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In the Purpose Prize, AARP Finds a Soul Mate

The program honors individuals who create new ways to solve tough social problems

laura safer espinoza

Retired NY Judge, Laura Safer Espinoza is executive director of Fair Food Standards Council, Sarasota, Fla.

En español | When Laura Safer Espinoza, 62, stepped down as a New York State Supreme Court judge and moved to Florida, she found farmworkers in abysmal working conditions. They were regularly subjected to wage theft, physical and verbal abuse, sexual assault and safety violations, including pesticide exposure. She felt moved to do something to bring human rights and economic justice to more than 30,000 Florida farmworkers.

Espinoza volunteered her skills as an advocate and negotiator to correct these injustices, becoming executive director of the Fair Food Standards Council. Through her experience and dedication, she has helped to transform thousands of farmworkers’ lives. In 2014 and 2015, there were no cases of forced labor, sexual assault or violence on farms adhering to the council’s code of conduct. And, in April 2014, the New York Times reported that Florida went from one of the worst states for farmworkers to one of the best and now stands as a model for workers’ rights.

In helping transform the lives of farmworkers, Espinoza has transformed her own life. As she describes it, “There is much to do! I wake up excited to start the day, and stop reluctantly in the late night hours. How many times in a lifetime is one privileged to be part of such dramatic and meaningful change?”

For her efforts, Espinoza was named a winner of the 2015 Purpose Prize, an award that for the past 10 years has gone to people age 60 and above for outstanding social impact work.

The Purpose Prize is the brainchild of Marc Freedman, CEO of The prize awards at least $100,000 annually to individuals creating new ways to solve tough social problems. Since the first prize was awarded in 2006, the program has garnered nearly 10,000 nominations, honored more than 500 winners and fellows, and attracted millions of dollars in new resources for winners to expand their projects.

This year, the Purpose Prize will have a new home at AARP and  AARP share a mission to reframe the way society looks at aging and to celebrate the purpose and potential of people in midlife and beyond. As a long-standing champion of the Purpose Prize, AARP will amplify and diversify the pool of nominees.

This isn’t the first time we formed a meaningful relationship with an program. In 2011, AARP adopted Experience Corps, another innovative initiative, which engages people 50 and over to tutor and mentor K-3 elementary school students who are struggling to learn to read. By adopting Experience Corps, we’ve been able to extend its reach and bring in more tutors and mentors.

We want to expand and support the Purpose Prize in a similar way, shining the brightest possible light on the unique contributions of seasoned adults. Purpose Prize honorees are already helping to redefine what it means to be 60 and over. Going forward, they’ll be performing the same feat from age 50 on up.


For every obsolete reference to “over the hill,” there is an up-to-date counter-example like Laurie Ahern, a Purpose Prize awardee who left journalism and became an international advocate for children with disabilities who were held in abusive institutions. Or there’s Dr. Samuel Lupin, who has updated the tradition of making house calls, bringing essential medical care to more than 4,000 homebound and elderly patients in the greater New York City area.

I can’t think of a better way to show the world what 50-plus looks like than by highlighting such generous acts of courage.

I’ve had the privilege of serving as a Purpose Prize judge in the past, so I’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand the incredible contributions to humanity the nominees are making while finding meaning and purpose in their own lives.

We’re excited to welcome the Purpose Prize to the AARP family, expanding the platform for sharing and celebrating these wonderful individuals who are disrupting aging and showing the world what’s possible.

Jo Ann Jenkins is CEO of AARP.