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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via PixaBay

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


Capital One

Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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