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A Prize with a Purpose

spinner image Barbara Chandler Allen
Barbara Chandler Allen created Fresh Artists, a nonprofit providing art supplies to inner-city Philadelphia schools.
Courtesy Talking Eyes Media

All over the country, millions of older adults with fresh ideas and big hearts are finding unique ways to ease others’ lives.

If you know someone who fits that description, think about nominating him or her for the AARP Purpose Prize, which honors extraordinary individuals age 50+ who use their life experience to make a better world for all. Created by, the Purpose Prize found a new home at AARP last year. Over the next few weeks (until May 12), AARP is accepting nominations for this year’s prize, with five $50,000 winners to be announced in September.

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The winners are everyday folks, not celebrities or tech moguls or lottery winners. They’re people like Barbara Chandler Allen, a former art museum administrator. Using art as a lifeline for struggling children, Allen created Fresh Artists, a nonprofit that raises money for desperately needed art supplies for inner-city Philadelphia schools.

Children from kindergarten through 12th grade are invited to donate the use of their artwork, and Fresh Artists reproduces and distributes images of the pieces. (The children keep the original art.) Then, when corporations, businesses, individuals or other organizations make donations to Fresh Artists, they select large-scale reproduction images to display in their offices. A plaque beside each piece credits the young artist and explains Fresh Artists’ concept.

Donors save money on decorating their spaces, and children have the pride of seeing their work prominently displayed and attributed to them.

It’s all part of Allen’s vision of lateral philanthropy: enlisting children as partners to raise funds to help other children create new works of art. Fresh Artists’ collection includes artwork from 389 children.

“Since Allen founded Fresh Artists in 2008, the nonprofit has installed 587 large-format reproductions of children’s artwork and donated art supplies worth more than $100,000 to 272 Philadelphia public schools, reaching more than 53,400 children,” notes on its website.

“If the bar is set low for poor children, they will trip over it,” says Allen. “If you raise the bar high, they will sail over it.”

Allen is just one AARP Purpose Prize story. Chances are, you have others in your community.

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It could be someone like Charles Fletcher, who was moved to provide therapeutic horseback riding that was based on scientifically proven methods — and that was free to participants. He reached out to medical specialists, learned about brain development and began building a network of experts on equine therapy.

He used his Social Security checks to launch SpiritHorse in Corinth, Texas, with just three riders and two ponies, Fudge and Snowflake. According to, “Today his nonprofit employs 20 paid instructors and provides hour-long therapy sessions to roughly 400 riders every week at his Texas ranch alone. It serves children with disabilities, at-risk youth, battered women and wounded veterans."

True to Fletcher’s vision, the program offers all of this at no charge.

Fletcher, Susan Burton and countless others are rewriting their own life stories, and they are helping to tell a new story of aging. They’re focused on experience and innovation, and they demonstrate daily that older adults are an untapped resource full of possibilities. They are disrupting outmoded ideas of aging by serving as role models, makers and doers out there creating new solutions to improve life for people of all ages.

We want to expand and support the AARP Purpose Prize to shine a light on the unique contributions of older adults. I can’t imagine a more convincing way to shatter stereotypes about what 50+ looks like. I’m looking forward to discovering all the new ways this year’s nominees are changing their own lives and improving our world.

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