Immigrant Wins Award For Scholarship Work A Mexican immigrant gardener in the Bay Area has just been awarded a $100,000 National Purpose Prize for his work raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to send Hispanic kids to college. Catalino Tapia saved all his money to send his son to college. When his son graduated, he got the idea to create Bay Area Gardeners Foundation to help other Hispanic youth get a college education.
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Immigrant Wins Award For Scholarship Work

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Immigrant Wins Award For Scholarship Work

Immigrant Wins Award For Scholarship Work

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Tomorrow at Stanford University, 15 men and women will be honored for their innovative social work. All of them are older than 60. Nancy Mullane has this profile of one of the honorees who will take home a prize of $100,000.

NANCY MULLANE: Sixty-four-year-old Catalino Tapia is a busy man. A professional gardener, he and his crew take care of 30 lush, often massive properties throughout the Bay Area, clipping, mowing and blowing them to perfection. He's also the founder and president of the Bay Area Gardeners Foundation. Since 2006, the nonprofit has given out $1500 scholarships to underprivileged kids so they can do what he never did: go to college.

Mr. CATALINO TAPIA (President, Bay Area Gardeners Foundation): I think the economical support means something to them. But I think the moral support means a lot more, because they feel they are not alone on their dreams.

MULLANE: When he was a young man, Tapia followed the only dream he could afford; without money in his pocket or much of an education, he left his hometown in Mexico and traveled north to the U.S. He scrimped and saved for years so his two sons could go to college. Watching his youngest son cross the stage at his law-school graduation in 2002, he was so unbelievably proud.

Mr. TAPIA: When something cross on my mind, and I say, well, more and more parents should experience what I went through, and that's what gave me the motivation to do something. I know the need they have for somebody to support them.

MULLANE: The big man with a ruddy face and calloused hands got the idea to ask his gardening clients for donations so he could help send young students to college. Within two weeks, he'd raised $10,000. Tapia called other gardeners and asked if they wanted to help. Since 2006, the Bay Area Gardeners Foundation has raised over $250,000 to help students attend college.

Mr. THOMAS MORE (President, Kenyatta College): Scholarships are the big difference to these young people.

MULLANE: Thomas More is president of Kenyatta College, south of San Francisco. More says he's watched Tapia moved throughout the community, knocking on doors, meeting with high-school students, reaching out in a way he's never seen before to make sure these young people know college is available to them if they just apply for a scholarship. Since 2006, seven students sponsored by Tapia have attended Kenyatta. More is impressed.

Mr. MORE: This man is driven to a higher level than anything I've ever seen before.

MULLANE: On Saturday night, Catalino Tapia will be one of 15 men and women awarded the Purpose Prize, in honor of social innovators over the age of 60 for what they have accomplished and for their potential to do more great work. Mark Friedman is CEO and founder of Civic Ventures, sponsor of the prize.

Mr. MARK FRIEDMAN (Founder, Civic Ventures): There are second acts in American lives - third acts, maybe even more - and many people do their most important work at a point when previous generations were heading to the sidelines.

MULLANE: Tapia says he's nervous about speaking before the hundreds of people expected to attend the ceremony.

Mr. TAPIA: I'm a very sentimental person, and I don't want to start crying in front of everybody.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TAPIA: It's very difficult for me. But as the same time, it's very rewarding because we're going to be able to help a lot more students.

MULLANE: He's going to put the $100,000 award in an interest-bearing CD account, so he can give scholarships to more students in years to come.

Mr. TAPIA: I don't think that there is a time on your life that you should to stop completely, because you get rusted. And that's not good.

MULLANE: For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane in San Francisco.

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