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Making charity the focus of retirement
Dream retirement: Kitty and Fred Lipp; founders of the Cambodian Arts and Scholarship Foundation.
October 11, 2005: 4:02 PM EDT
By Lee Eisenberg, for MONEY Magazine
Kitty and Fred Lipp, guidance counselor, founder of the Cambodian Arts and Scholarship Foundation,  Whitefield, Maine.
Kitty and Fred Lipp, guidance counselor, founder of the Cambodian Arts and Scholarship Foundation, Whitefield, Maine.
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NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - "The most important thing in my life right now is to be part of the answer," says Fred

Before he retired, Unitarian Universalist minister Frederick Lipp believed that he and his wife Kitty had a pretty good fix on their future. Nothing grand, mind you: They'd retire to a small arboretum in Maine established by Fred's father.

Shortly before this idyll was to begin, however, Fred, then 58, found time to write a children's book. It changed everything.

Called "The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh," the book is based on a Cambodian custom. For a few pennies, a person buys a small caged bird and makes a wish. The bird is then released. If it flies free, the wish is granted. But because the birds are domesticated, they usually return to the seller's cage.

Lipp wrote of a Cambodian girl who yearns to escape poverty and eventually discovers how to release a bird that finds freedom and grants her wish.

In 2001, a year after the book was finished, he visited Cambodia for the first time. He was overwhelmed by the plight of countless girls who were unschooled, exploited in the sex trade, living in wretched conditions.

With a few thousand dollars drawn from his and Kitty's modest assets, he established the Cambodian Arts and Scholarship Foundation (cambodianscholarship.org). Its mission: to help as many girls as possible, affording them clean water, health care and a basic education.

Today, running the foundation leaves little time for the arboretum or anything else. While Kitty earns a modest salary as a school guidance counselor, Fred raises money.

"When I'm in Cambodia," he says, "I promise the girls I'll do all I can to make their dreams happen." Does he ever long for the peaceful golden years he once anticipated? Hardly. "Retirement," he says, "is a lousy word."

Gail and Michael Holmes are helping people, full speed ahead. »»

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Read more of MONEY's special report: The Dream Retirement


Lee Eisenberg is the author of "The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life," to be published by Free Press in January 2006.  Top of page

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