Canadians started a 'caremongering' campaign to counteract pandemic 'scaremongering'
Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

At this point in our first collective pandemic experience, I think it's safe to assume we're all a little freaked out. Life as we know it has been flipped upside down in a very short period of time, we know the increased spread of the virus is coming and hope we're doing enough to slow it down, and we're watching the economy tailspin, all at the same time.


While some have accused the media of scaremongering, the reality is that this virus is legitimately scary if left unchecked. We need to understand reality we're up against here, which unfortunately means processing mindboggling models and frightening firsthand stories.

But we can't stop at informed fear. Crises such as this can bring out the best and the worst in people, and we all need to decide which it's going to be. That's why some kind-hearted Canadians are asking everyone to call on their better angels with an initiative nicknamed "caremongering."

The idea is simple: Spread kindness like a virus. Help people in your community, especially those most vulnerable due to age, health, or financial circumstance.

That might look like offering to pick up groceries or make a pharmacy run for an elderly or immunocompromised neighbor. It might look like taking up a collection for a local business hit hard by the lockdown.

Caremongering groups have sprung up on social media to coordinate efforts. According to the BBC, more than 35 Facebook groups have been set up in just a few days across Ottawa, Halifax, and Annapolis County in Nova Scotia. More than 30,000 people have joined the groups.

Posts in the group include offers of assistance (using #offer) or people in need of assistance (#iso—"in search of"). Then the community works to get needs met.

The original groups were started by Mita Hans, Valentina Harper, and others. They thought they'd have a couple dozen people, and are happy to see thousands interesting in helping their neighbors. Harper said the most positive thing to come out of it is the local groups geared to specific neighborhoods, where people can immediately reach out and offer what's needed.

"Scaremongering is a big problem," Harper told the BBC. "We wanted to switch that around and get people to connect on a positive level, to connect with each other. It's spread the opposite of panic in people, brought out community and camaraderie, and allowed us to tackle the needs of those who are at-risk all the time—now more than ever."

The groups have also become a place for people to share positive stories of humans helping other humans—the kinds of uplifting examples of the best of humanity we all need more of right now—in addition to a place where community can come together virtually.

"It's really shown us the need that people have to have some level of reassurance and hope," Harper said. "Anxiety, isolation and lack of hope affects you. In providing this virtual community which allows people to help each other, I think it is really showing people there is still hope for humanity. We haven't lost our hope."

Oh Canada, thank you for living up to your reputation for kindness and serving as an example to the rest of the world in these extraordinary and uncertain times.

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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!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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