She could do anything she wanted with a half a million dollars in prize money. This is what she chose.
Imagine you won half a million dollars for being a genius.
Heather McHugh is a poet from Seattle. She is also a genius.
The MacArthur Foundation gave her over $600,000 in unrestricted grant money for her poetry, which the foundation calls "intellectually challenging, yet emotionally engaging verse that balances gravity with humor."
Winners of this "genius grant" can do whatever they want with the cash.
No regulations on the cash. No nothin'. That's what makes the MacArthur genius grant so exceptional.
Some winners have started businesses, funded films, taken off on a passion project the grant allowed them to focus on, or just continued their vocations with a really nice nest egg. Heather chose something a little different.
Heather gave away all her $600k genius grant money to strangers.
But not just any strangers.
You see, Heather was kinda freaked out by the prospect of spending over $600,000 on herself alone. So she looked around her life for people who might also be in need of funding.
She didn't need to look far.
Reflecting on the massive efforts of her godson and his wife as they raised a baby with severe disabilities, she decided what to do with her grant money.
She started the nonprofit Caregifted, which gives vacations to people who have spent a decade or more taking care of a family member full time.
Speaking of her personal experience in watching her godson and his wife care for their daughter, who were told she would never be able to walk, talk, or feed herself, she said, “It was obvious to me when that baby was born that in 10 years, they were going to need a break."
To put this in perspective, consider this example: In 2014, friend and family caregivers of folks with Alzheimer's and other dementias spent an estimated 17.9 billion hours on unpaid care. There's no paid vacation (or even just vacation) for this more-common-than-you-think job.
In steps Caregifted. They have already given vacations to 30 caregivers.
Says one recipient, “It was the first time in many, many years that I only had to worry about myself."