A hurricane forced her to get creative to feed her kids. Now she's feeding her neighbors.
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Garnier Beauty Responsibly

When Dera Duplessis fled New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she had one priority: making sure her family was fed.

It wasn’t going to be easy. While her family had managed to safely evacuate to a hotel in Texas, they couldn’t exactly bring their kitchen with them — and with five children, there were a lot of mouths to feed.

All images via Upworthy.


It didn’t take Dera long to realize that eating out wasn’t an option. “Breakfast was like $80,” she explains. “That’s not cutting it on a daily basis, three [meals] a day.”

She knew she would have to get creative. So to stock up on food that could last through the hurricane season, she tried something she’d never done before: pickling and preserving.

“I had pickled vegetables, my jams and soups … anything that I could make,” she says.

Dera's system worked so well that she continued pickling vegetables and making jams well after Katrina, in part so that her family was prepared for future emergencies. But she enjoyed it and kept at it as a way to pass the time.

What Dera didn’t know was that more than a decade later, this survival-strategy-turned-hobby would become an important way for her to give back.

Once Dera’s children were grown and she had retired from her job as a hospice nurse, she was left wondering what was next. “I just needed something else,” she says. “I was missing something.”

That’s when her sister told her about Sprout NOLA, a community garden in her neighborhood made possible by the Green Garden Giveaway by Garnier and TerraCycle. The giveaway includes picnic tables and garden boxes made from recycled personal care products — like shampoo bottles and makeup containers — as well as a cash grant to build a green garden for a deserving community.

Since Sprout NOLA was established with the help of Garnier and TerraCycle, the garden has become something of an oasis, offering free veggies and garden plots to the community, as well as a gathering place where neighbors could connect with one another.

At first, though, she wasn’t totally convinced.

“I don’t have the green thumb,” she laughs. In fact, she was pretty sure she would kill anything she tried to grow; as a self-described “tomboy,” she was more of the mechanic type than a gardener. But with curiosity and a little nagging from her sister, she decided to sign up anyway.

That’s how Dera tried her hand at gardening for the first time. And to her surprise, she really enjoyed it (and her plants, miraculously, didn’t die after all). With fresh food from the garden, she had found a creative outlet, cooking up her own jams, salad dressings, soups, and pickled veggies and even selling them at local farmers markets.

She also learned about different herbs and plants she’d never used before, like hibiscus, which made her foods even more interesting.

“[I] actually tasted the flower and all,” she says. “I did not realize it tasted so good.” She never imagined eating a flower — but then again, she hadn't pictured herself as a gardener, either.

Most importantly, the garden led Dera to discover a way to give back to her community through fresh, healthy food.

For her community, it’s more than a nice gesture — it’s desperately needed.

“The life expectancy in the Treme, which is a neighborhood that’s close to us here, is currently 55 years old,” explains Emily MickLey-Doyle, the community garden coordinator at Sprout NOLA. Compare that with the 75-year-old life expectancy in other New Orleans neighborhoods, and you’ll quickly understand just how critical fresh, healthy food can be for Dera’s community.

“The majority of the people [here] believe in fast foods,” Dera says. She knows this better than anyone, having struggled with diet-related health challenges herself and having seen it in her family, too. For conditions like high blood pressure, which she’s now better able to manage, Dera’s seeing firsthand the impact that a healthy diet can have.

Dera says that cooking with fresh foods is often assumed to be too challenging or time-consuming, particularly in her community. But she’s excited to show them that it doesn’t have to be and that when neighbors support each other, they can lead healthier lives.

Since starting her gardening journey, Dera’s relationships with her neighbors and the planet have changed.

Whether it’s the rich soil that came from veggies that she composted last season or the oxygen she breathes thanks to the plants that she’s growing, Dera finds herself amazed by the earth in ways she hadn’t been before.

“You can see how the earth gives back,” she says.

In fact, everything in the garden has been recycled in some way. The garden boxes and picnic tables are actually made out of recycled shampoo bottles and created by Garnier and TerraCycle.

The recycled lumber used for these garden boxes have an infinite shelf life, too, which means they’ll last well into the future. And that’s good news for Dera, who hopes to see the garden thrive well into the future.

Not everyone has a green thumb. Thankfully, you don’t need one to make a neighborhood better.

Four years into the project, Sprout NOLA has become a central part of the community, bringing neighbors together for fresh food, good conversation, and an important lesson in what’s possible when everyone works together.

“We want the community to know that you are able to do this if you just put your mind to it,” Dera says. “If you want to, you can achieve it.”

And for residents like Dera, it’s become so much more than a hobby or a place to go. “It’s like family away from home for me.”

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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