He found out his son had cancer. His coworkers answered with unbelievable kindness.

Andreas Graff, a single dad based in Hesse, Germany, faced one of the most difficult decisions of his life when his now-4-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia last year.

Graff's paid time off wasn't nearly enough to accommodate his son's needs, and he feared losing his job — which would put his small family in an even tougher position.

Fortunately, his company's head of human resources worked with senior management and the workers' union to create a voluntary donation pool of other employees' overtime pay.


Remarkably, every single employee — more than 700 of them — contributed to the fund, donating nearly 3,300 hours so Graff could care for his son.

"Without this great support, I would be unemployed," Graff told local German paper Oberhessische Presse.

Photo by Anna Spiess, used with permission.

Family leave laws often can put people in vulnerable positions.

Germany has largely gender neutral laws when it comes to paternity leave. However, those benefits become less clear when a parent needs to take time off to take care of family needs that aren't directly related to childbirth.

In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that some employers allow certain employees to take up to 12 weeks off in a 12-month period for family and medical emergencies. However, that time off is unpaid.

Qualifying employers can't fire an employee during this period, but they aren't required to give them the same position when they return to the job. Some jobs let you combine paid time off (vacation, sick days, etc.) for family emergencies, but employers aren't required by law to do so.

Some states, like California, provide more generous paid time off laws, but even those are fairly limited.

Management and the workers union came together to find a solution this time — which is all too rare.

The voluntary donation system at Graff's job may have been the first of its kind. It's not uncommon for coworkers or communities to raise funds for a friend in need. But the direct pooling and transferring of employee benefits from a group to an individual is newsworthy both for the kindness involved and for the unique approach the company took.

Graff's personal challenges grew only more complicated after he lost his wife to heart disease in 2017. Compounding his family leave with bereavement time would have made his vulnerable situation all the more perilous. The extra time off donated by his colleagues has allowed him to spend more than a year away knowing he'll have his full job and benefits once he returns to work.

"The reaction of our employees was incredible," Seidel human resources head Pia Meier told the paper. "There is no one who has not donated."

Photo by Anna Spiess.

Graff's situation shows the generosity of people but also the need for better family leave laws around the world.

The example set by Graff's coworkers, and his company's management, shows the best of people coming together to help another person struggling through a crisis.

However, his story is still an exception to the rule that most workplaces are not prepared to respond when someone faces a serious illness or a family emergency at home. Until more sustainable family leave policies become the norm, the responsibility will continue to fall on the generosity and ingenuity of those like Graff's company and coworkers.

True

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!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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