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Heroes

Creative teens with disabilities are finding ways of giving back during the pandemic

Creative teens with disabilities are finding ways of giving back during the pandemic

Sophie Stern, an Arizona teen with Down syndrome, is working toward a career as a dance teacher. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic—knowing she had to do 10 hours of community service to satisfy her high school's health class requirement—she put on her black t-shirt and leggings and began teaching a free Zoom class in ballet and contemporary dance at home three days a week. "My grandmother is a dance teacher, and she inspired me," Sophie explains.

Across the country, young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been volunteering during the pandemic. With schools and Special Olympics practice cancelled and places of employment shuttered, they're working in community gardens and helping to care for elderly relatives. Clients at The ARC of Madison Cortland, which provides support and services to people with disabilities, have sewed thousands of medical face masks on Singer industrial machines to donate to government agencies and healthcare providers.


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The Dance Teacher

A similar desire to be of service gripped Sophie in the midst of social distancing orders. She'd been used to dancing daily at her high school, assisting at her grandmother's studio and performing with a local theater company. She was supposed to travel to Chicago in March with her school's dance program, but COVID-19 risks cancelled the trip. For a while, she choreographed and performed a dance each day, which her mother posted on Facebook for an enthusiastic audience.


"The daily dance was so important for us both because it brought some structure to the day and because Sophie really got her exercise in," says her mother, Amy. "She spent about half an hour trying out songs before she landed on the one she wanted me to videotape. She did it because she knew people were looking forward to it. They would make song requests. It was a great way for her to communicate."

In April, Sophie decided to teach classes on Zoom. "It gives her some control at a time where none of us have much," says Amy. "For that half hour, three times a week, Sophie is in charge!"

Twenty two students signed up to take her free classes, including actor Sean McElwee from the hit TV series Born this Way. "They're people from around the country, of all ages and levels of dance experience," Amy explains. "It's been a great mix of people with disabilities and people who do not have disabilities."

The Fundraiser

Esteban Barriga of West Roxbury, MA is a young man with autism. When his city enacted social distancing rules, he saw that low-income community members with physical disabilities weren't able to wait in line at food banks. "He told me, 'Mom, we have to help people with disabilities who don't have jobs. They are poor and need lots of help,'" says his mother, Maribel Rueda.

Barriga began collecting grocery gift cards from local markets to mail to families with at least one disabled member at home. His original goal was to raise $5,000, but he ended up raising over $6,500 with donations from the Puerto Rican Festival of Massachusetts and Paisa Photography in South Carolina. "We have fed eighty families in total, from all towns in Massachusetts," he says. "We've also been feeding Boston Public School families [who have] children with disabilities."

The Facebook fundraising page he manages with his mother includes comments from donors, as well as photos and videos from families who have received the grocery story gift cards. In one video, a mother with two small children looks into the camera and thanks Esteban in Spanish. In another, several family members stand around a child in a hospital bed and chant in a chorus of voices, "Thank you, Esteban!"

"Esteban has autism but he is so caring and kind to others," says Maribel. "He feels no one should suffer and we all need to protect one another. She advises parents of young people with similar interests to "create a great campaign that touches people's hearts and allow their creativity to shine."

The Non-Profit Intern

Laura Estrich, a recent high school graduate from Corvallis, Oregon, puts her creativity to use as an intern for the city's new Disability Equity Center—a local nonprofit resource center created by and for people with disabilities and their allies. Without Special Olympics basketball and swimming to train for this year, she's been helping with outreach and advertising, creating educational PowerPoints and essays and collecting resources around disability justice.

"Laura has been a key champion and stakeholder since the very beginning," says the center's co-founder, Allison Hobgood. "She's an unpaid intern right now working on outreach, resource gathering, newsletters and just generally moving projects along. She's amazing."

"I was born with Down Syndrome," says Laura. "I do research projects on the internet about people with disabilities. It's my job and my future."

Her father, George, says that the internship has given his daughter purpose and meaningful work. "And social contact," he adds. "She has regular Zoom meetings with Allison Hobgood to talk about the Disability Equity Center."

He suggests that the parents of disabled teens interesting in volunteering during the pandemic set their kids up for success by keeping tasks doable and work sessions short. "Let teens do as much as they can on their own," he says. "It's good if the work is really meaningful, not just an activity to kill time."

For instance, young adults who are stuck at home can take on service projects like making greeting cards and videos to send to family members, or decorating sidewalks with chalk as reminders to wear masks, notes Amy. "If you can take your kid's jam, like dance, and figure out a way for them to do something positive with it that gives them a leadership role" she says. "That's great."

Esteban also advises young people to pay particular attention to news stories about people who are struggling, then consider how best to be of help. He's found the Facebook COVID-19 Response Center particularly helpful when connecting grocery store gift cards with families in need. "Fifty percent of the families I am feeding were found in the Facebook COVID- 19 response center page," he says. His efforts have been so successful that he's extended them for another month.

Sophie, too, has decided to continue teaching online. While she looks forward to the day when she can return to high school and her grandmother's studio, she's planning another series of classes in ballet and modern dance. Three days a week she'll continue to put on her t-shirt and leggings and log onto Zoom to demonstrate her kicks and pirouettes for students. "It's easy," she says, "and it's fun."


Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019).

Science

MIT’s trillion-frames-per-second camera can capture light as it travels

"There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera."

Photo from YouTube video.

Photographing the path of light.

A new camera developed at MIT can photograph a trillion frames per second.

Compare that with a traditional movie camera which takes a mere 24. This new advancement in photographic technology has given scientists the ability to photograph the movement of the fastest thing in the Universe, light.


The actual event occurred in a nano second, but the camera has the ability to slow it down to twenty seconds.

time, science, frames per second, bounced light

The amazing camera.

Photo from YouTube video.

For some perspective, according to New York Times writer, John Markoff, "If a bullet were tracked in the same fashion moving through the same fluid, the resulting movie would last three years."


In the video below, you'll see experimental footage of light photons traveling 600-million-miles-per-hour through water.

It's impossible to directly record light so the camera takes millions of scans to recreate each image. The process has been called femto-photography and according to Andrea Velten, a researcher involved with the project, "There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera."

(H/T Curiosity)


This article originally appeared on 09.08.17

Health

Her mother doesn't get why she's depressed. So she explains the best way she knows how.

Sabrina Benaim eloquently describes what it's like to be depressed.

Sabrina Benaim's “Explaining My Depression to My Mother."

Sabrina Benaim's “Explaining My Depression to My Mother" is pretty powerful on its own.

But, in it, her mother exhibits some of the most common misconceptions about depression, and I'd like to point out three of them here.

Misconception #1: Depression is triggered by a single event or series of traumatic events.

empathy, human condition, humanity

Depression isn’t just over sleeping.

Most people think depression is triggered by a traumatic event: a loved one dying, a job loss, a national tragedy, some THING. The truth is that depression sometimes just appears out of nowhere. So when you think that a friend or loved one is just in an extended bad mood, reconsider. They could be suffering from depression.

Misconception #2: People with depression are only sad.

family, parents, mom, anxiety

The obligation of anxiety.

Most people who have never experienced depression think depression is just an overwhelming sadness. In reality, depression is a complex set of feelings and physical changes in the body. People who suffer from depression are sad, yes, but they can also be anxious, worried, apathetic, and tense, among other things.

Misconception #3: You can snap out of it.

button poetry, medical condition, biological factors

Making fun plans not wanting to have fun.

The thing with depression is that it's a medical condition that affects your brain chemistry. It has to do with environmental or biological factors first and foremost. Sabrina's mother seems to think that if her daughter would only go through the motions of being happy that then she would become happy. But that's not the case. Depression is a biological illness that leaks into your state of being.

Think of it this way: If you had a cold, could you just “snap out of it"?

No? Exactly.

empathy, misconceptions of depression, mental health

Mom doesn’t understand.

via Button Poetry/YouTube

These are only three of the misconceptions about depression. If you know somebody suffering from depression, you should take a look at this video here below to learn the best way to talk to them:

This article originally appeared on 11.24.15

Here's how to be 30% more persuasive.

Everybody wants to see themselves in a positive light. That’s the key to understanding Jonah Berger’s simple tactic that makes people 30% more likely to do what you ask. Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the bestselling author of “Magic Words: What to Say to Get Your Way.”

Berger explained the technique using a Stanford University study involving preschoolers. The researchers messed up a classroom and made two similar requests to groups of 5-year-olds to help clean up.

One group was asked, "Can you help clean?" The other was asked, “Can you be a helper and clean up?" The kids who were asked if they wanted to be a “helper” were 30% more likely to want to clean the classroom. The children weren’t interested in cleaning but wanted to be known as “helpers.”


Berger calls the reframing of the question as turning actions into identities.

"It comes down to the difference between actions and identities. We all want to see ourselves as smart and competent and intelligent in a variety of different things,” Berger told Big Think. “But rather than describing someone as hardworking, describing them as a hard worker will make that trait seem more persistent and more likely to last. Rather than asking people to lead more, tell them, 'Can you be a leader?' Rather than asking them to innovate, can you ask them to 'Be an innovator'? By turning actions into identities, you can make people a lot more likely to engage in those desired actions.”

Berger says that learning to reframe requests to appeal to people’s identities will make you more persuasive.

“Framing actions as opportunities to claim desired identities will make people more likely to do them,” Berger tells CNBC Make It. “If voting becomes an opportunity to show myself and others that I am a voter, I’m more likely to do it.”

This technique doesn’t just work because people want to see themselves in a positive light. It also works for the opposite. People also want to avoid seeing themselves being portrayed negatively.

“Cheating is bad, but being a cheater is worse. Losing is bad, being a loser is worse,” Berger says.

The same tactic can also be used to persuade ourselves to change our self-concept. Saying you like to cook is one thing, but calling yourself a chef is an identity. “I’m a runner. I’m a straight-A student. We tell little kids, ‘You don’t just read, you’re a reader,’” Berger says. “You do these things because that’s the identity you hold.”

Berger’s work shows how important it is to hone our communication skills. By simply changing one word, we can get people to comply with our requests more effectively. But, as Berger says, words are magic and we have to use thgem skillfully. “We think individual words don’t really matter that much. That’s a mistake,” says Berger. “You could have excellent ideas, but excellent ideas aren’t necessarily going to get people to listen to you.”


This article originally appeared on 2.11.24

Pop Culture

A comic about wearing makeup goes from truthful to weird in 4 panels.

A hilariously truthful (and slightly weird) explanation of the "too much makeup" conundrum.

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

A comic shows the evolution or devolution from with makeup to without.

Even though I don't wear very much makeup, every few days or so SOMEONE...

(friends, family, internet strangers)

...will weigh in on why I "don't need makeup."


Now, I realize this is meant as a compliment, but this comic offers a hilariously truthful (and slightly weird) explanation of the "too much makeup" conundrum.

social norms, social pressure, friendship, self esteem

“Why do you wear so much makeup?"

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

passive aggressive, ego, confidence, beauty

“See, you look pretty without all that makeup on."

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

expectations, beauty products, mascara, lipstick

“Wow you look tired, are you sick?"

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

lizards, face-painting, hobbies, hilarious comic

When I shed my human skin...

Image set by iri-draws/Tumblr, used with permission.

Not everyone is able to turn into a badass lizard when someone asks about their face-painting hobbies. Don't you kinda wish you could? Just to drive this hilarious comic all the way home, here are four reasons why some women* wear makeup:

*Important side note: Anyone can wear makeup. Not just women. True story.

Four reasons some women* wear makeup:

1. Her cat-eye game is on point.

mascara, eyes, confidence

Her cat-eye game is on point.

Via makeupproject.

2. She has acne or acne scars.

acne, cover up, scarring, medical health

She has acne or acne scars.

Via Carly Humbert.

3. Pink lipstick.

lipstick, beauty products, basics, self-expression

Yes, pink lipstick.

Via Destiny Godley

4. She likes wearing makeup.

appearance, enhancement, creative expression

Happy to be going out and feeling good.

Happy Going Out GIF by Much.

While some people may think putting on makeup is a chore, it can be really fun! For some, makeup is an outlet for creativity and self-expression. For others, it's just a way to feel good about themselves and/or enhance their favorite features.

That's why it feels kinda icky when someone says something along the lines of "You don't need so much makeup!" Now, it's arguable that no one "needs" makeup, but everyone deserves to feel good about the way they look.

For some people, feeling good about their appearance includes wearing makeup. And that's totally OK.


This article originally appeared on 05.28.15

Joy

Adorable 'Haka baby' dance offers a sweet window into Maori culture

Stop what you're doing and let this awesomeness wash over you.

If you've never seen a Maori haka performed, you're missing out.

The Maori are the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and their language and customs are an integral part of the island nation. One of the most recognizable Maori traditions outside of New Zealand is the haka, a ceremonial dance or challenge usually performed in a group. The haka represents the pride, strength, and unity of a tribe and is characterized by foot-stamping, body slapping, tongue protrusions, and rhythmic chanting.

Haka is performed at weddings as a sign of reverence and respect for the bride and groom and are also frequently seen before sports competitions, such as rugby matches.



The intensity of the haka is the point. It is meant to be a show of strength and elicit a strong response—which makes seeing a tiny toddler learning to do it all the more adorable.

Here's an example of a rugby haka:

Danny Heke, who goes by @focuswithdan on TikTok, shared a video of a baby learning haka and omigosh it is seriously the most adorable thing. When you see most haka, the dancers aren't smiling—their faces are fierce—so this wee one starting off with an infectious grin is just too much. You can see that he's already getting the moves down, facial expressions and all, though.

@focuswithdan When you grow up learning haka! #haka #teachthemyoung #maori #māori #focuswithdan #fyp #foryou #kapahaka ♬ original sound - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

As cute as this video is, it's part of a larger effort by Heke to use his TikTok channel to share and promote Maori culture. His videos cover everything from the Te Reo Maori language to traditional practices to issues of prejudice Maori people face.

Here he briefly goes over the different body parts that make up haka:

@focuswithdan

♬ Ngati - Just2maori

This video explains the purerehua, or bullroarer, which is a Maori instrument that is sometimes used to call rains during a drought.

@focuswithdan Reply to @illumi.is.naughty Some tribes used this to call the rains during drought 🌧 ⛈ #maori #māori #focuswithdan #fyp ♬ Pūrerehua - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

This one shares a demonstration and explanation of the taiaha, a traditional Maori weapon.

@focuswithdan Reply to @shauncalvert Taiaha, one of the most formidable of the Māori Weaponry #taiaha #maori #māori #focuswithdan #fyp #foryou ♬ original sound - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

For another taste of haka, check out this video from a school graduation:

@focuswithdan When your little cuzzy graduates and her school honours her with a haka #maori #māori #haka #focuswithdan #fyp #graduation @its_keshamarley ♬ Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngāti Ruanui - 𝕱𝖔𝖈𝖚𝖘𝖂𝖎𝖙𝖍𝕯𝖆𝖓

Heke even has some fun with the trolls and racists in the comments who try to tell him his culture is dead (what?).

@focuswithdan Credit to you all my AMAZING FOLLOWERS! #focuswithdan #maori #māori #followers #fyp #trolls ♬ original sound - sounds for slomo_bro!

Unfortunately, it's not just ignorant commenters who spew racist bile. A radio interview clip that aired recently called Maori people "genetically predisposed to crime, alcohol, and underperformance," among other terrible things. (The host, a former mayor of Auckland, has been let go for going along with and contributing to the caller's racist narrative.)

@focuswithdan #newzealand radio in 2021 delivering racist commentaries 🤦🏽‍♂️ #māori #maori #focuswithdan #racism DC: @call.me.lettie2.0 ♬ original sound - luna the unicow

That clip highlights why what Heke is sharing is so important. The whole world is enriched when Indigenous people like the Maori have their voices heard and their culture celebrated. The more we learn from each other and our diverse ways of life, the more enjoyable life on Earth will be and the better we'll get at collaborating to confront the challenges we all share.


This article originally appeared on 01.28.21