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How Amy Poehler's Smart Girls is empowering teens through gaming.

A glimpse into Amy Poehler's Smart Girls' empowering new series.

How Amy Poehler's Smart Girls is empowering teens through gaming.

Have you heard of Amy Poehler's Smart Girls? Because if you haven't, you really should.

Poehler is a lot of things — an improviser, a Red Sox fan, a mom, a Hillary Clinton impersonator. But she's also a trailblazer. And there's no better proof of that than Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, a group committed to empowering girls to be ... well, whatever the heck they want to be (and to feel great being it).

Rock climber? Astronaut? CEO? Poehler says go for it, girl.


Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for TNT LA.

Smart Girls has done a lot of neat things and started many important conversations since it originally launched as a web series, Smart Girls at the Party, back in 2008. But one of its latest endeavors, Smart Girls Build, is particularly notable as being freakin' sweet, as it's using a video game rooted in the virtual world to inspire actual girls living in the real one.

In the Smart Girls Build series, Poehler's Smart Girls teamed up with The Sims to let girls create their virtual selves.

Take, for instance, 13-year-old Californian Celeste Javier, who is the focus of the series' first episode. Among her many interests are dancing and playing with her (adorable) corgi pup.

All GIFs via Amy Poehler's Smart Girls/YouTube.

Javier got to visit the hub where the video game is created by publisher Electronic Arts (EA). In The Sims, users can create virtual versions of themselves and live out their dreams and aspirations (digitally, of course). And that's exactly what Javier got to do.

Yes, creating your digital self is fun. But to Smart Girls, the new series gets at a bigger issue: inspiring girls to live out their creative pursuits, and finding the role models to help.

The Sims might only be a virtual reality to gamers, but the positive effects of playing it can seep into the girls' real lives, according to Maggie Lyons, director of development at Smart Girls.

“Our motto is ‘Change the world by being yourself,'" Lyons explained to Upworthy. "These girls really do that in The Sims, and hopefully are inspired to do the same in their real lives.”

Just 26% of jobs in computing fields are held by women.

The series focuses on opening doors for girls who might be interested in merging their passions with technology, as well.

In another episode, 17-year-old guitarist Tcarla collaborated with a producer to create music in the game. Every EA producer in the series is a woman, and while that may seem inconsequential, it certainly isn't.

"We also wanted to highlight female gamers and game producers," Lyons said. "If girls see more women creating and participating in fields like gaming, they’re more likely to say to themselves, 'Oh, cool! I can do that too!'”

Javier created a Sim that not only looked like her, but had the same qualities and passions as well.

Javier made sure her virtual self, or Sim, had the same traits and talents as she does. In her Sim's world, there was a dance studio, which was perfect for Javier; she's been dancing for nine years and is now in a competitive hip-hop dance group.


Letting girls know they do have a place in tech is vital, and we've got a (very) long way to go.

According to a study released last year by the American Association of University Women, a mere 26% of jobs in computing fields are held by women. When you look at engineering jobs, it's an even more cringeworthy 12%. (And by the way, these figures get more dismal when you consider how women of color, specifically, are represented.)

Looking at the gender makeup at top tech companies confirms this sad reality, as The Huffington Post reported in March 2015.

"At Google, women make up 30% of the company's overall workforce, but hold only 17% of the company’s tech jobs. At Facebook, 15% of tech roles are staffed by women. At Twitter, it’s a laughable 10%. For non-technical jobs at Twitter (think marketing, HR, sales), the gender split is 50-50."

Yes, The Sims is just one video game, and it won't solve this problem overnight. But it's one smart step forward.

"People really seem to be responding to the positive message, how inspiring these incredibly bright girls are, and our encouragement of female gamers," Lyons said of feedback from the Build series. "One girl even told us that Tcarla inspired her to start playing the guitar, which is awesome!"

Photo courtesy of Yoplait
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When Benny Mendez asked his middle school P.E. students why they wanted to participate in STOKED—his new after school program where kids can learn to skateboard, snowboard, and surf—their answers surprised him.

I want to be able to finally see the beach, students wrote. I want to finally be able to see the snow.

Never having seen snow is understandable for Mendez's students, most who live in Inglewood, CA, just outside of Los Angeles. But never having been to the beach is surprising, since most of them only live 15-20 minutes from the ocean. Mendez discovered many of them don't even know how to swim.

"A lot of the kids shared that they just want to go on adventures," says Mendez. "They love nature, but...they just see it in pictures. They want to be out there."

Mendez is in his third year of teaching physical education at View Park K-8 school, one of seven Inner City Foundation Education schools in the Los Angeles area. While many of his students are athletically gifted, Mendez says, they often face challenges outside of school that limit their opportunities. Some of them live in neighborhoods where it's unsafe to leave their houses at certain times of day due to gang activity, and many students come to his P.E. class with no understanding of why learning about physical health is important.

"There's a lot going on at home [with my students]," says Mendez. "They're coming from either a single parent home, or foster care. There's a lot of trauma behind what's going on at home...that is out of our control."

Photo courtesy of Yoplait

What Mendez can control is what he gives his students when they're in his care, which is understanding, some structure, and the chance to try new things. Mendez wakes up at 4:00 a.m. most days and often doesn't get home until 9:00 p.m. as he works tirelessly to help kids thrive. Not only does he run after school programs, but he coaches youth soccer on the weekends as well. He also works closely with other teachers and guidance counselors at the school to build strong relationships with students, and even serves as a mentor to his former students who are now in high school.

Now Mendez is earning accolades far and wide for his efforts both in and out of the classroom, including a surprise award from Yoplait and Box Tops for Education.

Yoplait and Box Tops are partnering this school year to help students reach their fullest potential, which includes celebrating teachers and programs that support that mission. Yoplait is committed to providing experiences for kids and families to connect through play, so teaming up with Box Tops provided an opportunity to support programs like STOKED.

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Dr. David McPhee offers advice for talking to someone living in a different time in their head.

Few things are more difficult than watching a loved one's grip on reality slipping away. Dementia can be brutal for families and caregivers, and knowing how to handle the various stages can be tricky to figure out.

The Alzheimer's Association offers tips for communicating in the early, middle and late stages of the disease, as dementia manifests differently as the disease progresses. The Family Caregiver Alliance also offers advice for talking to someone with various forms and phases of dementia. Some communication tips deal with confusion, agitation and other challenging behaviors that can come along with losing one's memory, and those tips are incredibly important. But what about when the person is seemingly living in a different time, immersed in their memories of the past, unaware of what has happened since then?

Psychologist David McPhee shared some advice with a person on Quora who asked, "How do I answer my dad with dementia when he talks about his mom and dad being alive? Do I go along with it or tell him they have passed away?"

McPhee wrote:

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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!