In Brazil, mothers are confronting prejudice by raising awareness about microcephaly.
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March of Dimes

When Germana Soares was three months pregnant, she went to see her doctor.

She was worried, as any expectant mother would be, because she had an itchy rash across her body. But since itchiness was her only symptom, her doctor simply treated her for allergies and sent her home with some medication.

It seemed to work.


Four days later, her rash had cleared up, and she stopped worrying. The rest of her pregnancy progressed relatively normally.

But when her son was born, the doctor noticed something wasn’t quite right.

Her son's head was slightly smaller than it should be, and it was a little asymmetrical, with the left side somewhat smaller than the right. Remembering her rash from months prior, her doctor ordered a series of tests.

Her son was diagnosed with microcephaly.

This condition not only causes a baby’s head to be smaller than normal, but it can also cause a number of other lifelong health problems, including intellectual and developmental disabilities. And in Soares' case, it was likely caused by a Zika virus infection (transmitted by an Aedes aegypti mosquito) while she was pregnant.

A mother in Recife, a city in Pernambuco, Brazil, holding her child with microcephaly in May 2016. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Microcephaly is usually considered a relatively rare neurological condition, but in Brazil at that time — especially in the northeastern state of Pernambuco where Soares lives — it wasn’t. In fact, her state was at the center of a Zika pandemic that hit South America between 2015 and 2016, and it saw a huge spike in the number of microcephaly cases as a result.

By Dec. 12, 2015, Pernambuco had reported 874 cases of microcephaly — more than any other region in the country.

Soares and her husband were afraid when they got the news.

They were scared of prejudice and discrimination, she says through a translator. They were so scared that they decided they would have to hide their son’s illness from the world. They thought it was the only way they could protect him from the kids who might pick on him, the adults who might make assumptions about him, and the society that might exclude him simply because he was born different.

But when Soares took her son to his one-month doctor appointment, something wonderful happened: She met Gleise Kelly, another mother of a baby with microcephaly, and they became friends.

They talked about their babies, how they both felt alone against the world, and how they felt misunderstood. Just talking to another person who was going through a similar experience helped them both feel so much better.

And then, over the next few months as they went to the doctor, they started meeting other moms too. They all exchanged phone numbers to continue their discussions outside the waiting room. They set up a chat group on a phone app called WhatsApp.

But Soares and Kelly wanted to go one step further, so they created the Facebook group União Mães de Anjos — the Union of Mothers of Angels.

Soares and four other mothers from the União Mães de Anjos. Image via the União Mães de Anjos Facebook page, used with permission.

The Facebook group started with just eight mothers, Soares says, but within two months, they had 200. Today, about 400 mothers across Pernambuco have joined.

The page became a way to share stories and to get advice on how to cope with the disease and with prejudice. It became a place to ask questions, a place to share resources, and an emotional support group. But slowly, the group also transformed into a way for them to make themselves known to the rest of the community — a community they felt wasn’t accepting of them or their children.

“I won’t sit around,” Soares says through the translator. “I am going to do everything I can to fight for my child’s future and I am not going to just wait for people to include him in society.” And the entire group of mothers feels the same way.

A group photo of some of the União Mães de Anjos mothers and their children. Image via the União Mães de Anjos Facebook page, used with permission.

União Mães de Anjos became their way to raise awareness about microcephaly and to fight for inclusion on behalf of their children. It gave them a voice.

And it worked. Their group started getting attention in the local press, and the mayor of Pernambuco reached out to them to organize a meeting so that he could better understand what they were going through and what the government could do to help them.

The meeting has now turned into a weekly phone call or in-person meeting, allowing the mothers to advocate on behalf of their children. And Soares says she has begun to see results. For example, there are now more neurologists working in the state to support them.

They also receive donations of diapers, food, and clothes, and the group distributes those across the state.

Of course, there is still work to be done.

Fighting prejudice doesn’t happen overnight, Soares says. Instead, you have to work at fighting it from the ground up — starting inside homes and schools — so that change can happen naturally.

“People should respect everyone’s children. They are human beings. They did not choose to be born this way — they are all victims of an illness that was unknown at the time,” she says. “Everyone thinks things will never happen to them — only to others. That is, until it actually does [happen to you].”

Germana Soares and her son Guilherme. Image via Germana Soares, used with permission.

Soares' son is now 18 months old, and while he shows some motor skill developmental delays due to his microcephaly, he is showing improvement every day thanks to some early stimulation and therapy.

Microcephaly exists and it isn’t going away just because people are uncomfortable with it, Soares says. The best thing they can do is raise awareness of it, help those that need it, and fight prejudice so that every child gets the respect and acceptance they deserve.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via Wikimedia Commons and Goalsetter

America's ethnic wealth gap is a multi-faceted problem that would take dramatic action, on multiple fronts, to overcome. One of the ways to help communities improve their economic well-being is through financial literacy.

Investopedia says there are five primary sources of financial education—families, high school, college, employers, and the military — and that education and household income are two of the biggest factors in predicting whether someone has a high level of financial literacy.

New Orleans Saints safety, two-time Super Bowl Champion, and social justice activist Malcolm Jenkins and The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation hope to help bridge the wealth gap by teaching students about investing at a young age.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.