The incredible reason this woman moved back to the town she swore to escape as a teen.
True
Starbucks Upstanders Season 2

When Ami Vitori was a teenager, she couldn't wait for the chance to leave her hometown.

And when she finally did, she never thought she'd ever look back.

After all, Middletown, Ohio may once have been called the "American dream" for being a bustling Rust Belt town home to a prosperous steel company and dozens of paper mills, but it had long since lost its way.


By the 1980s, it had turned into a shuttered wasteland. Due to increased automation, jobs fell away. Drug addictions soared. Many townsfolk could barely afford their rent anymore. And by the time Vitori was in high school, the mall by the interstate was one of the only signs of life.

A storefront in Middletown, Ohio. All photos provided by Starbucks.

It's no wonder that when graduation rolled around, Vitori made a beeline for college out of state.

But even though it was easy to leave her hometown behind, it wasn't so easy to forget about it afterward.

Middletown's worsening state kept tugging at her heartstrings even after years of living in metropolises like Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Every time she visited family members who still lived there, she was struck by the deterioration. Some neighborhoods she frequented as a kid appeared to be completely uninhabited.

"As I saw things fall on harder and harder times, I knew I wanted to do something with impact," Vitori says.

By the time she was married to Marine Officer Kevin Kimener and living in Washington with three sons, Vitori could no longer stand what the town had become. After all, Middletown was a part of her, and she simply couldn't let it wither away like a forgotten relic.

Together with her family, she decided to take a risky leap: She moved back to Middletown to try to save it.  

Vitori with her three sons.

Vitori had a successful marketing firm in D.C., but she wasn't sure how that could be useful to a town that practically had no economy. That is, until she turned her gaze to a 40,000-square-foot abandoned building that had once been a JCPenney in the center of town.

Somehow she immediately knew it was the key to revitalizing the whole area, and the couple sunk most of their savings into buying and refurbishing the old building. The goal was to have it become home to a variety of different businesses.

"I wanted to see things come to life as quickly as they could," Vitori says. "I wanted to go all in."

Sanding floors in the old JCPenney.

They had never done construction and remodeling on such a large scale before, and the experience was more than eye-opening. Altogether, the refurbishment looked to cost over half a million dollars, and Vitori had no idea if it would pay off in the end.

But she had a vision right from the start. "I could see a restaurant with a big patio," Vitori recalls. "I could hear people eating outside. I could see a fountain." She knew the building could become the bustling hub Middletown so desperately needed.

They pushed onward.

Thankfully, they didn't do it alone.

Inspired by Vitori's bold endeavor to breathe life back into the town, several other locals with similar entrepreneurial drive took the leap with them and opened up shops of their own.

A former dental assistant named Lydia Montgomery opened a trendy boutique called Society. Another local, Heather Gibson, opened up Triple Moon Coffee Company, which quickly became a popular spot for people to gather and mingle.

"People [are] looking and saying, 'Well, if [Ami] can do it then I can do it,'" Gibson says.

Together, they all rolled up their sleeves and got to work. And, sure enough, over time, things started to look brighter.

Vitori renamed the old building Torchlight Pass in the hopes that it would inspire the next generation of locals to pick up where they left off and keep the Middletown revitalization going strong.  

Today there's a wine bar, a yoga studio, and a hair salon, all of which are thriving even in their early stages. Gracie's, the comfort food restaurant Vitori opened inside Torchlight, has impeccable reviews.

So far, Middletown seems to have embraced the changes with open arms.

Vitori with her sons talking to locals by the coffee shop.

Vitori knew her venture wouldn't have been possible without this community that was willing to take a leap into the unknown with her.

"The answer to the small-town problem isn’t just jobs, and it isn’t just restaurants," Vitori says. "It’s all of it. It’s community building and cultural support. It’s that accessibility and connectedness that makes you feel like you’re really part of where you live."

You can resurrect the American dream in a town. You just have to take that first uncertain step together.

Learn more about Middletown's transformation here:

She cashed in most of her savings to try to rebuild her hometown.

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, October 19, 2017
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.