"All children are guilty until proven innocent." Oh ... wait. You mean, that's not how that goes?
One of the biggest challenges deployed service members face is the feeling of being separated from their families, especially when they have children. It's also very stressful for children to be away from parents who are deployed for long periods of time.
For the past four years, the USO has brought deployed service members and their families closer through a wonderful program that allows them to read together. The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program gives deployed service members the ability to choose a book, read it on camera, then send both the recording and book to their child.
Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program www.youtube.com
The program was created through a partnership between the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation and the USO. Hope was one of the most beloved comedians of his generation, and he traveled the world for over six decades, putting on USO shows to boost the morale of the nation's service members.
In 2019, families shared more than 39,000 stories through the program.
The program has been an incredible way for U.S. Army Captain Justin Meredith to connect with his young son Jayden and express himself creatively. Just before he was set to be deployed to the Middle East, he checked into the local USO center where he was introduced to the program. At first, he felt a little awkward in front of the camera but soon took a real shine to making the videos.
When he arrived, he became a regular at USO Camp Buehring in Kuwait where he'd show up every day to read a new book to his son. He began to really liven things up by adopting funny voices, wearing costumes, and using props.
"The zanier that I am on the camera and the goofier the voices, the characters, the props, the more he just really engages with it," Justin said. "My son is so engaged, and he's so happy and he lights up seeing me."
Justin's nightly readings to Jayden had a profound effect on the family by keeping them close while he was away.
Justin Meredith's son and extended family members ended each day by listening to the latest book recording in their custom-made "Just-In-Time Center" while Justin was on deployment in the Middle East.via Courtesy Photo
"It became a life-changing thing, a better way to stay connected, and it was great because while my wife [was] technically raising him [while I was deployed], I could use the books to help influence and mold and help him out with some of the initial things that he's going through," Justin said.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Ruben Pimentel is a father of three and uses the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program to connect with his family while he's deployed. He loves that the recordings will live on long after he's returned from his service overseas.
"I know I'm not there, but I'm able to connect with my family. Even when I'm 60 years old, I'll be able to look back and see myself reading to my kids. It's a family heirloom," Pimentel said.
Sgt. Nick Masi reads a book to his four children while stationed in Afghanistan.via USO
The program is especially popular during the holidays. In 2019, the USO held a special event where service members read "The Night Before Christmas" in front of a festive, fake fire in a costume of their choice.
Sgt. Nick Masi, a father of four, thought the program helped him feel close to his loved ones during the holidays.
"It felt as though the reading program had transported me to be with my family, even if just for one story," he said.
The USO had to temporarily shut down in-person events in centers last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn't stop service members from keeping the tradition of reading to their families alive. Service members who are USO volunteers at USO Erbil in Iraq outfitted the back of a pickup truck with a trifold to make a "room" for them to read to their families.
A service member reads a book to his child in the back of a pickup truck. via USO Erbil
The USO team decorated their makeshift set, grabbed some books, and set up a chair.
Then, they hit the road, sharing their studio with service members on-base, stopping at popular places as well as remote areas. The USO's goal was to reach as many service members as possible.
Deployment is hard on service members and their families, but they do it so we can all enjoy peace and freedom at home. So, it's our job to keep them as happy and comfortable as possible during their times of sacrifice.
Click here to see how you can contribute to the USO and support services like the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program, which has helped over 100,000 service members and their families be together, or share a story, when they're miles apart.
The concept of virginity is a very loaded issue in American culture. If a woman loses hers when she's too young she can be slut-shamed. If a man remains a virgin for too long, he can be bullied for not being manly enough.
There is also a whole slew of religious mind games associated with virginity that can give people some serious psychological problems associated with sex.
Losing one's virginity has also been blown up way beyond proportion. It's often believed that it's a magical experience—it's usually not. Or that after having sex for the first time people can really start to enjoy living life—not the case.
What if we just dropped all of the stigmas surrounding virginity and instead, replaced them with healthy attitudes toward sex and relationships?
Writer Cayce LaCorte is going viral on TikTok for the simple way she's taught her five daughters to think about virginity. They don't have to. LaCorte shared her parenting ideas on TikTok in response to mom-influencer Nevada Shareef's question: "Name something about the way you raised your kids that people think is weird but you think is healthy."
"I'm gonna get a lot of shit for this, but what are you gonna do?" she said in the video. "I'm raising my five daughters to believe that there is no such thing as virginity.
"It is a patriarchal concept used to control women and serves no purpose other than making women feel bad about ourselves," she explained. "Just because some guy randomly sticks his penis in you at some point in your life, it does not change your worth. It does not change who you are. It doesn't do anything other than it happened."
She also responded to those who may criticize her for encouraging promiscuity.
"Sex is important. It's a big deal; it should always be a big deal. It has nothing to do with your first time. It's just ridiculous. The whole concept is ridiculous," the video explained.
She also believes that sex shouldn't be so closely associated with one's moral character.
"I'm raising them to be good people and have solid foundations and make their own choices and make intelligent choices. Not because some book says not to," she concluded the video.
The video made a lot of people realize that virginity is so ingrained in our society that the concept is rarely questioned.
"I never really thought about this to be honest," one commenter wrote. "I will absolutely be adopting this!! Thank you for sharing."
"I have 2 girls, and I think this is how I will teach them when they are older. This would have made me feel more self worth when I was younger," Samantha wrote.
LaCorte's comments about women and virginity need to be heard. But there should also be more discussion around how men also fight the stigma associated with virginity.
There's an unwritten law that says men must lose their virginity by the age of 18 or by at least 21 or that somehow they are less of a man. For men that are virgins into their 20s, "Sex goes from being something to be enjoyed to a giant monolith of titanic proportions that casts a shadow over everything they do and who they are," dating coach Harris O'Malley writes.
Sex is a tricky issue that everyone should be able to approach in their own way, at their own time. It's great that LaCorte's video has gone viral for illustrating the fact that virginity is just another obstacle on the road to sexual maturity that shouldn't factor into whether we decide to have sex or not.
As the old saying goes, “do good and it will come back to you in unexpected ways.”
Sometimes those “unexpected ways” come in four-wheel drive.
Oscar Rodriguez is a Navy veteran, church leader and personal trainer in Culver City, California. More important than that, he is a good person with a giving heart. In addition to taking care of his 75-year-old mom, he also makes meals for women victims of domestic violence.
Rodriguez thought he won the ultimate prize: going to a special VIP screening of Dwayne Johnson's new film "Red Notice," and getting pulled up on stage by The Rock himself. But it only got better from there.
Thanking him for his service, praising him for giving back to his community and bonding with him as a fellow “mamma’s boy,” Johnson stands with Rodriguez on the stage exchanging hugs … until Johnson says “I wanna show you something real quick.”
A video on The Rock’s Instagram shows the two walking out to a giant black Ford Raptor pick-up truck, where Johnson grabs a note and hands it to Rodriguez, saying, “I wrote this card for you. It’s a little thing.”
Playing along, a bewildered Rodriguez reads: “Thank you for your service brother. Enjoy your new tru-”
Rodriguez collapsed with tears before finishing his sentence. And rightly so. It’s not every day you're gifted Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s very own custom truck.
The caption on Johnson’s post explains that he originally planned to give Rodriguez the same Porsche Taycan driven in the movie. Porsche said no, but the Rock still said yes, and aimed to “do one better.”
Honestly, I don’t know which is more heartwarming: the fact that this fan gets the ultimate surprise from one of his heroes, or seeing two grown men with such a huge display of emotion.
Bursting up from the ground, Rodriguez goes in for yet another hug with the Hollywood icon. His voice high and cracking from passion, he exclaims, “Yo, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen you in this truck,” while sobbing and holding his chest. Rodriguez then Facetimes his girlfriend, and shrieks of “oh my god” can be heard from the phone.
As Rodriguez peels out of the parking lot in style, Johnson tells viewers “his laundry list of caring credentials, it's pretty amazing. So it’s just an honor for me to bring a little bit of joy to a dude who deserves probably a lot more than just my truck.” Not missing a beat, he adds “and now I can figure out…how to get home.”
The Rock might be without a car, but Oscar Rodriguez now has a daily reminder that kindness matters, and that acts of generosity do get noticed. Something tells me that he does these things from something other than extrinsic motivation. Still, a new car always helps.
On Thanksgiving, Rodriguez posted that he plans to emulate Johnson’s positivity, using the “new whip” to pay it forward by encouraging people and lifting their spirits, bringing cheer.
As Rodriguez’s story reminds us, “it’s just love.” Wonderful, surprising moments happen when we remember to act from our hearts.
Success is measured not by a list of our accomplishments, but by a legacy of people inspired by our passion.
This past Sunday (November 28), Broadway royalty gathered together in Times Square to pay tribute to Stephen Sondheim, the composer and lyricist who created legendary works for six decades, and whose name is practically synonymous with musical theatre. The tribute came after his passing on Friday.
The massive crowd is a sea of recognizable faces, including Sara Bareilles (“Waitress”) and Josh Groban. Perhaps most easily spotted is teary-eyed Lin Manuel Miranda, a modern-day Sondheim in his own right.
Miranda would later be seen reading a passage about “Sunday in the Park with George” from Sondheim’s memoir, which read:
"Once during the writing of each show, I cry at a notion, a word, a chord, a melodic idea, an accompaniment figure... In this show, it was the word ‘forever’ in ‘Sunday.' I was suddenly moved by the contemplation of what these people would have thought if they’d know they were being immortalized, and in a major way, in a great painting.”
Towards the verticals of trees— Howard Sherman (@HESherman) November 28, 2021
Forever . . .
By the blue purple yellow red water
On the green
Orange violet mass
Of the grass
In our perfect park
Made of flecks of light
And parasols . . .
Bumbum bum Bumbumbum
Bumbum bum . . .#Sondheim pic.twitter.com/AG9e5zoAND
In an age where we’re more likely to stay at home and watch Netflix than go to a live concert, let alone go see a musical, there are many who have not experienced that inexplicable, magic quality that live theatre possesses. At its best, it inspires people to use their voice, practice empathy and come together in community with one another. Sondheim was the very best of the best at embodying this quality in his works. And if this video is any indication, he will be sorely missed.
Sondheim too will be immortalized, perhaps in a way he’d never imagined during his lifetime.