There's a ton of undeserved stigma over bone marrow donations. The truth is that there are people out there who need your help to live. People like Sheldon. You could at least spare the guy (and others like him) your spit.
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.
"We know that Box Tops believes that a child's education is the foundation to achieving their fullest potential," says Rachel Letsche, assistant manager of Brand Experience at Yoplait, "so we thought that by coming together, we could help schools and parents both teach and raise 'good little humans'."
Photo courtesy of Yoplait
In recognition of his extraordinary dedication, Yoplait and Box Tops recently surprised Mendez by paying for every item on his Amazon teacher wishlist, including a tent, chairs, two portable basketball hoops as well as colorful bands, balls and cones.They also presented Mendez with $10,000 in Box Tops for his school to develop and support more programs like STOKED, along with a note praising his efforts:
Dear Mr. Mendez,
Your passion for physical fitness has inspired hundreds of View Park students to lead healthier lives! You've used your own story to relate to and mentor students who need it most. You've used your passion to help bring new and interesting sports like Skateboarding, Surfing and Snowboarding to your school.
Your dedication to your work leaves little free time, yet you still spend your weekends coaching youth soccer. Your influence will continue to change the world and lives for years to come.
As a thank you for being a role model in the classroom, Box Tops for Education has purchased every item on your wishlist and is giving ICEF View Park Middle School $10,000 that can be used toward bringing even more incredible programs to your students.
Thank you, Mr. Mendez!
Yoplait & The Box Tops for Education Team
The award is particularly meaningful for Mendez as securing funding at a Title 1 school can be difficult.
"In order to provide these opportunities for students at no cost, the athletic director and I work on the funding, getting grants, and making sure that the students don't have to put any of their own money," Mendez explains.
"Funding has continued to be a challenge just in order for me to have the equipment here at the school. Writing the grants is very time consuming. Applying for certain scholarships has been a challenge."
Over the past 25 years, nearly $1 billion in Box Tops has gone to K-8 schools in the US. As part of General Mills' commitment to advance equity in education, Box Tops now has a renewed focus to help the students in schools where support is most needed.
Within the Box Tops app, shoppers can now use the search feature to find and select Schools in Need to receive funding from purchases of Box Top products. This back-to-school season, in addition to Mendez's school, Box Tops and Yoplait also donated $10,000 in Box Tops to another School in Need, Jefferson Elementary in Lennox, California.
Mendez is no stranger to the financial realities his students face, having grown up in a poor family himself. His own middle class P.E. teacher would waive his fees for cross country running competitions, which enabled him to participate in a sport he loved. Mendez credits that teacher with helping him come out of his shell and build confidence, something that Mendez now tries to do with his own students. The key, he's learned, is opening up to them about his own life and his own challenges, which helps them relate to him and feel comfortable opening up to him.
All of these accomplishments are quite extraordinary for a man who didn't even intend to become a teacher. When Mendez started college, his goal was to become an athletic trainer for professional athletes. But as he advanced in his studies, he realized that his true passion was working with student athletes, helping them develop their skills and talents, and trying to make a positive impact in their lives.
Mission accomplished, Mr. Mendez. Thank you for being a shining example, not only for your students, but for the rest of us as well.For more information on how to help schools in need, download the Box Tops app today.
When it comes to living with mental illness, the notion of gratitude may seem obscure. After all, depression hasn't always made me a good person, or parent. It has affected my friendships and relationships, making me a shitty daughter, mother and wife. It has negatively impacted my work. I've quit (and lost) jobs due to my poor mental health. And I withdraw from everyone — and thing — when I'm in the midst of a depressive episode. I turn off the lights and hide beneath the covers, shutting the door on those I care about and love. In short, depression sucks. Living with a long-term mental illness sucks. But it's not all bad. In spite of the hurt, loneliness, isolation, shame and pain, there are many upsides to living with mental illness, and I am thankful for depression — and my diagnosis. I am thankful for my mental health condition.
You see, depression has given me many gifts. Because of my illness, I am able to appreciate the little things more. When I am well, I stop to smell the proverbial roses. I take in the "sights." Because of my illness, I know my value. I realize my worth, i.e. when I am well, I recognize my power — and my strength. I know that I am more than a feeling, mood or diagnosis. I also know that I have survived "episodes" before and can survive them again because I am a fighter. I am strong. And I've made friends because — not in spite — of my illness. Some of the best relationships in my life were forged in the fire. They were formed during depressive episodes and solidified over shared struggles. Over the difficulties we faced and our plight.
Depression has made me resilient. My mental illness has taught me that no matter what life throws at me, I have a chance. It might not be the best chance, or an opportune one, but it is a chance. And it's what you do with those chances that counts. (And yes, sometimes getting up is resilient. Showering and showing up is courageous and strong.)
Depression has made me passionate. When I am well, it is clear to me how lucky I am and I do not want to waste one moment. I pursue my dreams with fervor and intention. I live life like tomorrow was not promised. I fight for my ambitions, aspirations, happiness and dreams.
Depression has made me humble. Over the course of two decades I've learned that I cannot do this alone. I need — and deserve — help. If you live with a mental illness, know that you do too.
Depression has made me appreciate my friends and family more because their love is vast and endless. Even when I am sick and withdraw, from them and the world, they do not give up on me. Their love knows no bounds.
Depression has made me empathetic. Having struggled — a lot — I sympathize when others are hurt or in pain. My capacity for compassion is like a well, endless and deep.
And depression has made me a better person and parent. Because of my depression, I am a better mom. How so? Because my depression is teaching my daughter many things. During my episodes, she learns about self-care, and how to ask for help. It's okay to take a break, for example. She is learning the power of self-awareness and the gift of saying no. When I am well, my daughter and I talk (ad nauseum) about her feelings. We discuss emotions like sadness, anger, hurt, and pain. And she is learning how to process each one.
Make no mistake: I don't like living with depression. I wish I would wake up one day and the veil would be lifted. My disease would be gone. I also know I'm extremely lucky. I have the tools and resources necessary to combat my illness. My therapist and psychiatrist are excellent. My medication is well-managed and working, at least right now. But after 20-plus years living with depression — and a smattering of other mental health conditions — the lessons which I've learned which cannot be dismissed. I wouldn't trade my experience for anything in the world.
So take that, dearest depression. Take that, my old "friend." Because I'm living better with you and in spite of you. I'm surviving and thriving today because of my diagnosis and disease.
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!