all of whom are at least 60 years old — who are working to solve social problems in an innovative way.

Selected from among 1,200 applicants, the winners of the Purpose Prize — three individuals and two pairs — are leading projects to help low-income older adults, disabled teenagers, black women with health problems, and children of incarcerated parents, and to promote reconciliation between Muslims and Jews.

The Purpose Prize was created by Civic Ventures, a charity in San Francisco that promotes projects to tap into the expertise of people in their later years — and that dash the stereotype of older people as burdens on society. It calls the Purpose Prize cash awards "the first significant investment in this undiscovered force for the greater good," given at a time when the oldest of the baby boomers are reaching their retirement years.

"It's conventional wisdom that young people drive entrepreneurialism and innovation, but the Purpose Prize winners turn that outdated notion on its head," Marc Freedman, president of Civic Ventures, said in a statement.

The winners were selected by a committee of 21 business, political, arts, and nonprofit leaders headed by Sherry Lansing, chief executive of the Sherry Lansing Foundation and former chair of Paramount Pictures' Motion Picture Group.

In addition to the $100,000 prize, the winners — along with 10 finalists — will be able to apply for grants from a $1-million Fund for Innovation.

Money for the awards and the innovation fund was provided by two foundations: the Atlantic Philanthropies, in New York, and the John Templeton Foundation, in West Conshohocken, Pa. The winners are: Conchy Bretos, 61, of Miami Beach, Fla. Ms. Bretos was honored for her pioneering work to bring assisted-living services to older adults in public housing. Born in Cuba, Ms. Bretos served from 1994 to 1996 as Florida's Secretary for Aging and Adult Services, where she observed that many low-income older adults were forced into nursing homes prematurely because they could not afford the help they needed to stay in their homes.

After leaving office, she became head of Mia Senior Living Solutions, which created and managed the nation's first public-housing assisted-living program, in Miami. The group has since helped 40 public-housing projects in a dozen states offer assisted-living services to older residents.

Charles Dey, 75, of Lyme, Conn. Mr. Dey was honored for creating a program to provide job training to high-school students with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. He worked as a college dean and boarding-school head before he was recruited to create the jobs program, Start on Success, by the late Alan Reich, a friend of Mr. Dey's who founded the National Organization on Disability, in Washington.

Since 1995, the program has provided mentors and internships at hospitals, universities, and businesses to more than 1,500 high-school students in five states, most of them minority students in urban schools. Eighty-five percent have gone on to full-time jobs or further education.

Marilyn Hughes Gaston, 67, and Gayle K. Porter, 61, of Potomac, Md. Dr. Gaston, a physician and leading expert on sickle-cell disease, and Ms. Porter, a psychologist, were honored for starting Prime Time Sister Circles, a program that sets up 14-week support groups to help African-American women aged 40 to 70 lead healthier lives through exercise, stress management, and good nutrition.

The pair operate the Gaston & Porter Health Improvement Center and are authors of Prime Time: The African American Woman's Complete Guide to Midlife Health and Wellness. They created Sister Circles in 2003 out of concern that black women suffer disproportionately from life-threatening diseases. Almost 140 women in Maryland, Washington, Illinois, and Florida have participated in the circles. Dr. Gaston and Ms. Porter are now developing a training program for group leaders and considering expanding the circles to other ethnic and age groups.

W. Wilson Goode Sr., 68, of Philadelphia. Mr. Goode was honored for his work as director of Amachi, a program that provides mentors to children of incarcerated parents.

Mayor of Philadelphia from 1984 to 1992, he earned a Doctor of Ministry degree and became director of Amachi in 2000. When Mr. Goode was 14, his own father went to jail. Today, he recruits mentors for children in similar situations by working with African-American churches. More than 240 programs in 48 states are now affiliated with or inspired by Amachi; their mentors have helped 30,000 children.

Judea Pearl, 70, of Los Angeles, and Akbar Ahmed, 63, of Washington. The pair were honored for speaking and leading discussions across the country and abroad as part of the "Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding.

"Mr. Pearl is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, created to honor the memory of his son, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. Mr. Ahmed, a former Pakistani government official, is a professor of Islamic studies at American University. The two men teamed up to promote reconciliation between Muslims and Jews and to provide a forum for moderate Muslims.


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