September 24, 2008

Health Clinic, Other Passions to Benefit From Gift


By Caryn Rousseau

The Associated Press


A n architectural historian who studies ancient bridges and a family physician who rebuilt an Alabama health clinic after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina are among 25 recipients of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius grants."

The $500,000 fellowships were announced Tuesday by the Chicago- based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Recipients may use the money however they wish.

Dr. Regina Benjamin said the money will help rebuild her rural health clinic in Bayou La Batre, Ala., which serves 4,400 patients. It was rebuilt by volunteers after being destroyed in 2005 by Katrina, only to burn down months later.

"The patients came by and they were crying," said Benjamin, 51, remembering one woman who handed her an envelope with a $7 donation to rebuild. The new clinic is about half built, she said.

"If she can find $7, I can figure out the rest," Benjamin said. "The patients I treat have their own disasters. Hopefully, this grant will help them in some way. "

John Ochsendorf, a West Virginia native and an associate professor of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , said he at first didn't believe the news that he'd received a grant.

"I had to sit down. I had tears running down my face. I had a hard time breathing," he said. "It changes everything. This is validation."

Ochsendorf, 34, uses engineering and architecture to explain the ancient world. His research team studies Incan suspension bridges that cross gorges of the Andes Mountains.

The MacArthur Foundation names the fellows, who are recommended by a 12-member selection committee.

Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation, said seven previous grant recipients went on to receive Nobel Prizes. "Giving support to exceptionally talented people allows them to develop their talents, and society is better for the work they do."

the awards

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced Tuesday the 25 recipients of a $500,000 fellowship. Recipients may use the money however they wish.

Originally published by BY CARYN ROUSSEAU.

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