His students were getting killed. So, Principal Cook took action and created a safe space for them.

When Akbar Cook arrived at West Side High School in Newark, he knew something needed to change.

Principal Cook saw that the high schoolers he served faced serious challenges in their community, including gang violence and drugs. After his first summer with the school—during which two students were killed—Cook decided to take action.

He approached the school's Alumni Association to brainstorm ideas for giving students more structured activities to keep them off the streets. With the help of volunteers and fundraisers, they launched the Lights On program in the summer of 2016.


Now in its fourth year, the program has proven to be a resounding success.

The high school offers students a safe space with fun activities every Friday night during the school year.

From 6:00pm to 11:00pm every Friday night, hundreds of students congregate within the walls of West Side High School to play basketball and video games, learn sewing and cosmetology, and enjoy a hot dinner.

The students who participate in the program are grateful for the alternative to the dangers of socializing in their neighborhood. Lights On also operates three days a week during the summer, and the program is made possible by donations from the community and help from alumni.

"Anything that keeps me off the streets I'll do," one student told ABC 7. "Selling drugs and stuff, I'm not into that."

"On the street it's dangerous, people get killed, you could be killed walking home, gunshots everywhere," another student said.

Some cite security as their main reason for coming to Lights On, while others simply enjoy having a place that they can hang out and have fun with other kids. "I just realized that if I come here I'll see friendly faces," said a student.

Giving students a safe place to gather and healthy alternatives for socializing appears to be reaping benefits for the whole community. Principal Cook says he hasn't lost a student to gun violence this school year.

Principal Cook also gained notoriety last summer for installing laundry facilities in the school for students to use.

If Akbar Cook looks familiar, you may have seen him on the news or on Ellen last year. Shortly after he was promoted from vice principal to principal, Cook transformed a school locker room into a free laundry room for students to use.

Cook had seen how students who were homeless or didn't have the means to clean their clothes were bullied by others students. The laundry room was his way of solving that problem. Cook told ABC 7 that school attendance has increased 10% since the laundry facilities went in.

Caring administrators like Akbar Cook make an enormous difference in students' lives—and in our society as a whole. Kudos to Principal Cook for seeing a problem, brainstorming solutions, and rallying the community around actions it can take. Keep up the awesome work, sir.

Courtesy of Verizon
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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

Ready for the weekend? Of course, you are. Here's our weekly dose of good vibes to help you shed the stresses of the workweek and put yourself in a great frame of mind.

These 10 stories made us happy this week because they feature amazing creativity, generosity, and one super-cute fish.

1. Diver befriends a fish with the cutest smile

Hawaiian underwater photographer Yuki Nakano befriended a friendly porcupine fish and now they hang out regularly.

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