News and analysis
November 11, 2013

7 Social Innovators Over 60 Win Purpose Prizes

Ed Kashi/Courtesy of

Vicki Thomas won $100,000 for her work with Purple Heart Homes, which connects wounded veterans with renovated, foreclosed homes.

Two people, both over the age of 60, have won $100,000 each for their efforts to do good: an official at an organization that matches wounded soldiers with foreclosed homes adapted to their needs and the founder of a charity that seeks to help low-income Latinos avoid cancer.

The awards, known as Purpose Prizes, are given to people over age 60 who are engaged in work that furthers social good. Now in their eighth year, the prizes are awarded by (formerly Civic Ventures), a nonprofit that seeks to get older people involved in efforts to serve society.

In addition to the two top prize winners, five more individuals have been awarded $25,000 each. The two tiers of prizes represent a change from last year’s class of honorees, in which five winners each got $100,000.

“The numbers of winners and the amounts have changed depending on funding and other factors,” said Russ Mitchell, a spokesman for Encore, in an e-mail to The Chronicle. “Spreading out from five to seven allows us to highlight more individuals.”

The prizes are underwritten by the Atlantic Philanthropies, the John Templeton Foundation, and Symetra Financial Corporation.

The two $100,000 winners are:

• Ysabel Duron, 66, a veteran television broadcaster and cancer survivor who founded Latinas Contra Cancer. The group works to educate low-income Latinos on their cancer risk and connect them with screenings and other services to help them prevent and battle the disease.

• Vicki Thomas, 67, a fundraiser who has served since 2008 as director of communications for Purple Heart Homes. There she developed a program that takes foreclosed homes donated by banks, renovates them to fit the needs of specific disabled military veterans, and in the process helps not only the veterans and their families but also neighborhoods hit hard by the mortgage crisis. Her prize was sponsored by Symetra honoring a project that can “scale,” said Mr. Mitchell in an e-mail.

Winners of the $25,000 prizes:

• Carol Fennelly, 64, a former homeless-shelter leader who started Hope House, a group that helps incarcerated parents stay in regular contact with their children. California’s state prison system will soon be adopting its model, which includes weeklong summer camps to reunite kids with their parents.

• Elizabeth Huttinger, 63, a public-health advocate whose group Projet-Crevette works to eradicate human schistosomiasis, an infectious parasite that comes from river snails and affects millions of the world’s poorest people. The charity seeks to increase the population of prawns in the Senegal River Basin, which eat the snails, thus providing economic opportunities to local communities as well as improving health.

• The Rev. Violet Little, 61 a pastor trained as a psychotherapist, who now ministers to Philadelphia’s homeless people through her group the Welcome Church. In addition to holding religious services on the city’s streets, the organization also connects the needy with medical and educational services as well as jobs.

• Edwin Nicholson, 71, a war veteran who founded Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, which has helped fishing groups and facilities nationwide start and manage fishing instruction and outings aimed at people who became disabled during their military service.

• Barbara Young, 66, a former nanny from Barbados who now serves as national organizer for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a group that advocates for better working conditions.

Send an e-mail to Heather Joslyn.