Even under pressure, Angela Merkel shows what it means to put people before politics.

Time magazine recently named German Chancellor Angela Merkel its 2015 Person of the Year. Meanwhile, her country hit a milestone that illustrates why she earned the honor.

This week, Germany announced that it has accepted more than 1 million refugees inside its borders in 2015.

One. MILLION.


Photo by John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Image.

For perspective, Germany has welcomed more refugees in 2015 than the United States has in the last 10 years.

Germany, a country of 80 million people, allowed in 1 million refugees this year alone. The United States, a country of 300 million, allows in roughly 70,000 refugees every year. You could say that's either rather embarrassing for the U.S., or a major statement of compassion for Germany. Perhaps it's both.

"Germany is doing what is morally and legally obliged [to do for refugees]. Not more, and not less," Merkel has said. And through her actions, she's stood by that sentiment, for sure.

Photo by Tobias Schwartz/AFP/Getty Images.

Merkel's ability to see refugees as real people in need of assistance, and not as a scary monolithic group of foreign invaders, has put Germany at the front of the refugee crisis. Some say her open-arms approach came as a change of heart after she encountered a young Palestinian refugee during a televised event back in July.

Whatever the case, it hasn't come without controversy.

Merkel's ability to see refugees as real people in need of assistance, and not as a scary monolithic group of foreign invaders, has put Germany at the front of the refugee crisis.

From fellow politicians and officials to the media to the German people, her efforts have seen an increasing amount of backlash stemming from concerns about cities that may not have the resources to handle the increased number of incoming refugees.

Merkel understands the concerns but doesn't see turning her back on refugees as the answer either. Besides, she's used to being the first to do something.

"It's no exaggeration to see this task as a historic test for Europe," she said during a Brussels summit on the crisis, adding that to "slam the door ... is an illusion in the internet age of the 21st century."

Photo by John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Image.

Adding an additional million people to a country of only 80 million in such a short amount of time isn't easy.

Perhaps the best analogy is this: It's kind of like when a small gathering of friends turns into an enormous house party. It's all a bit unexpected, but you still want everyone to get along and not break anything.

Merkel's open-door policy has stood strong despite increasing criticism, and Germany is doing its best to keep its refugee situation under control and ensure all the partygoers are happy and have enough to eat and drink and a place to crash at the end of the night. (OK, this party analogy may have gotten away from me.)

One way Germany is trying to do this is through a new plan to issue ID cards to all asylum-seekers to help store and centralize the info of who is coming in and what their asylum status is. It'll be interesting to see how the ID program turns out when it rolls out in February, but the plan is proof that Germany isn't afraid to figure out solutions to the influx of refugees as it goes — rather than pausing all incoming refugees until it can determine a solution (as some presidential candidates have suggested the United States should do).

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

As people continue to flee violence in Syria and other countries every day, the need for shelter, safety, and acceptance elsewhere is desperately needed — and Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005, has stepped up to provide it. Even through the resistance, she's calling on other countries to do the same.

Canada is the latest to step up to the challenge. Prime Minster Justin Trudeau was seen greeting refugees at the airport when they arrived to their new country this week.

Merkel being declared Time's Person of the Year is big in another way too: It's the first time in 29 years that a woman has held the title.

While Merkel has been a huge voice in the refugee crisis, she's done a lot more than just that over the past 10 years. From her leadership role in the Greek debt crisis, to negotiating cease-fire deals with Russia, to recently joining the fight against ISIS, she's undoubtedly transformed German politics.

Chancellor Merkel is putting people over politics and standing up for what's right, no matter what. That's a surprisingly rare quality in many public leaders, and her strength and compassion are commendable.

Whether you support her leadership or not, it's no wonder she's considered by many as the most powerful woman in the world.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via Texas State Senate and The ACLU

There has been a tidal wave of anti-trans legislation proposed over the past few months in the U.S. At least 17 states are now considering restricting anyone under the age of 18 from transition-related care.

Texas is currently debating two anti-trans bills. Once would criminalize parents for allowing their children to receive gender-affirming treatments. Another would criminalize healthcare professionals who administer them.

For a state that prides itself on promoting personal freedom, these bills go out of their way to punish medical professionals and parents for making deeply personal choices. Shouldn't doctors and parents have the right to make medical decisions for children without the state's involvement?

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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