A woman who's tackling revenge porn, and 9 other women changing the world for the better.

Despite facing numerous social and political obstacles throughout history, women have always been powerful agents of change.

Every era has its heroines — women who inspire, empower, and offer the world an extra dose of awesome. Some of these women are household names, while others fly under the radar, improving their communities and impacting people around them with little fanfare or fame.

Those unsung female heroes are who L’Oréal Paris had in mind when they created the philanthropic program, Women of Worth. Every year for the past 12 years, 10 women have been chosen from thousands of nominees to be honored for their selfless volunteer work as advocates and founders of charitable causes.


For 2018, the list of nominees is impressive. Of these 10 women, one will be chosen (by you, if you vote before the end of November) as a National Honoree and receive an additional $25,000 for her organization.

Get ready, because reading about these extraordinary women will make you want stand up and cheer.

In 2014, Shreya Mantha was tutoring sex-trafficking survivors to help them get their GEDs. Then she started her own foundation — at age 13.

Shreya Mantha. All photos via L’Oréal Paris.

Shreya is now 17 and her Foundation for Girls is a thriving, youth-led social venture hoping to change the life-trajectory of at-risk girls and youth in Charlotte, North Carolina. Through a network of “caring coaches” and programs in digital literacy, financial wellness, leadership, and health and wellbeing, teen moms, homeless girls, refugees and trafficking survivors receive the skills and structured support they need to realize their full potential and take charge of their futures.

As of June 2018, Foundation for Girls has reached 1,480 girls and youth, has almost 300 workshops and completed more than 14,000 hours of life-changing investment.

Adding to the “Wow, these kids!” factor, Alisha Zhao was 17 when she founded Kids First Project to help homeless kids achieve their dreams.

Alisha Zhao

When she was 14, Alisha volunteered at a homeless shelter, and it struck her how all of the kids there had big dreams and ambitions, but limited opportunities. A few years later, in 2015, Kids First Project was born. The initiative helps bridge the gap between homeless kids and the resources they need to reach their full potential.  

Today, the Kids First Project is in 10 locations with more than 400 volunteers in the Portland and San Francisco Bay areas — serving approximately 500 families who are experiencing homelessness each year. The now 20-year-old says her goal is to "work on the issue of youth homelessness and human rights for my entire life," and that this honor will help her "empower children experiencing homelessness to reach their full potential and help break the generational cycle of poverty."

Meanwhile, 25-year-old Hannah Dehradunwala is tackling food waste in New York with her platform Transfernation.

Hannah Dehradunwala (right).

Where Hannah grew up in Pakistan, no one let food go to waste. But when she returned to the United States to attend NYU, she was struck by the amount of food that got thrown out after catered events on campus. So she created Transfernation, a platform for companies and corporate hospitality groups to donate extra food to those in need of food assistance.

By coordinating ride-share drivers and bike messengers to pick up leftover catering and deliver it to community based organizations, the organization is helping empower businesses to reduce their environmental footprint and decrease food waste. So far, Transfernation has rescued 530,000 pounds of food and provided 510,000 meals to those without reliable access to food sources.

Veteran Genevieve Chase was severely injured in the line of duty. Now she’s channeling that experience into helping other female veterans.

Genevieve Chase

While deployed in Afghanistan as an Intelligence Soldier with the Army Reserve, a car filled with explosives plowed into Genevieve Chase’s truck, leaving her with external wounds and a traumatic brain injury. What's more, when she came home, like so many other soldiers, Genevieve suffered from PTSD and struggled with depression and suicidal ideation.

And as she dove into veteran advocacy, she felt the absence of awareness and support for female veterans. So she attempted to fill that void by starting the non-profit organization American Women Veterans, which honors and empowers military women, veterans and their families. The 40-year-old’s goal is to create “a community of empowered and inspiring women who will continue to ensure that all military women and veterans get the care and benefits we’ve earned so we can continue service to our communities both in and out of uniform.”

Holly Jacobs is helping victims of another form of trauma —nonconsensual porn — with her Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

In 2011, Holly was blindsided when nude photographs she’d shared privately with a romantic partner showed up on the internet without her consent. Her identity was exposed, and she felt like running from the world. Instead, she decided to fight back — for herself and other victims of “revenge porn.”

Holly Jacobs

Today, the 35-year-old’s Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) serves thousands of victims around the world. Advocating for technological, social, and legal innovation to fight online abuse and discrimination, CCRI has helped advise legislation in 30 states, Washington, D.C. and the federal government. And the CCRI Crisis Helpline serves hundreds of callers per month. “Nonconsensual pornography is intended to make women feel worthless,” Holly says. "I want to tell victims like myself that they don’t have to run or hide in shame. They are not alone, and together we have the power to speak up and fight online abuse.”

Chicago police officer Jennifer Maddox fights crime by providing after school programs for at-risk kids.

Jennifer was a single mother working two jobs when she founded Future Ties, an after-school program that provides a haven for young people in the Chicago's Woodlawn area. She had noticed that most crime and gang activity took place after school, so in 2009 she set out to give kids a productive, empowering "safe space" where kids go instead — using her own money to purchase supplies.

Jennifer Maddox

Today, Future Ties serves about 40 elementary students, with adult volunteers, parents, and young people from the community serving as role models and tutors. Since its founding, gang-related activities have declined and crime has decreased by 50 percent. Jennifer, now 47, wants to expand Future Ties' life-changing services to help the 1,200 young people living in her community.

Laura Reiss, 49, also started an after school program, encouraging kids to be kind and contribute to their world.

Laura's foundation started out as a free after-school kindness program at her children's elementary school in Boca Raton, Florida. That single club morphed into The Samaritans365 Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that teaches kids to be kind to themselves and others, and make a positive impact in their communities and the world.

Laura Reiss

The Samaritans365 Foundation, Inc. now has more than 400 ambassadors and 4,050 members in 90 chapters across nine states. All together, they have collected and distributed $1,347,000 in goods, raised $2.5 million in disaster relief, and invested 613,213 community service hours. Laura's strong formula for empowering people is helping her reach her goal of "leaving this world better for having been here."

Christy Silva took a parent's worst nightmare and turned it into a life-saving screening program.

In 2010, Christy's seven-year-old son Aidan collapsed without warning and died of Sudden Cardiac Arrest. They had no idea he had a heart condition, and despite investigations, the cause of the arrhythmia that led to the heart attack is still unknown. Then Christy learned 70 percent of conditions that cause SCA in kids can be detected by a simple, non-invasive EKG (electrocardiogram). She decided she had to help other families avoid the same fate.

Christy Silva

Thus was born Aidan's Heart Foundation, which provides awareness, education, support and coordinated screening efforts. Through screenings of 1,800 youth in Pennsylvania, the Foundation has detected previously undiagnosed and potentially life-threatening heart conditions in 25 young people. It's also helped pass legislation to equip schools with updated defibrillator (AED) devices and trained more than 4,500 sixth-grade students and 400+ adults in life-saving CPR-AED skills. Christy, 44, says "Aidan may be gone, but our work is keeping his legacy alive.”

Betty Mohlenbrock proves it's never too late to make a difference with her nonprofit reading program for incarcerated parents.

Betty is a retired classroom teacher who has always been committed to improving kids' lives. In 2010, at age 70, she came out of retirement to found Reading Legacies, a nonprofit dedicated to negating some of the devastating effects of incarceration on families by fostering relationships between incarcerated parents and their kids through the simple act of reading aloud together.

Betty Mohlenbrock

Last year, Reading Legacies facilitated 8,000 read-aloud experiences among family members participating in its programs. Based on research the org's conducted, 73 percent of children enjoy reading more and nearly 70 percent communicate more with their parents since starting the program. Every teen who has volunteered with Reading Legacies says it has strengthened their leadership skills, and 94 percent of incarcerated parents participating have felt a boost in morale and feel more connected to their children at home.

Betty, now 78, wants "to give people hope, especially if they haven’t had a reason to be hopeful for a long time.”

As a two-time cancer survivor, Carolyn Keller understands how important a wig can be for women undergoing chemo.

Carolyn was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and again in 2005. When she lost her hair while undergoing chemotherapy, she started using wigs to cover her hairless head. Then, when her sisters-in-law were diagnosed with cancer, she passed her wigs onto them. Carolyn felt how empowering it was as a survivor to pass on wigs to another woman going through cancer treatment. As Carolyn, now 57, says, "Sometimes simple gestures can be the most healing."

Carolyn Keller

That's why she founded EBeauty Community, Inc. Through the organization's Wig Exchange Program, more than 25,000 women have received and donated wigs, and 10,000 wigs are distributed each year to women across the country through a network of hospital partners. EBeauty is considered the largest wig exchange program for women undergoing treatment for cancer in the country. And so far, Carolyn's goal "to help women embrace their identity and dignity when everything else in their life feels out of control” seems to be right on target.

Does one of these women's stories stand out to you? You can offer her your vote.

Throughout the first three weeks of November, anyone can cast a vote to choose this year's Women of Worth National Honoree. If you'd like to help one of these women receive an additional $25,000 for her cause, go to the L'oréal Paris website, and vote before November 30th, 2018.

Good luck choosing just one, though. They all deserve all the kudos.

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Inclusivity

Anyone who's done yard work on a hot day can tell you that it can be just as good of a workout as playing a team sport.

You're down on your knees pulling weeds, up on a ladder lopping off errant tree branches, and pushing a heavy lawnmower that never seems to start on the first try.

Unfortunately, because lawn work is so physically intense and not everyone can afford a gardner, the elderly and disabled sometimes have to let their lawns and backyards grow wild.

An alternative learning center in Dubuque, Iowa is helping its kids stay physically fit while helping out their community with a new program that gives them high school PE credit for doing yard work for the elderly and disabled.

The Alternative Learning Center is for high school juniors and seniors who are at risk of dropping out of school.
As part of the program, the teens visit homes of the elderly and disabled and help out by raking leaves, pulling weeds, cutting grass, and cleaning gutters.



Teacher Tim Hitzler created the program because it helps the students get involved in the community while helping those who need it most.

"The students aren't typically too excited at the beginning but once they get involved and start doing the yard work they become more motivated," Hitzler told KWWL. "What they really like is A: helping people. They really like giving back to people and meeting the person."

Nick Colsn, a 17-year-old student at the learning center, told NPR that the program allows him to meet people he wouldn't have otherwise. "I'm more of like go-to-school-go-to-work-home-repeat kind of guy," he said. "So to me, I probably would not have met any of these people."

The end-of-year program has been so successful, Hitzler hopes to expand it next year. "You know, in education, a lot of times, there's so many different gimmicks and curriculum packages you can buy and things like that," he told NPR. "And something like this all you need is a few garden tools. You know, I mean, it just makes sense. It's so simple. And it works."

Recommended

If you're a white supremacist, I imagine drinking beer (or any other alcoholic beverage) is a nice way to relax and tune out the fact that you're a terrible person who's helping set human progress back at a rate the bubonic plague would be proud of. But for some self-professed white supremacists, it wasn't quite so easy on a June weekend in Germany.

According to Newsweek, the hundreds of neo-nazis who flocked to the "Shield and Sword Festival" in Ostritz found themselves uncomfortably dry when a court imposed a liquor ban at their gathering of hateful bigots who also like to listen to awful music together. The ban's aim was to prevent any violence that might erupt (you know it would...) and the police confiscated more than a thousand gallons of alcohol from those attending the weekend-long event. They even posted pictures on Twitter of the alcohol they'd removed from participants.



But that's only half the story.

Residents of the town of Ostritz, who've had to deal with the bigots before (they threw the same festival last year on Hitler's birthday), knew that the ban wouldn't stop the festival-goers from trying to obtain more alcohol while in town. So the townspeople got together a week before the festival and devised a plan which would truly make the white supremacists focus on how terrible neo-nazi music is: They bought up the entire town's beer supply.

"We wanted to dry the Nazis out," Georg Salditt, a local activist, told reporters. "We thought, if an alcohol ban is coming, we'll empty the shelves at the Penny [supermarket]."

"For us it's important to send the message from Ostritz that there are people here who won't tolerate this, who say 'we have different values here, we're setting an example..." an unidentified local woman told ZDF Television.

At the same time the festival was going on, residents also staged two counter-protests and put on a "Peace Festival" to drive home the point that bigotry wasn't welcome. If the festival is held in the same town again next year, ticket-buyers should be aware that Ostritz isn't playing around when it says that white supremacists aren't welcome.

There's some good news, too: Aside from the fact that residents aren't afraid to send the message that they're intolerant of intolerance, attendance to the far-right music festival has drastically decreased in the past year. In 2018, 1,200 people attended, according to the BBC. This year? Approximately 500-600. Here's hoping the festival won't have a return engagement next year.

Culture

I sent both of my children on a bus on Tuesday. I knew where they were going.

The morning started rainy, buggy, and too early. To be fair, it always feels too early.

My husband and I waved from across the street as the buses pulled away, our kids, along with a hundred or so others, behind tinted glass. We waved like we were excited. Our son was likely not looking. Our daughter may have been, but she also could have not been paying attention until the bus started into motion. We won't know for sure if she saw us waving until she returns.

Returns.

Every day when I leave the house, I expect to return.

That's the default.

It's so much the default that realizing it is actually stunning. We run our lives as though anything else other than what's in our head, our routine, our privilege, is what will take place. There's that little truism that a worrier shines like a pebble in the hand: you're more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. Yet we are much more likely to be worried about flying because it is out of our routine. Being out of your routine awakens you to the precariousness we completely shut out in our day-to-day lives.

I put my children on a bus. My oldest will be gone four weeks, my youngest, two.

What should be normal: sending your kids to sleep away camp. What feels wholly unnatural: sending your Jewish kids to a Jewish sleep away camp in the world we're living in now. Even writing those words: JEWISH SLEEP AWAY CAMP make my fingers seize at the knuckles. I don't want you to know there are such things as Jewish sleep away camps. Even having others know that they exist feels like a danger.

I'm used to my feelings and my instincts seeming like hyperbole to others. I'm emotional. I'm tuned in. I'm hyperreactive. I have a hair trigger. I have anxiety and depression.

I also come from a genetic and cultural history of people who ended up in this country because we were hunted and pursued and needed to escape. Over and over and over again. The cells that have come to build the tissues and structures of my body and my brain have been organized by UNSAFETY.

In "normal" suburban upper-class life, this can be a huge detriment. A handicap. It can manifest in the most unhelpful and frankly, startlingly blind ways. I've spent so much of my life reacting and feeling and then trying to understand what makes me tick. I've spent so much time learning to train and control and ignore and channel.

I wasn't made for easy times. I was made for survival. I was made, like an animal, to intuit danger and get the hell out, fast. I was made in the image of fight or flight. I do both better than most people. It's not something I brag about, because it doesn't feel like a good thing most of the time.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp. Because when my husband and I got married (I'm Jewish, he's not), our pact was this: if our children live in a world where historically they could be targeted and threatened because of their Jewishness (regardless of their actual observance of religion or customs), they deserved to know that being a Jew is not negative. We should give them every opportunity to be proud and happy about their Jewishness. Their belonging should help them to feel good about themselves and the world. It should help them seek connection and understanding of the human condition. They should know songs. They should sing full-throated. They should feel comfort in our traditions when they are useful to them, but never feel threatened or unnecessarily constrained by them.

Research funded by Jewish institutions and communities suggests that the number one way to help ground kids in their Jewish identity is to send them to Jewish sleep away camp. It's the glue.

And yet.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp at a time when our government is putting migrant children into concentration camps.

I bought all the supplies on the list. I washed and labeled and sorted and packed. I zipped up those bags to accompany my children. And then I dropped my children off and couldn't see if they were waving back as the buses drove away.

Of course, the camp I'm sending them to has a stellar reputation. Every day they post updates on a special web site, along with hundreds of pictures of the kids in action. I send emails to the kids which are printed out and given to them. I send packages with stickers and trading cards and all sorts of goofiness so that they know they are loved.

Migrants from central America have made their way to our border with just what they could carry. (My children's bags were so heavy that neither of them could carry them. Likely at least 1/4 of what I sent will come back unused or untouched.) Migrants are following the rules of asylum seeking. They are fleeing violence and intimidation and abuse far greater than I will allow myself to imagine. They are separated from their children by a government that has no business doing so.

I, an upper-class white woman, expect my voice to be heard. I expect to be able to vote and call and hold my elected officials accountable. I know what to say to get my point across. I've given money to candidates and I know how to threaten that support in the future. I also have the privilege of time and energy with which to do it. My underlying expectation is that there are very few problems that I don't have some redress for.

Asylum-seekers, in good faith, and following the rules, have nothing left to lose. They are coming here seeking something less life-threatening than what they're fleeing. They're seeking some good will. Or, at the very least, safety. Or relative safety.

I put my children on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp knowing that in my daughter's cabin of 8 girls, there are 4 young adult counselors who are there to make sure that she's safe, happy, and her needs are being met.

I also know that last year, an asshole white supremacist antisemite decided to go to a synagogue on shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, and turn it into a bloodbath. Well before that ever happened, well before the era of mass shootings and Columbine, Jewish institutions like synagogues and preschools and JCCs have needed extra surveillance. We've had police guard our religious services and social gatherings. Even (and perhaps especially) seeking out Jewish belonging, Jewish joy, has always been a reckoning with danger and threat.

After I sent my children on that bus—the one I knew where it was going—the one where I'd shoveled their overpacked duffle bags into the bowels of the bus—I came home to a house strewn with the remnants from packing. Laundry bins with unneeded t-shirts and shorts and single socks. The cat—he normally comes to greet me when he hears the garage door open—was nowhere to be seen. I called for him. He still did not come. I came upstairs and looked in my son's room. No cat. I looked in my daughter's room—with its orange and pink somewhat darkened by the rainy skies—and there he was, tucked into a furry circle in an eddy of her duvet. I laid down next to him and lost control. The control I never really had.

Twitter this week has erupted in a jagged back-and-forth between politicians and pundits and opinion-havers about whether or not it is appropriate to call the migrant detention centers run by ICE and our government "concentration camps." I, and most other Jews I follow and know, agree they should be called exactly what they are.

Non-Jews (and, to be fair, some Jews as well), like to tiptoe around the Holocaust and any words or imagery which may in any way encroach upon the historical accuracy or singular legacy of that horrible period. To a degree, I might agree when the comparisons are used flippantly or improperly.

But the legacy of the Holocaust, we are all reminded, is NEVER AGAIN. And NEVER AGAIN means that we don't wait until something worse happens. What's happening RIGHT NOW in the United States shares that DNA.

In the same way I understood or had an inkling in my bones that the election might go a way I didn't want it to, I know this same thing: we are not ok. This is not just the start. This is halfway down the road to the place where we lose not just perceived control, but real control. For all the current administration's lies and purposeful incapabilities, know this: the cruelty that comes out of the mouth of our president and those who continue to support him in the government and in the populace is not a lie. It is predictive. They're telling us in advance what they intend to do. And then they are doing it.

In a world where I still have the ability to put my daughter and son on a bus with all their toiletries and know that they will likely arrive at their destination, I also know that our government argued for the legal right to deny soap and toothbrushes to migrant children. When anyone's children are denied such basics—human basics—no one is safe.

I know it will sound like hyperbole. I know that those who so easily dismissed my concerns early on—before this administration even took office—will still attempt to dismiss my warnings now. But do so at your own peril.

I was not built for normal times. I was built for times like these. And I haven't been wrong yet.

This post originally appeared on Outside Voice. You can read it here.

Inclusivity