Joe Eichinger, 64, Island Heights, NJ
Occupation: Practicing artist; theater lighting designer; board member of John F. Peto Studio Museum; taught art at Wall Township, NJ, public schools for 32 years
Purpose: “To create something that challenges people or helps them learn.”

Back in high school, Joe discovered a love for creativity and a gift for performing. So he combined the two into teaching: “It was like performing everyday in front of the class instead of the public,” he says. “I’m good at conveying intangible things to students.” But it wasn’t until the death of his three-year-old son that his purpose took a major turn. “It was a rough time. After Christmas break, I went back to teaching, and every child I looked at needed taking care of. And that, I knew, was my mission,” he says.

His curriculum may have been art, but his lessons were about life: Take risks, believe in and defend your ideas, accept criticism intelligently. “The kids understood I had a genuine concern about their welfare,” Joe says. “I wanted them to succeed no matter what they did. To be lifelong learners. Every day there is something new to see and change and manipulate.”

And it worked — though Joe didn’t fully realize it until he joined Facebook and his former students began friending him. “I was overwhelmed by it,” he says. “I didn’t think I had that much of an effect on them.”