Home away from home: Generous families are opening their doors to weary medical travelers.

Mike and Mary McConnell have been inviting strangers into their Boston home for nearly 30 years.

First, they hosted a man and his son who had traveled to Boston from the mountains of Ecuador in hopes of getting medical care at some of the top hospitals in the country.

"It was Christmas time. They helped us decorate our Christmas tree," Mary remembers.


Later, a Hungarian family came through Boston and stayed with the McConnells, sharing Thanksgiving dinner and their home.

"That was fun because they didn't speak any English, and of course we didn't speak any Hungarian," Mike said. He and the father both knew a little bit of Russian, so that was the only way they could communicate with the people living in their guest room.

Mike and Mary McConnell. Photo used with permission.

Since 1989, the McConnells have participated in a Boston-based program that matches families traveling for medical care with hosts nearby who can offer a free place to stay.

The nonprofit, Hospitality Homes, was founded by a group of medical professionals who were deeply moved after seeing so many people forced to sleep in hospital waiting rooms or in their cars while waiting to get care (or shelling out huge sums of money for hotels).

No one should have to spend more than a night sprawled out on one of these. Photo via iStock.

The medical professionals started opening up their own homes to families in need. And soon, others followed.

"Families come to us and volunteer out of the kindness of their own hearts," says Shanon Heckethorn, the organization's vice president of development and communications. She compares it to a free Airbnb. Guests stay with the host families for up to three months, free of charge.

She says it won't make everything easier for families going through a difficult time, but it is one less thing — and one less cost — to worry about.

Visitors often try to find housing at more well-known organizations like the Ronald McDonald House first.

But frequently, and especially in cities like Boston, they find that everyone is full or that they don't meet certain requirements (lots of places specialize in pediatric or cancer patients, for example).

Hospitality Homes serves all area hospitals, people of all diagnoses, and all ages. While the organization only operates in the greater Boston area at the moment, they plan to take their project nationwide soon.

Having a cozy place to go after a long day of appointments, medical tests, or surgeries means a lot to the guest families.

Check out this note to Mike and Mary from one of their recent visitors:

A thank-you letter to the McConnells from some recent guests. Photo used with permission.


Most of the folks who volunteer know what a little extra support can mean during a time of crisis. Often they are cancer survivors or medical professionals who have seen the struggle up close and just want to find a way to give back.

The hosts "get back more than they give," Heckethorn says, noting that a lot of families keep in touch for years after the experience with text messages, photos, and emails.

"A human connection doesn't happen every single time. But when it does, it's magic."

The McConnells say hosting isn't always easy, but it's usually well worth it.

With some guests, Mike and his wife simply offer a place to stay and a few pleasantries when they cross paths in the evenings. With others, though, the relationship evolves over the course of the stay.

The couple who stayed with the McConnells most recently, for example, watched "Game of Thrones" with their son and his wife (who also live in the home) every Sunday night over their three-month stay.

Still, Mary says opening your home means "you have to be willing to share your privacy. We've encouraged a lot of our friends to try [hosting]. Not everyone can do that.""

"It's just something we can do," Mike adds. "We have this big house and most of our family has left. We've found it to be immensely rewarding."

It's amazing to see such a powerful, intimate example of people helping other people in their greatest time of need.

As some of the McConnells recent guests wrote in their thank-you card: "You have all showed us that even in bad situations there is always someone willing to give love and friendship. We can never repay you for your kindness and only hope to one day be able to pay it forward to others."

Pexels
True
Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

Keep Reading Show less
True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.