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AARP Announces 2023 Purpose Prize Winners

5 honorees, 10 fellows are named

bill toone doctor imani woody zerqa abid jamesetta ferguson and sharron rush purpose prize winners

PHOTOS BY (LEFT TO RIGHT): PHILLIP CHEUNG, JARED SOARES, KEVIN J. MIYASAKI, DIANA KING, ARTURO OLMOS.

2023 winners (LEFT TO RIGHT): Bill Toone, Imani Woody, Zerqa Abid, Jamesetta Ferguson, Sharron Rush

Five individuals age 50 and older who are using their knowledge and life experience to solve challenging social problems have been named the winners of the 2023 AARP Purpose Prize, with 10 Purpose Prize fellows also selected. The winners and fellows will be honored at an awards ceremony Oct. 25 in Washington, D.C.

“We celebrate these inspiring individuals who have used their decades of life experience to give back in a meaningful way, to be leaders in their communities and to create a better future for us all,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins. 

The five winners will each receive $50,000 for their nonprofit organizations, and the 10 fellows will each get $10,000 for their nonprofits. All 15 will also receive a year of support from AARP to help broaden the scope of their organizations’ work.

AARP also will recognize filmmaker, screenwriter, actor and philanthropist Tyler Perry with an honorary Purpose Prize award. In 2006, he founded The Perry Foundation, which is committed to transforming tragedy into triumph by cultivating individual potential, supporting communities and harvesting sustainable change. The foundation has partnered with numerous organizations, focusing on education, health, agriculture, human rights, technology, arts, culture, global sustainability and economic development. Through the foundation, Perry has helped people and charities that assist others in overcoming the type of obstacles that he once faced.

Returning for its second year is the AARP Inspire Award, which provides an additional $10,000 to the organization of a Purpose Prize winner based on a vote by the public. Votes can be cast at https://aarp.org/inspireaward, and the winner will be announced at the Purpose Prize awards ceremony. 

The 2023 AARP Purpose Prize winners are:

Zerqa Abid of Columbus, Ohio. Abid is founder and executive director of MY Project USA, which protects youth from drugs, gangs and human trafficking by empowering them through sports, social services and civic engagement.

Jamesetta Ferguson of Louisville, Kentucky. Ferguson is president and CEO of Molo Village CDC, a grassroots organization committed to addressing complex issues in the Russell neighborhood of Louisville.

Sharron Rush of Austin, Texas. Rush is executive director and cofounder of Knowbility, a nonprofit advocacy, consulting and training organization. Its mission is to create an inclusive digital world for people with disabilities.

Bill Toone of Escondido, California. Toone is the founder of Ecolife Conservation, whose mission is to protect wildlife, natural resources and the people who depend on them.

Imani Woody of Washington, D.C. Woody is president and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults, which develops housing and inclusive environments that address affordability and access. They are designed to eliminate the worry of discrimination or violence based upon the LGBTQ+/SGL status of the individual.

The Purpose Prize fellows are:

  • Gulshan Harjee, M.D., of Atlanta, cofounder and chief medical officer of Clarkston Community Health Center.
  • Judith Heilman of Bozeman, Montana, founder of the Montana Racial Equity Project.
  • Chien-Chi Huang of Somerville, Massachusetts, founder and executive director of Asian Women for Health.
  • Debra Isaacs of Henderson, Nevada, founder and president of Unshakeable.
  • Mishelle Rudzinski of Portland, Oregon, cofounder and executive director of Spoon.
  • Elizabeth Shaughnessy of Berkeley, California, founder and executive director of Berkeley Chess School.
  • Charles Schmuck of Menlo Park, California, founder of the Peninsula College Fund.
  • Richard Sesler of Charlotte, North Carolina, founder of Camp Blue Skies.
  • Richard Valenza of Santa Rosa, California, founder and CEO of RaiseAChild.
  • Michele R. Wright and Terry Gene Wright of North Little Rock, Arkansas, cofounders of the National Organization of African Americans With Cystic Fibrosis.