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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

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

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There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

Screenshot taken from a live video of the trial.

A recent (and fairly insensitive) sketch from “Saturday Night Live” said it best regarding the widespread fixation many have on the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial:

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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open - SNL www.youtube.com

Schadenfreude, celebrity fascination and previously inaccessible information now being at our fingertips is a potent combination in this trial, making amateur lawyers and psychologists of all who feel compelled to unleash their hot takes. And though the right to converse and speculate exists, is it always in our best interests to do so? Especially when it means potentially spreading misinformation, or at the cost of empathy and compassion?

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Photo from Upworthy Library

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