Betsy DeVos is our education secretary. Here's what to do next.

On Feb. 7, 2017, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as America's next education secretary.

Resistance to her nomination was of historic proportions. Last week, two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — broke ranks and announced they would oppose DeVos, leaving the GOP-controlled Senate at a 50-50 stalemate (all 48 Democrats opposed her nomination). Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.


If you attended or have kids in public schools, DeVos' nomination may be a tough pill to swallow. DeVos, a Michigan billionaire born into wealth, has never attended or worked in a public school — although her family has given the Republican Party about $200 million over the years. She's also been a big proponent of school choice — a controversial free-market education method that allows public funds to be siphoned off to private, parochial, and even for-profit schools. It's a strategy many education advocates have criticized, claiming it uses already scarce public school funds to benefit mostly upper-middle class and wealthy families, leaving the most vulnerable students and schools in even worse shape.

Admittedly, it was not a good day for many public school advocates. But now more than ever, American kids and schools need our help.

Here are 20 ways you can turn your anxiety over the future of public education into real action:

1. First and foremost, don't feel hopeless.

Let your frustrations fuel your advocacy. Among President Trump's controversial cabinet appointments, DeVos' agenda may be the least popular among Americans. The resistance to her plans is alive and well.

2. Help fund a project that will make a difference on Donors Choose.

The platform gives teachers a place to crowd-fund classroom projects, allowing individuals (that's you!) to help students, whether it be giving art supplies to students in California or providing iPads to kids in Brooklyn to boost their linguistic and social skills.

Photo via iStock.

3. If you can, get involved in the National Education Association.

The focus of NEA — the largest professional employee organization in the country — is to make public education high-quality and accessible to every student. There are many ways for prospective, current, and former public education professionals to join the cause.

4. Come midterm elections, don't forget which senators voted for DeVos — many of whom received campaign donations from her family:

Steve Daines (Montana), John Thune (South Dakota), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Richard Burr (North Carolina), Jeff Sessions (Alabama), Roger Wicker (Mississippi), Roy Blunt (Missouri), Bob Corker (Tennessee), Michael Enzi (Wyoming), John Barrasso (Wyoming), Dean Heller (Nevada), Rob Portman (Ohio), Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), John McCain (Arizona), Richard Shelby (Alabama), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Cory Gardner (Colorado), Rand Paul (Kentucky), Deb Fischer (Nebraska), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), James Inhofe (Oklahoma), Jim Risch (Idaho), James Lankford (Oklahoma), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Tom Cotton (Arkansas), Michael Rounds (South Dakota), Thad Cochran (Mississippi), Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), Michael Crapo (Idaho), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Pat Roberts (Kansas), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Kennedy (Louisiana), Thom Tillis (North Carolina), Todd Young (Indiana), Jeff Flake (Arizona), Tim Scott (South Carolina), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Marco Rubio (Florida), David Perdue (Georgia), Johnny Isakson (Georgia), Charles Grassley (Iowa), John Cornyn (Texas), John Boozman (Arkansas), and Lamar Alexander (Tennessee).

5. Think local.

You know your own community best. What local or regional organizations do the crucial work unique to the problems facing the public schools in your city? Reach out and ask them how you can get involved.

6. Donate to No Kid Hungry.

The nonprofit helps feed American schoolchildren so they can stay full and focused in the classroom. One $10 gift can provide up to 100 meals to a kid who could use it.

7. Support after-school arts programs.

There's probably at least one group in your area helping teach art to kids outside the classroom — an opportunity that could help them in many ways for years to come. In Pittsburgh, for instance, free after-school art classes at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Youth & Arts teach any kids in the Pittsburgh public school system skills in ceramics, design, photography, and more.

8. Share this video of Sen. Al Franken questioning DeVos' support of anti-LGBTQ causes — and hold her accountable to do better.

Let the record show: Dollars from the DeVos family have gone toward horribly anti-LGBTQ initiatives, including gay (to straight) conversion therapy — a practice that's  been deemed harmful by experts and is essentially a form of child abuse.

Despite her record, DeVos said during her Senate hearing that she never believed in gay conversion therapy and that she "fully embraces equality" for all students. Let's hold her accountable to that.

Earlier this evening, I questioned Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, and was deeply troubled by the fact that she seemed unfamiliar with some of the most basic issues in education today. Ms. DeVos repeatedly refused to answer questions, let alone offer specifics. That was not what the American people needed to hear. They deserved to see her demonstrate that she understands and can successfully address the profoundly difficult challenges ordinary families face every day when it comes to education: things like making sure their kids are prepared for the 21st century economy, addressing student loan debt, and ensuring kids feel safe in school.

Posted by U.S. Senator Al Franken on Tuesday, January 17, 2017

9. Support your local libraries.

Libraries are great resources for our kids to learn outside the classroom (and they have so much more to offer than books). Get your library card, visit frequently, volunteer, and spread the word.

Speaking of libraries...

10. Create a Little Free Library in your own neighborhood.

Build a little library in your yard, stock it with some books, and let your neighbors enjoy. Ideally, it'll turn into a take-a-book, give-a-book situation.

Learn more about how to pull it off.

11. Fight for more affordable and free higher education at the ballot box.

Despite what you may think of DeVos' appointment, Americans increasingly support using public funds to ensure college is free or affordable to more students. Stanford University, for example, was cheered for guaranteeing students whose parents have a combined income of less than $125,000 would have free tuition. And San Francisco has also made waves for making City College free for residents.

Many state and local governments are also trying to make higher ed more accessible to more students. New York state may make its public colleges and universities free to attend for the vast majority of students. Stay plugged in to similar state and local initiatives in your own area.

12. Support the "nonpublic" schools in your area.

Nonpublic schools are, in fact, public schools for kids with moderate to severe disabilities that prevent them from attending a more traditional public school. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ensures schools like them exist for any family that needs it.

Considering DeVos' nomination has disability advocates worried, the nonpublic schools in your community could probably use your support. Many host regular fundraisers and even need classroom volunteers.

13. Support the Kids in Need Foundation.

The nonprofit provides thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies to students in need every year, giving them the tools they need to succeed in class. (There are lots of groups doing similar work, by the way — if you do some digging, you may find a more local option.)

Photo via iStock.

14. Don't forget that Open eBooks is a thing, and it's spectacular.

Former President Obama's ConnectED initiative helped get more than $250 million worth of fantastic children's e-books online, available to any young person who wants to dive into a good read.

Because not every kid gets that chance.

15. Donate to First Book.

This nonprofit provides new books and other learning materials to kids and families in need. Since it was founded in 1992, the group has given away 160 million books and education resources.

16. Help tackle crime, nutrition, and education ... with veggies.

The nonprofit Gardopia Gardens operates community gardens at schools in Texas, helping make nutritional foods more accessible to kids. It not only teaches them about nutrition and gardening, it lowers crime rates in the neighborhoods where it operates. Similar programs are offered at schools around the country — if your local school doesn't already have one, why not look into what it would take to start one yourself?

17. Help make lunchtime a little more stress-free.

18. Support Publicolor.

Kids in New York City who work in the after-school program Publicolor paint beautiful works of art in schools in order to bring a splash of color to the spaces they share, build relationships, and learn valuable skills like commercial painting and positive work habits.

19. Stand up for immigrant students by supporting United We Dream.

The group had already been rallying educators to stand up to Trump's agenda. Now, with DeVos' nomination, its Educators Toolkit may be even more necessary.

20. Take matters into your own hands and run for a position on your local school board.

All politics are local, right? Run for school board in your community and make a difference.

Let's not sugarcoat it: DeVos' nomination is a major setback for our public schools. But we can't get complacent.

In ways big and small, our resistance to her agenda can make a better tomorrow for kids everywhere.

Photo via iStock.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
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It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.
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Dr. David McPhee offers advice for talking to someone living in a different time in their head.

Few things are more difficult than watching a loved one's grip on reality slipping away. Dementia can be brutal for families and caregivers, and knowing how to handle the various stages can be tricky to figure out.

The Alzheimer's Association offers tips for communicating in the early, middle and late stages of the disease, as dementia manifests differently as the disease progresses. The Family Caregiver Alliance also offers advice for talking to someone with various forms and phases of dementia. Some communication tips deal with confusion, agitation and other challenging behaviors that can come along with losing one's memory, and those tips are incredibly important. But what about when the person is seemingly living in a different time, immersed in their memories of the past, unaware of what has happened since then?

Psychologist David McPhee shared some advice with a person on Quora who asked, "How do I answer my dad with dementia when he talks about his mom and dad being alive? Do I go along with it or tell him they have passed away?"

McPhee wrote:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!