The incredible reason this woman moved back to the town she swore to escape as a teen.
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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
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less