Being Santa is not a job, it's a calling. Meet the men behind the magic.

Doug Keesey and Rick Rosenthal are known in Arctic circles (and greater Atlanta) as Santa Doug and Santa Rick.

Rick and Doug are two of Georgia's most popular Santa Clauses, entertaining the young and young at heart at events across the city.

Santa Rick (left) and Santa Doug (right) working their Christmas magic. Photos courtesy of Santa Rick/(left) and William Graves Photography/Santa Doug (right), used with permission.


I went looking for the inside scoop on Santa Claus to discover how the "cookies are made" so to speak.

My conversations with these holly, jolly gentlemen revealed some surprising Santa secrets and tricks of the trade. It's easy to see why kids adore them so much. Here are seven surprising things I learned chatting with two of the men behind the magic:

1. Why become Santa? Holiday cheer is a helluva drug.

"It becomes a calling for a lot of people," Santa Rick says. "Most people don't choose to be Santa, Santa chooses them."

That's the case for Santa Rick, 64, who's been Santa for 47 years. He started out with a full black beard under his fake one, but now he relies on the real thing. He's a trained mediator and arbiter, a skill that comes in handy when kids get a case of the gimmes.

Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

As for Santa Doug, it's his second season as the Big Guy. He has a soft white beard and loves kids, so he thought he'd give Santa work a try when he retired from his video production business. A friend, who is also a Santa, said, "Why wait?" So, at just past 50 years old, Santa Doug was born.

What keeps them coming back? You don't find that kind of genuine happiness just anywhere.

"One of the things that really keeps me going is knowing that I'm helping families develop memories that will last for years to come, something that will really be special for them in the future," Santa Doug says. "That's not something you get to do every day. What a privilege to be in a position to be that kind of blessing to others!"

Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

2. You don't know busy until you take a look at Santa's calendar.

There's more to being Santa Claus than long shifts at shopping malls. Santa Rick appears year-round as the man himself, helping out with birthday parties, special announcements, and potentially a spring wedding. There are two gigs he won't take though.

"I will deliver anything but divorce papers and termination papers," Santa Rick says. "I'm a Santa with a sense of humor, but it's gotta be in good taste."

Of course, the holiday season is their busiest time of year. Rick and Doug work parades, private parties, corporate gigs, home visits, fundraisers, schools, and hospitals. Santa Rick doubles as a Santa booking agent and routes nearly 100 local Santas to events across the metro area.

"I get pretty busy, honestly, I think 'Wow, the schedule is just going to be very difficult, and I don't know if I have the energy, and I'm tired and wish I could stay home,'" Santa Doug says. "But then I get out there and see that kid that is just awestruck by Santa walking in the door and you think, 'OK, that's why I'm here.'"

Santa Doug appears in a local parade. Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

3. There are schools to learn how to be Santa. But one of them is essentially Harvard.

Anyone can dress like Santa, but truly becoming Santa takes some practice. There are Santa Schools across the country that open their doors to teach people how to bring the big guy to life. Classes include how to dress, how to answer tough questions, how to set up a Santa business, and even how to make simple toys.

Santa Rick leading a class at Northern Lights Santa Academy. Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, is widely considered the premiere Santa school, boasting a traditional higher education application process and a waiting list.

After mentoring and teaching at Santa Schools, Santa Rick opened his own school, Northern Lights Santa Academy, which held their inaugural session this year.  While he's proud to teach the next generation of Clauses, he hopes they each bring their own unique style to their work.

"Does [attending Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School] make you a good Santa? No, it just means you got a good education," Santa Rick says. "What makes you the best is you. You have to figure out how to utilize the information ... to make you the best Santa you can be."

The Northern Lights Santa Academy is in session! Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

4. Santa Claus hears some seriously silly stuff, and sometimes even he can't keep it together.

Kids are nothing if not honest, so Santa Rick and Santa Doug have heard it all. One child who (definitely already had one at home) asked for a toilet this year. Another hoped the baby his mother was carrying was a boy, and not a girl, prompting surprised faces from everyone in the room who didn't know his mother was expecting.

"You really do laugh, and it shuts you down, you're just laughing so hard," Santa Rick says. "You just get told these hysterical stories."

Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

5. But Santa is also a kind, loving ear in tough and tender moments too.  

For many kids and their families, Christmas isn't the most wonderful time of the year. Santa Rick and Santa Doug have both heard some emotional requests from kids and the young at heart. Some wish for peace on Earth. Others ask for a relative in the hospital to get well. A mother had a teary encounter with Santa Rick while her son was deployed. And last year, a child asked Santa Doug to help get his parents back together.

"There's not much you can say, as Santa, to things like that," Santa Doug says. "All I could do was say, 'Santa understands. I know how you feel and I'm very sorry, but Santa loves you ... and it will be all right.' I think he just kinda wanted Santa to hear and understand."

Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

6. Santa would dominate an improv class, as the big guy has to be quick on his feet.

When you're working with kids, you have to stay ready. That's why Santa has an answer for everything. Even if a child asks for one thing, Santa knows better than to make any promises. Instead, Santa Rick usually tells the kids: "I'm gonna talk to the elves about that ... but did you know the elves are very busy? They make the presents and put them in a box and then they wrap it and sometimes they forget what's in there. You might end up with a pogo stick."

What happens if Santa Rick and his Santa buddies go out for lunch and a child sees a half-dozen Santas in one place? Don't worry, they've thought of that too. "We say it's a Claus family reunion," he says with a big laugh, clearly nailing the whole, "bowlful of jelly" business.

Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

7. Santa is about more than presents. He's all about hope.

For kids of all ages, Santa is more than a toymaker, gift-giver, or elf-in-chief. He's magic personified. He's a jolly old reminder  to never stop believing in the impossible.

"What Santa really does is he inspires hope," Santa Rick says. "We have to have hope to go on and that's really what Santa is. He's a toymaker, but he gives people hope and belief in the best of the best."

After this year, we could all use a little magic. Between international conflict, a tiring election, and Santa's own home melting away, there's a lot to be scared or worried about. But this is the season to hope, dream, and plan. To look ahead to the future with optimism and hope, even in the face of doubt.

No matter your age, background, or faith tradition, it feels good to believe in the impossible. After all, hope is the one thing Santa always delivers.

Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
True

Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


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