Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is bringing a refreshing perspective rarely seen on Capitol Hill.

Serving in Congress is not a poor person's—or even a middle-class person's—game. According to the income and asset reports Senators and Representatives are required to submit, the median wealth of a U.S. Senator is $3.2 million and the median wealth of a U.S. Representative is $900,000. That doesn't include the value of their residence, which for most Americans, is the most valuable asset they hold.

So yeah. Congress is quite literally a bunch of rich people.


Then along comes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (sometimes known as AOC), a 29-year-old former waitress from the Bronx, who will become the youngest woman to serve in Congress when she is sworn in in January. She's a bright, cum laude graduate of Boston University, with a degree in International Relations and and minor in Economics. She's also a science wiz, and even has an asteroid named after her for microbiology research she did in high school.

She's no slouch. But she has lived as most of us do, and has faced the same economic choices and constraints those who don't have anywhere near a million dollars live with.

AOC tweeted about how much less she'll pay for healthcare in Congress than she did as a waitress, and it hit a nerve.

Healthcare is a huge concern for many Americans. We pay more for healthcare than any other industrialized nation—by a lot—and it's not guaranteed. We live in a country where people go bankrupt because they can't afford their medical bills, while every other developed nation has figured out how to provide universal healthcare to their citizens.

But the people who make the decisions about healthcare are the ones least likely to be affected by our problematic policies—a point Ocasio-Cortez made clear in a tweet.

"In my on-boarding in Congress, I get to pick my insurance plan," she wrote.

"As a waitress, I had to pay more than TWICE what I'd pay as a member of Congress. It's frustrating that Congressmembers would deny other people affordability that they themselves enjoy. Time for #MedicareForAll."

She also pointed out the ridiculousness of choosing plans and the solution that 70% of Americans support.

Ocasio-Cortez was all of us when she explained that she was "pretty sure one [of] Dante's Circles of Hell includes scrolling through a mirror-hall of agonizingly similar healthcare plans like 'UHG Choice Master HMO 1800' vs. 'RedGo Option Plus EPO 2000.' I don't know one normal person in this country that actually enjoys open enrollment."

She's so right. Healthcare is unnecessarily complicated and open enrollment often feels like it's designed to make smart people feel stupid.  

She went on to explain the simple truth that most Americans want what literally every other country in the developed world has.

"People don't want overly complicated choice between pricey, low-quality plans. We want an affordable solution that covers our needs, like the rest of the modern world.

Medicare for All:

- Single-payer system

- Covers physical, mental, & dental care

- 0 due *at point of service*"

Amen. With 70% of Americans now in support of a Medicare-for-all healthcare model, Congress has a duty to figure out how to make it happen.  

BTW, this is what "draining the swamp" actually looks like.

As a reminder, the average Congress member gets paid $174,000 a year. Granted, Washington, D.C. is an expensive place to live. But that's a far cry from a waitress' salary, and New York isn't exactly known for low cost of living. An individual making $174,000 is already well-off financially, so adding on a low-cost healthcare plan does nothing to help our legislators understand the struggles so many Americans face when it comes to paying for healthcare.

It's a bit reminiscent of billionaire Warren Buffett pointing out that he payed a lower tax rate than his secretary. When millionaires and billionaires are provided huge tax breaks, corporations are given welfare, and Congressmembers are handed affordable healthcare, how are the wealthy supposed to relate to middle- and lower-income Americans' economic woes? How can they possibly understand what a financial burden our healthcare system really is on the average American citizen?

The answer appears to be electing people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an average American who is smart and determined and willing to speak truth to power. This is what electing younger, more down-to-earth, middle class or working class Americans who weren't born with a silver spoon in their mouth means. This is what "draining the swamp" actually looks like.

Our healthcare system is sitting at the bottom of that swamp, and the more legislators we elect who understand that, the sooner we'll catch up to the rest of the modern world in guaranteeing affordable healthcare for our citizens.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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Pets

Ginger the dog reunited with family 5 years after being stolen

Ginger's family never gave up hope, and it payed off.

Ginger the dog was missing for five years before being reunited with her family.

A sweet pup is finally home with her family where she belongs after way too many years away.

Ginger the dog was stolen from her family back in 2017. Her owner, Barney Lattimore of Janesville, Wisconsin, never gave up the hope that his sweet girl was out there somewhere. Whenever he'd see a dog listed on a rescue website or humane society website that even remotely resembled his Ginger, he would inquire about the dog. Unfortunately, it was never her. You'd think that after a while he would stop, but if he had, he likely wouldn't have gotten the sweetest reunion.

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That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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