Purpose Prize winner finds encore career helping disabled vets with housing

Vicki Thomas

Vicki Thomas

Vicki Thomas was at an age where many people look forward to retirement. She had enjoyed a successful career in public relations and marketing, including stints at a financial services trade group, a major television network, and running her own Connecticut-based marketing company.

But Thomas flipped on the television one day in 2009 and saw something that launched her on to a new career at age 64.

It was a CNN feature about two combat-wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who had started a non-profit organization to provide housing for wounded soldiers.

Dale Beatty and John Gallina were injured when their Humvee hit two antitank mines in November 2004. Beatty was left as a double amputee while Gallina sustained back and head injuries.

Thomas was riveted by their story, and before she knew it, she was on the phone cold-calling them to volunteer her services.

Thomas signed on as director of communications for Purple Heart Homes, the non-profit that Beatty and Gallina started in their hometown of Statesville, North Carolina. She has since put her 35 years of experience to work, raising millions of dollars for the organization – in cash contributions as well as donations – and helping the founders with a dramatic expansion.

This Veteran’s Day, Thomas’ work is being recognized with the Purpose Prize, a unique award given annually by the Encore Careers campaign, a nonprofit that works to engage baby boomers in encore careers with a social impact. Learn more about the work Vicki Thomas is doing in my Reuters column today; the stories of all the Purpose Prize winners is at Encore.org.