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Judy Cockerton of Massachusetts Wins $100,000 Purpose Prize For Enriching the Lives of Foster Care Children in New and Creative Ways
Encore.org and AARP recognize the former teacher and toy store owner with award for people 60 and older who unite generations
Judy Cockerton knows that not all families can bring foster children into their homes, so she’s giving people other ways to help kids placed in foster care. For her work in changing lives for the better, Encore.org is awarding Cockerton this year’s $100,000 Purpose Prize for Intergenerational Innovation, sponsored by AARP.
Years ago, a news story about a 5-month-old foster child who had been kidnapped from his crib shook Cockerton. She and her husband became foster parents themselves, but Cockerton wanted to do more, by helping others do more.
So in 2002, she founded the Treehouse Foundation, which created Treehouse at Easthampton Meadow – a mixed-income, multigenerational housing community in Easthampton, Mass. Families who have adopted or are planning to adopt foster children live among people age 55 and older, who serve as “honorary grandparents.”
Cockerton, 61, a former teacher and toy store owner, has inspired more than 600 people to help foster children in Massachusetts, through the Treehouse Foundation and her two other nonprofits, Sibling Connections and Birdsong Farm. Volunteers serve as mentors, tutors and camp counselors. They teach foster kids how to read, plant gardens and ride horses. They take them for nature walks and trips to the playground. They enrich the lives of children who crave and deserve healthy connections to caring adults.
Now in its seventh year, The Purpose Prize is America’s only large-scale investment in social entrepreneurs and other creative problem solvers in the second half of life. The Prize program, which recognizes people 60 and older, is funded by the John Templeton Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies. The Prize is awarded by Encore.org (formerly Civic Ventures), a nonprofit that promotes encore careers – work that is both personally meaningful and serves the greater good.
This is the second year AARP – a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of more than 37 million – has sponsored a special Purpose Prize to recognize people who bring generations together to benefit society.
“Judy Cockerton has transformed the lives of foster care children in Massachusetts,” said Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Encore.org and author of The Big Shift. “She shows that the second half of life provides an opportunity to solve social problems and inspire others to take action for a better community and a better world.”
“We are so moved by Judy’s steadfast commitment to providing unique learning opportunities for children in foster care by connecting them with older mentors in their communities,” said Barb Quaintance, senior vice president for volunteer and civic engagement at AARP. “She embodies the very spirit of service that is part of AARP’s mission to lead positive, multigenerational social change.”
Cockerton, through her Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Initiative, is now focused on bringing together diverse stakeholders – from social workers to state officials, families to philanthropists – to think creatively about how to change the foster care system, in part by developing programs that communities across the country can replicate.
“Winning The Purpose Prize for Intergenerational Innovation is a tremendous honor,” Cockerton said. “Encore.org and AARP are helping me realize my goal of improving the lives of children placed in foster care in Massachusetts and beyond.”
Cockerton will join four other 2012 Purpose Prize winners at an awards ceremony in February in San Francisco.
Short summaries for the other winners are below. Profiles, videos and photographs are at www.encore.org/prize.
The other 2012 winners, who each receive $100,000, are:
Bhagwati (B.P.) Agrawal, 68, Sustainable Innovations Inc., Fairfax, Va.
By using his engineering expertise, Agrawal is mitigating the water shortage in his native India. Through his nonprofit, Sustainable Innovations, he founded Aakash Ganga, or River from Sky, in 2003 to create a system for collecting rain – one of precious few sources of drinking water. Now, gutters, pipes and underground tanks gather the short-lived rains of monsoon season in six villages, home to 10,000 people.
Susan Burton, 61, A New Way of Life Reentry Project, Los Angeles
Burton knows how difficult it is to escape a cycle of incarceration. After breaking her own cycle by getting a job and quitting drugs, she started inviting women recently released from jail to stay with her. That informal shelter turned into A New Way of Life Reentry Project in 2000. Today the organization – which offers legal aid, job training and other services aimed at directing former inmates toward productive lives – runs five transitional residences that have served 600 women and their children.
Thomas Cox, 68, Maine Attorneys Saving Homes, Portland, Maine
Cox helped start Maine Attorneys Saving Homes in 2008 as a way of giving back some of what he felt he took away during his long legal career, focused on representing banks. While volunteering to help a woman save her home from foreclosure, Cox revealed questionable foreclosure practices (known as the “robo-signing” scandal), leading to a $25 billion settlement to help people who had suffered foreclosure or who were on the brink. Now Cox is working to build a network of lawyers to do similar volunteer legal work.
Lorraine Decker, 64, Skills For Living Inc., Houston
On September 11, 2001, Decker was ready to embark on a routine trip to the Middle East to teach financial, tax and estate-planning workshops to corporate employees across the region. Grounded by the terrorist attacks that day, she felt a profound need to help recreate the future. The nonprofit that resulted in 2004, Skills For Living, has helped more than 2,000 low-income teens, adults and families with free financial, career and college-planning workshops – with a creative twist.
About Encore.org (www.encore.org)
Encore.org is a nonprofit organization building a movement to make it easier for millions of people to pursue “encore careers” – second acts for the greater good. The Purpose Prize, funded by the John Templeton Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies, is a program of Encore.org.
About AARP (www.aarp.org)
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of more than 37 million, that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
About the John Templeton Foundation (www.templeton.org)
The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. The Foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. It encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights. The Foundation’s vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation's motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn,” exemplifies its support for open-minded inquiry and its hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.
About The Atlantic Philanthropies (www.atlanticphilanthropies.org)
The Atlantic Philanthropies are dedicated to bringing about lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Atlantic is a limited life foundation that makes grants through its five programme areas: Ageing, Children & Youth, Population Health, Reconciliation & Human Rights, and Founding Chairman. Atlantic is active in Bermuda, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Viet Nam.