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Living Lives With Purpose

This year’s award winners are making a big difference

Living Lives With Purpose Reid Cox with wife Serita (to his right) and foster-care youth in the iFoster program that he created

Gabriela Hasbun

Reid Cox with his wife, Serita, to his right, and foster-care youth from the iFoster program he created.

En español | As CEO of AARP, I’m fortunate to see the incredible impact that older adults have in all walks of life. Our visionary founder, Ethel Percy Andrus, set us on this road 60 years ago when, at age 74, she launched AARP to fulfill a “new image of aging: growth in self, and service for all mankind.”

In November, we recognized such age disruptors with the AARP Purpose Prize, an annual competition that presents $50,000 each to five extraordinary people over 50 who have used their wisdom and experience to revitalize their lives and make the world a better place.

Take Jim Farrin. Farrin, 81, set out to give prisoners the one thing proven to lower recidivism: an education. His Petey Greene Program recruits college-student volunteers to tutor in prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers. Since its inception, the program has helped thousands of inmates earn high school equivalency degrees.

Another population that needed a hand is one you don’t hear much about. That’s because the 400,000-plus children in foster care are guarded by stringent privacy protections. Eager to open the lines of communication among foster families, caseworkers, agencies and businesses that want to help, Reid Cox, 52, created the iFoster online portal.

With a few clicks, foster families and children can get things such as help with homework and college applications, information on getting free laptops and cellphones — and leads on jobs with the many businesses that participate in iFoster.

Technology also opened Cynthia Barnett’s eyes to redressing the gender imbalance in the science, technology, engineering and math workforce, which is heavily weighted toward men. The 74-year-old’s Amazing Girls Science program helps instill the love of science in elementary and middle school girls with fun, hands-on camps and conferences.

Nominations are now open for the 2018 AARP Purpose Prize. The deadline is March 6.

Mike Weaver wants to ignite a movement, too. Driven by a desire to unite generations, Weaver, 52, designed community-service road trips for teens, college students, parents and retirees. Purpose Prize Winner Mike Weaver, founder of Weaver & Concerned Citizens of Aiken/Atlanta Now (WeCCAAN), Atlanta, Ga., is a former college professor who teaches the value of public service by bringing teens and adults together for service-learning trips to communities in need. Weaver is also the recipient of the 2017 Andrus Award for Intergenerational Excellence, named after AARP’s founder.
 
Then there’s Celeste Mergens, 55, who has tackled the rarely discussed global problem of the lack of affordable access to feminine hygiene products. A mother of six and grandmother of 15, Mergens founded Days for Girls International in 2008. And since then it has provided 800,000 women and girls with reusable feminine hygiene kits, while its microenterprise system empowers many women to pull themselves out of poverty.

These Purpose Prize awardees are true role models. They remind us that a single determined individual with a big heart and a great idea can be unstoppable in service for all mankind.

Jo Ann Jenkins is CEO of AARP.

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