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Losing 8 friends is hard. Fighting back is harder. Caleb Holloway did both.

A poignant reminder about the hard work skilled workers do.

Losing 8 friends is hard. Fighting back is harder. Caleb Holloway did both.
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Deepwater Horizon

Caleb Holloway didn’t plan on becoming a rig operator. He just wanted a good paycheck and a steady job.

After a string of odd jobs — working at a feed store, in hospital maintenance, and installing concrete — 22-year-old Caleb and his best friend applied on a whim for a job working on small offshore oil rigs. They were hired two weeks later and stationed on a little shallow-water rig called a "jack-up." It was hard work, but it paid well and Caleb excelled at it. Within two years, he'd switched companies and started working at Transocean on its flagship offshore rig, the Deepwater Horizon.

On this massive rig, Caleb found community with his fellow workers. Stationed together for 21 days at a time, they became a second family to each other.


Offshore drilling rigs similar to the Deepwater Horizon sit in the Gulf of Mexico. Image via Sara Francis/U.S. Coast Guard/Wikimedia Commons.

During his three years on the Deepwater Horizon, Caleb worked his way up from an entry-level job as a roustabout, to a member of the drilling crew. It was tough, challenging, skilled work.

Working as anything above an entry-level steward on an oil rig usually requires a diploma in welding, basic mechanics, or heavy equipment operations, plus specialized courses in marine firefighting and emergency response. Workers must be physically strong, highly-skilled natural problem-solvers — able to do their tough, essential jobs perfectly on a moving, floating deep-sea drilling platform in all kinds of bad weather and treacherous conditions.

"It’s a very dangerous job," Caleb said. "Everything on the rig is heavy; you’ve got multiple machines running and going in different directions. It’s a long job, and it can get to you sometimes. But I always think back to our crew and how we took care of each other. There wasn't a moment where I didn't trust them with my life."

Most of the time, there are extensive safety protocols in place to keep workers out of harm's way. Coupled with strong leaders empowering workers to speak up about problems, sometimes they make a big difference. Other times, they fail horribly.

On the morning of April 20, 2010, 10 members of the Deepwater Horizon’s drilling crew went to work. By midafternoon, only two of them were still alive. Caleb was one of them.

The Deepwater Horizon burns on August 20, 2010. Image via U.S. Coast Guard/Wikimedia Commons.

That day, the Deepwater Horizon was finishing up work on the deepest oil well ever drilled on our planet. The project was behind schedule and over budget. A chain of decisions, spurred largely by off-site executives wanting to save further money and time, led to a catastrophic explosion, a massive fire, and the largest oil spill in American history. Caleb and his colleague, Dan Barron, crawled through pitch darkness and aerosolized gas and fire to reach safety. On their way, they helped many others reach safety.

126 people were on board Deepwater Horizon before it sank. 115 were rescued.  Of the 11 crew members who were not, eight were members of Caleb Holloway's drilling crew. It was only after he was safely back on shore that he began to understand that many of his close friends and coworkers weren't with him.

For six months afterward, Caleb could barely function.  

Medications and counseling helped, but only bit by bit. Unable to eat or sleep, he lost 40 pounds off his already slim frame. He couldn't stop replaying the day over and over again in his head, imagining what he could have done differently and the additional lives he might have saved.

Until one day, he just couldn’t do that anymore.

Through the support of his family, his friends, and his bible study group, Caleb found the motivation to begin living again. Just over a year after the disaster, he signed up for firefighter training.

"Losing my friends on Deepwater Horizon felt like someone tore out my heart and ripped it into 11 pieces," he says, his voice catching. "There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of them. I wanted to go back to a rig because I loved that work, but I knew that mentally and emotionally I couldn’t do it."

For the last four years, Caleb's worked as a firefighter on the crew in Nacogdoches, Texas — just 20 minutes from where he grew up and minutes from his parent's house.

His shifts, like the ones he worked on the Deepwater Horizon, are long and tough: 24 hours on with 48 hours off. Caleb couldn't imagine being anywhere else.

He spends a full third of his life now in this fire hall, surrounded by men and women who, like his crew members back on the Deepwater Horizon, have become another second family. "We do something different every day, we impact lives every day," he says. "It’s something I’m proud of."

The Holloway family at home. Image via Participant/Deepwater Horizon.

For Caleb, being a firefighter bridges the gap with the work he did on the rigs, in a way, and the close relationships he had with his fellow workers, while allowing him to stay close to his growing family. That's something his wife Kristin and sons, Chase, age 4, and Hayden, 20 months, really appreciate. "They're the best thing that’s ever happened to me," Caleb says proudly. "They’re my heartbeats; they keep me going every day."

Caleb's experience is unique, heartbreaking, and life-affirming. But people like him put their lives on the line for their job every single day.

Image via Participant/Deepwater Horizon.

Mundane moments in our lives that we take for granted — that light comes on when we flick switches, that roads are safe to drive on, that toilets flush away dirty water and taps supply clean — occur because of skilled workers, some of whom risk their lives in potentially deadly situations just to make it happen. They're working quietly, doing the essential work that keeps our country running every day. While their work is often taken for granted, it's actually pretty incredible, too.

Watch a video of Caleb's story here:

This is Caleb Holloway. He survived the Deepwater Horizon and is now a firefighter in Texas. #workhard Participant Media

Posted by Mark Wahlberg on Friday, October 7, 2016
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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."

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.

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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.

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