Retirees, here's your new purpose in life

If you're over age 60 and you have a great idea for giving back to the world or just your neighborhood, here's some inspiration -- the $100,000 Purpose Prize. It's awarded annually by San Francisco-based Civic Ventures that honors older people who started a second career that benefits society.

The 2008 winners were just announced, and what a batch. The six $100,000 winners did amazing stuff, from inventing a $28 peanut-shelling machine that helps African farmers be more efficient with their cash crop to teaching life and career skills to prisoners at New York's Rikers Island. (There were also nine $10,000 prize winners who do equally admirable work for their communities.)

The Purpose Prize is especially valuable these days because many foundations, which give prizes like these as grants, are being hit hard by the economy and not as able to give out free money.

Charitable Celebrities

    Brad and Angelina are the reigning King and Queen of Celebrity Charity. Angelina is a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, and the pair has traveled the world trying to bring relief to the neediest. According to tax records, the couple donated more than $8 million to charity in 2006 alone.

    Kevin Winter, Getty Images

    Oprah Winfrey has invested $40 million in her Academy for Girls in South Africa and raised over $58.3 million for various non-profits through her Oprah's Angel Network. Plus, she's given cars, hams, toasters, etc. to underprivileged audience members on her show.

    Denis Farrell, AP

    She gives no mercy on the bench, but famously nasty-on-TV Judge Judy Sheindlin is much more charitable in real life. She supports a mentoring program called Her Honor, which pairs high school juniors and students with dynamic female leaders.

    Brad Barket, Getty Images

    Paris Hilton is charitable... in theory. After her brief her prison stay, Paris Hilton announced she was traveling to on a philanthropic mission to Rwanda. Her inability to follow through made her less giving than some of her celebrity pals.

    Chad Buchanan, Getty Images

    George Clooney, who goes to United Way board meetings, traveled to Darfur and then headlined the Save Darfur rally in 2006. Clooney is a co-founder of Not On Our Watch, took part in the America: A Tribute to Heroes charity telethon for victims of 9/11... and he takes care of his own, too. He donated $25,000 to writers during the 2007 strike in Hollywood.

    Win McNamee, Getty Images

    Hurricane Katrina rallied many celebrities; Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis joined Habitat for Humanity's rebuilding efforts in their hometown of New Orleans.

    Al Bello, Getty Images

    Bob Geldof was one of the first to leverage fame in the name of charity by founding LiveAid, Live 8, and the Commission for Africa. He received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his charitable work in 1986.

    Jens Meyer, AP

    Madonna, with daughter Lourdes, visited a U.N. Millennium village in Malawi and funded several projects. But the controversy surrounding her adopting of local boy David Banda made her goodwill a little fishy.

    Karel Prinsloo, AP

    Irish musician Bono speaks in front of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at a plenary entitled 'Delivering the Promise of Africa.' Bono has been instrumental in raising awareness of global poverty and the AIDS epidemic with his ONE and Product Red campaigns.

    Laurent Gillieron, AP

    Daryl Hannah was removed from a walnut tree in 2006 while protesting the demolition of a 14-acre urban garden in Los Angeles.

    Stefano Paltera, AP

If you think of the word "grant," the vision of highly-educated people with multiple degrees filling out 25-page applications with details of their illustrious work may come to mind, but many of the Purpose Prize winners are regular Joes and Janes who had middle-class jobs. The only difference was that hey had big dreams about what to do in retirement that didn't involve spending all day on the golf course.

Take Catalino Tapia, a gardener from Redwood City, California. He came from Mexico at age 20 with only $6 and a sixth-grade education, but he started his own gardening business and saw his son graduate from law school. Tapia then decided other Latinos should be able to reach the same heights so he launched the Bay Area Gardeners' Foundation, a nonprofit that gives scholarships to low-income Latinos, and asked his employers and local businesses for funds. Last year, the Foundation sent 18 students to college.

Then there's Michele McRae, a retired language professor from Fargo, North Dakota, who helped Iraqi and Somalian refugees resettled in the area to adjust to their surroundings. She got locals to tutor the refugees in basic English, find jobs and even pass their GEDs and driver's license exams. Now McRae's operation has 500 volunteer tutors.

You keep hearing that life doesn't have to end at retirement, and these prize winners prove that point. They make me anxious to retire (if I'm not laid off first) and start my second career, although I've got 30 years to go. But if you or anyone you know is a 60-plus sparkplug who's doing something inspiring, the Purpose Prize is taking nominations until March 5.
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