September 2012 Issue
Season of Purpose
Reenergized by “second act” careers, more Ohioans are working to make life better for their neighbors.
Either by choice or by necessity, scores of people over 50 are rethinking their work, with something more than a paycheck in mind.
Marc Freedman writes about them in his book Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life
. Jane Pauley interviews them in her “Your Life Calling” segments for “The Today Show.”
Ohio has more than its share of these social entrepreneurs. Part of a movement that Freedman describes as one of the most significant trends of the 21st century, they’re leveraging their experience to solve social problems — believing that now is their time to pursue big dreams.
Encore.org has recognized three of these Ohioans with $100,000 Purpose Prize awards — called “a kind of MacArthur genius award for retirees” by The Wall Street Journal
. Another eight have been named Purpose Prize fellows.
Here are some of their stories.
Stray Dogs and Loan Sharks
Inez Killingsworth spent countless mornings chasing away the stray dogs that ran loose in her Cleveland neighborhood. She knew her children felt threatened by the dogs on their way to school, but when she shared her frustration at a meeting of the Union-Miles Community Coalition, she found out that other people’s kids were afraid of those dogs, too.
And so, the group set out to petition the city to send dog catchers out to Union-Miles. It took a couple of months, but by the time the city responded, Killingsworth — the mother of five who worked as a janitor at a nearby school — made another important discovery.
“When you stand together and confront folks with the facts, you can get things done,” she says. There was no turning back.
Over the years, the coalition worked on everything from reducing truancy to shutting down drug houses. And always, Killingsworth was at the forefront — identifying needs, setting goals, speaking truth to those in power and honing her negotiating skills.
But it wasn’t until she retired at age 62 that Killingsworth says she stumbled into the battle of a lifetime.
It started in the late ’90s when she and Mark Seifert, her co-worker at the East Side Organizing Project — a group she started in 1993 — noticed a rash of neighborhood homes falling into foreclosure. Many of those neighbors were elderly and had no idea of their rights as homeowners, so ESOP began contacting lenders to set up meetings on their behalf.
But even after repeated calls, letters and in-person visits, lenders ignored ESOP’s requests for help.
As the group collected information from different homeowners who did business with a variety of lenders, some troubling patterns emerged. Killingsworth says ESOP found a disproportionate number of subprime loans that they believed should never have been made. Over time, interest rates as high as 36%, hidden fees, discriminatory policies and even falsified documents were uncovered.
“We need banks, but my problem was they weren’t treating people fairly,” Killingsworth says.
Feeling like gnats going up against the giants, she says ESOP began looking for ways to expose what they believed were unfair lending practices in their neighborhood. They left small plastic “loan sharks” around lenders’ offices, staged protests and shared their stories with the media.
In retaliation, some lenders hired public relations firms to attack ESOP’s credibility. Others tried shifting blame for the problem to regulators. But when members of the media from as far away as Europe began camping out in Cleveland to check out ESOP’s claims, Killingsworth knew the gnats were gaining ground. Finally, lenders and servicers agreed to meet with the group and the homeowners it represented. It took nearly a decade, but ESOP won fair lending agreements that held national lenders and servicers accountable, gave homeowners more flexibility in renegotiating terms they could live with, forced one major offender out of business and negotiated a new community reinvestment agreement with a bank that resulted in greater access to fair credit for minorities.
ESOP became the "go to" experts on the predatory lending piece of the mortgage crisis, and Killingsworth testified at the state and federal level on foreclosure prevention policy.
Since 2005, the group, renamed Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People, has helped more than 16,000 homeowners stay in their homes by reaching affordable resolutions with loan servicers. Today, it has 11 different offices to serve disadvantaged homeowners throughout the state.
“I’m tickled to death about helping so many people stay in their homes,” Killingsworth says.
House Calls and the Circle of Life
Thirteen years into her encore adventure, Judith Van Ginkel still describes the program she leads with a sense of wonder.
“It came about serendipitously,” she says of the Cincinnati-based Every Child Succeeds, a home visitation program for at-risk, first-time mothers.
The daughter of a pediatrician, Van Ginkel often accompanied her dad on house calls. She studied health-care administration, got her Ph.D. in political science/public administration and gained experience in medical research, management and marketing over the years. She was a vice president at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in the late ’90s when her friend John Pepper (former head of Procter & Gamble) described what he’d been reading about new brain imaging technology.
“Through videography, we could see how the brain of a well-nurtured child differed from one who wasn’t,” Van Ginkel says.
The research showed that those years between birth and age 3 are critical to normal brain development. And infants who lack the proper attention, nurturing, nutrition and educational play during those years face serious and lasting developmental delays.
It was if everything in Van Ginkel’s life — her upbringing, her education, career track and position in the community — had placed her in a unique position to do something significant to address this issue.
So at age 60, when others were winding down to spend more time playing golf or playing bridge, Van Ginkel took on the challenge of her life.
Today, her nonprofit serves families throughout Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky instilling vital parenting skills in single and at-risk, first-time moms — many of whom have no role models to show them how to nurture and care for their babies.
It has been recognized by the Pew Center on the States and the Kellogg Foundation, not only for its dramatic impact on at-risk young families but also for its ability to deliver a strong return on investment to the community.
Children enrolled in Every Child Succeeds are 60 percent less likely to die as infants and more than 90 percent are on-track developmentally.
ECS shares its expertise while creating new revenue streams by marketing everything from its Web-based data collection and management system, to its literacy curriculum for children ages birth to 3 years and its “Moving Beyond Depression” program, designed to treat at-risk moms — more than half of whom are clinically depressed.
“The lives of 18,000 mothers and 18,000 babies have been changed and improved as a result of our work,” Van Ginkel says.
Dropouts and Possibilities
Nearly two-thirds of Dayton’s students were high school dropouts when Ann Higdon designed a program to woo them back with the promise of a diploma and a marketable skill — two things they had long since given up on.
She started ISUS, Improved Solutions for Urban Systems, in 1992 with 15 kids. Her mission was twofold: giving them an opportunity to succeed and helping the community to see them as something more than liabilities destined for the welfare or the penal system.
Though most employers Higdon worked with said they’d favor job seekers with diplomas over those with GEDs, dropouts in Ohio could not earn high school diplomas at the time.
“Now is that shame on us, or what?” Higdon asks.
She worked to change that, and pushed for charter schools as well.
In 1999, ISUS created the first of three dropout recovery charter schools. By 2009, its schools placed 2nd, 4th and 15th highest performing of all 62 schools in Dayton. Last year, all three — a construction trades, health care and automated manufacturing school — earned “Excellent” ratings.
Before creating ISUS, Ann pioneered a public/private partnership that replaced food stamps with smart cards. She sold her home and depleted her savings to get that project up and running.
And now, at 72, Higdon finds herself in a new fight to keep ISUS alive. She’s rewriting the business plan to keep it afloat after revenues from home construction took a major hit in the aftermath of the mortgage debacle.
“I don’t mind,” she says. “I sleep and survive in spite of the pressure.”
A resiliency forged in her own tough childhood in Harlem keeps her pushing for the kids she so strongly identifies with. It will take more than a financial crisis to slow her down.
“Like my grandma always said, ‘One monkey don’t stop no show,’” Higdon observes.
Meet eight more social innovators — named Purpose Prize fellows for their inspiring work.
, former mayor of Cincinnati, created The Center for Closing the Health Gap in greater Cincinnati to combat higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, HIV and cancer occurring in black, Hispanic and Appalachian communities.
quit her job in Dayton to launch a nonprofit to break cycles of generational poverty and move families to self-sufficiency. Her organization, East End Community Services, has expanded its mission to include job training for the chronically unemployed.
founded Asian Services in Action Inc. in Akron to integrate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders into Ohio life. It now has a second office in Cleveland.
of Cincinnati started KnowledgeWorks to create equity of opportunity by empowering communities to improve public schools. Initiatives include the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative, which encourages urban schools to divide into smaller, supportive, academically rigorous units.
’s Nehemiah Foundation in Springfield/Clark County incubates ministries to meet spiritual and physical needs of children and families. His group was approached by the local government to help wage a war on divorce.
, a retired college president, forged a community network to raise high school graduation and college admission rates in Canton. She helped institute Ohio’s first “P-16 Compact,” which creates a seamless preschool-through-high-school system.
Dave and Liane Phillips
created Cincinnati Works, an award-winning job training and placement program, to address chronic unemployment.
, a former teacher, created a Columbus grassroots non-profit to help under-resourced school districts build voter support to pass tax levies.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Want to know more? Check out these resources online or in print.
A nonprofit think tank on boomers, work and social purpose that sponsors the annual Purpose Prize. The website is jam-packed with statistics, success stories and resources for budding social entrepreneurs.
Subtitled “You. Part Two.,” this online destination offers practical information about work, money, healthy lifestyles and giving back that’s tailored to the needs and interests of people over 40.
A national nonprofit focused on professional women over 50 who are exploring what’s next. The group has 12 local chapters including one in central Ohio.
Offers workshops, seminars, individual coaching and special events for Cincinnati women seeking to switch careers or return to work after
A national group with a Cincinnati
chapter that promotes civic engagement, encouraging mid-lifers to volunteer and step up to community leadership. It also helps nonprofits create compelling volunteer opportunities for people over 50.
The Big Shift: Navigating the Stage Beyond Midlife
by Encore.org founder and CEO Marc Freedman.
All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending
by Laura Vanderkam.