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
True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Keep Reading Show less

Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled that so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Racist jokes are one of the more frustrating manifestations of racism. Jokes in general are meant to be a shared experience, a connection over a mutual sense of humor, a rush of feel-good chemicals that bond us to those around us through laughter.

So when you mix jokes with racism, the result is that racism becomes something light and fun, as opposed to the horrendous bane that it really is.

The harm done with racist humor isn't just the emotional hurt they can cause. When a group of white people shares jokes at the expense of a marginalized or oppressed racial group, the power of white supremacy is actually reinforced—not only because of the "punching down" nature of such humor, but because of the group dynamics that work in favor of maintaining the status quo.

British author and motivational speaker Paul Scanlon shared a story about interrupting a racist joke at a table of white people at an event in the U.S, and the lessons he drew from it illustrate this idea beautifully. Watch:

Keep Reading Show less
True

*Upworthy may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through links on our site.

With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

Keep Reading Show less