His neighborhood’s known for violence. So he’s helping young filmmakers give it a new rep.
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Extra Chewy Mints

As a kid, Ruben Garcia might not have imagined he could become the musician and audio engineer he is today.

That’s because Garcia grew up in Watts, an area of South Los Angeles known for high rates of poverty and violence. In his neighborhood, kids didn’t get opportunities to explore the possibilities of audio engineering because they lived in a community that lacked resources for sometimes even the most basic needs.  

"[Audio] equipment is expensive," Garcia explains. "Access is expensive."


South L.A. also has lower high school graduation rates than the rest of the city, and high school dropouts are more likely to be unemployed and imprisoned. Research also shows that because of high rates of health problems, homicide, and suicide, South L.A. residents have shorter lifespans than residents in other parts of the city.

Garcia at work as an audio engineer. All images via Extra.

Without the right support, a kid like Garcia growing up in South L.A. wouldn't focus on much more than survival.

That's why Garcia says he was "blessed" to connect with Better Youth, a nonprofit that would change the course of his life.

He participated in several Better Youth programs, which include media training and partnering with mentors in film, audio, and music industries. They even provide professional certification to help mentees get a leg up in their industry of choice.

Garcia (right) hands out certificates to Better Youth participants.

But it wasn't just the events and programs that made an impression on Garcia. It was how the organization went above and beyond to make sure he had what he needed to participate.

"I'd say, 'Well, I don't have any money' or 'I don't have a ride,'" he says. And then Better Youth staff would mobilize to get him to the event location in some way — such as by sending a ride or carpooling.

Such gestures made him feel cared about, built up his confidence, and helped him persevere through hard times, which, in turn, got him to high school graduation and into college.

"It really inspired me because I felt like, wow, these guys will do anything to help me," he says.

Garcia gained hope for possibilities he'd never considered before. At Better Youth, he learned that people cared about his future and that, with his new skills in music and engineering, it was possible for him to thrive.

As an adult, Garcia wanted to continue the cycle by giving back to others like him, so he became the information and technology director of a Better Youth program called Real to Reel.

Real to Reel is an international film festival that's entirely for youth. Young filmmakers submit creative films from locations all around the world — including, of course, South L.A.

Part of the red carpet at the Real to Reel film festival.

As they learn skills in filmmaking and compose their festival submissions, the Real to Reel youth get to express themselves and raise awareness about issues that matter to them, such as foster care, homelessness, and race relations.

They also get to walk the red carpet at Hollywood's L.A. Film School and rub elbows with special guests and film industry insiders, like past guests Bill Duke and Melvin Jackson Jr.  

As the information and technology director, Garcia says he's the guy everyone calls when something tech-related goes wrong — and he's happy to get things up and running again. But for young people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford such opportunities, help with technology isn't just a matter of fixing equipment. Garcia also acts as a role model, an example of someone who pushed through difficult circumstances to thrive as an expert in his field.

Garcia recognizes it's not just the "big things" that make a difference. But that's not the only reason he's committed to sharing the smaller moments of kindness.

He was in a horrific car accident in college, which caused a brain injury that affected some of his memory. He eventually got it back, but he first had to slow down and take time to recuperate. It gave him a chance to reflect, and the whole experience made him even more grateful for life’s little moments that show how people care, even when times are rough.

"It makes you appreciate the life you already had because you almost lost it," he says. "It kinda makes you re-evaluate things. … I'm still here, what now?"

In reflecting on his journey, he says he's realized what a difference someone simply offering a ride, an invitation to lunch, or a welcoming greeting made to him.

"Sometimes, it's that one small thing that can flip a person a complete 180," he says. And now, he's committed to being the person who creates those meaningful moments for someone else.

For more about Garcia's work with youth, check out this video:

Extra Episode 3: Ruben Garcia

Finding opportunity growing up in an at-risk community can be difficult, which is why strong mentors can make a huge impact.

Posted by Upworthy on Monday, May 7, 2018
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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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