A note to the gym owner offering free memberships to people who refuse to get the vaccine

Dear Ian Smith, owner of The Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, New Jersey:

I see that you are offering free memberships to your gym for anyone who refuses to get a COVID vaccine. In a Twitter post, you wrote, "In light of Krispy Kreme giving free donuts for receiving the CVD shot, here at The Atilis Gym we are giving out free memberships to all who don't get vaccinated. We believe in health — the real way — exercise, good diet, plenty of Vitamin D, Zinc, and an environment to destress."

First of all, I'm totally with you on the "believing in health" front. I eat well, focusing on a good balance of fruits and vegetables, healthy carbs and protein. I buy collagen powder sourced from grass-fed cows and eat as much organic produce as we can afford. I exercise six days a week, a mix of HIIT and pilates and strength training and yoga. I take vitamins, including a focus on Vitamin D and Zinc during the pandemic. I'm conscious of my stress levels, which is part of why I exercise. I also practice meditation and make sure I get outdoors for sunshine and fresh air.

I believe in a natural, holistic approach to health. I believe in keeping my body's systems and functions in tip-top shape.

I also believe that in no way conflicts with getting the COVID vaccine.


Keeping our immune systems strong is important. But even a robust immune system isn't foolproof. That's why we see a small but real percentage of young and healthy people die from the flu every year, and why we've seen young and healthy people die from COVID. While rare, having a strong immune system can actually backfire on a healthy person, revving up so much that it creates a "cytokine storm" where the immune system starts attacking things it shouldn't.

And this particular coronavirus appears quite adept at deranging people's immune systems. It's not as simple as "strong immune system = successfully fighting off the virus." Maintaining our body systems is important, but COVID infection isn't a result of weakened bodily systems. It's a foreign invader.

Part of a holistic approach to health is utilizing modern medicine when it makes sense. We've seen 545,000 Americans die from COVID and millions more sickened by it. Some have ongoing health problems from the infection. These are known risks, and there's still a lot that we don't know about the long-term effects. While COVID vaccines are new, the risks are statistically far, far lower than with the virus.

Think of it this way: The COVID vaccine is like a personal trainer for your immune system, prepping it for a specific event. If you're preparing to compete in a decathlon, you could exercise and eat well and hope your general being-in-shape will suffice, but you probably won't do all that well. You might be incredibly strong or have great endurance, but to actually be competitive in a decathlon, you need to prepare and train and hone your strength and skills for those 10 specific events. That's what the vaccine does. It trains and preps your immune system specifically for a COVID competition.

Therefore, I see no conflict whatsoever between keeping your body healthy and getting the COVID vaccine.

If you disagree, that's your prerogative, but what you're doing isn't just about you. I'm all for people having the autonomy to make their own choices, but encouraging people not to get the vaccine is a ludicrous move. Not only does it not make sense on a personal level for the reasons I just laid out, but it's grossly irresponsible on a societal level. (Especially considering the hotbeds of infection gyms and fitness classes can be.)

Vaccinations aren't just about an individual's protection, but about stopping the spread so the virus won't keep mutating in deadlier ways and keep infecting people who are genuinely at high risk. A pandemic is a group event, literally. Imagine being on a sports team and deciding that you don't need to train with your teammates because you feel like you've already got your position covered. Only in this case, the team sport has long-term disease and death as potential consequences of losing. Doesn't that seem like a terrible attitude?

One last point: If optimal health is as important to you as it is to me, I question why you would risk it on a virus that we know can result in ongoing health problems, even for people with mild symptoms. More and more evidence shows that long-haul COVID patients often have initially mild cases of the disease, but are still dealing with various symptoms months after their infection. Two common long-haul symptoms are breathlessness and fatigue—which would certainly make trying to work out a real drag, if not impossible. Doctors still don't know why that's happening, but even if you survive and don't get severely ill, you still could be impacting your health by catching the virus.

It seems pretty clear that being a model of health would include getting the vaccine that trains your body to fight the virus that could damage your health. Yes, absolutely keep those bodily systems in good shape and take care of your overall health, but to rely on that to fight the virus is like heading into a decathlon with no training. It simply doesn't make sense.

Sincerely,

Someone who eats well, exercises, takes my vitamins, and thinks you're dead wrong
Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love 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!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Chris Evans is playing the lead role in the upcoming Pixar film "Lightyear."

Chris Evans was already skilled at squeezing hearts on social media, cavalierly sharing sweet pics of his adorable dog and piano-playing videos on Instagram, as if we could just casually watch him be a near-perfect man without swooning. And now he's being even more delightful with his gushing giddiness over getting to play his dream role.

The guy is already best known as the studly Marvel superhero Captain America, so what could possibly top that? Pixar, apparently. Evans' ultimate acting dream is being in a Pixar movie. And now that his dream is coming true, the most eligible of the Chrises could not be cuter in his expressions of joy.

Sharing the new trailer for "Lightyear"—Pixar's origin story about the astronaut the Buzz Lightyear toy was based on in the "Toy Story" universe—Evans wrote on Twitter:

"I'm covered in goosebumps. And will be every time I watch this trailer. Or hear a Bowie song. Or have any thought whatsoever between now and July cause nothing has ever made me feel more joy and gratitude than knowing I'm a part of this and it's basically always on my mind."

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Logan Kavaluskis holds his new puppy for the first time.

At 47, Joe Kavaluskis lost his nine-year battle with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer, on January 8, 2020, leaving behind a wife and two sons. But that didn't stop him from fulfilling one of his son's dreams a week later on his 13th birthday.

In the final days of his life, he told his wife, Melanie, to buy their son, Logan, a puppy after he passed. He thought the dog would brighten his spirits after such a loss and it was something he always wanted but couldn't have. Joe was allergic to dogs so he couldn't have one in the home.

"He said, 'Just promise that when I do pass, that you get Logan a puppy as soon as you can, because I know that it will bring him a lot of comfort,'" Melanie Kavaluskis told Inside Edition.

Throughout his childhood, Logan had hermit crabs and lizards, but never the puppy he always wanted. When he was 3 years old he got a stuffed Boston terrier and named it Puppers and took it everywhere he went for years.

Joe thought it was the right time for him to have a real Boston terrier of his own.

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