Matt expected to work 2 jobs for the rest of his life. Here's how he changed that.
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Stand Together

Growing up in Appalachia, Matt didn't have many options when it came to his career.

His hometown of Ranger, West Virginia is in the heart of coal country. With mining jobs steadily declining across Appalachia, Matt and the 25 million other people like him have struggled to find jobs in other industries.


Having decided that college wasn't for him, he started taking on any job he could find. His childhood dream had been to be a police officer or join the army, but he was denied due to severe hearing impairment.

Matt soon found himself working two janitorial jobs just to keep his family afloat. And to make matters worse, they were a one-hour commute away.

Overworked, with no real connection to his job and no time left to spend with his family, this wasn't the life Matt had envisioned for himself. But he got up every day and kept going.

That's when Matt's sign language interpreter told him about an organization that she thought might change his life.

All images in this post courtesy of Stand Together Foundation.

Coalfield Development is a community-based nonprofit that teaches job training, focusing on high-value skills that can transfer across a variety of industries. This isn't your average job training center, however. Coalfield takes a holistic approach, guiding everyone who participates in their program to find and cultivate their passions, helping them build a sustainable career —one that builds their sense of self and gives them hope for the future.

"We walk alongside the [crew members] and build them up personally, academically, and professionally, through social enterprise," says Ryan Stoner, the nonprofit's COO.

Matt's best friend, Jacob, had recently graduated from Coalfield and started a promising career in solar panel installation. This was enough to convince Matt to give it a shot.

Each Coalfield participant or "crew member" is enrolled in what they call a "33-6-3 program." They spend 33 hours a week earning money, working at one of the org's numerous social enterprises. Six hours dedicated to planning their future, taking credits at the local community college. And three hours per week are devoted to personal development—activities like financial coaching, mental health awareness, and life skills development.

Matt's first job assignment was with a construction crew. He liked the work, but the rapid communication requirements, relaying measurements and materials across the worksite, was hard for him. "It was a very challenging thing for me considering my hearing," he says.

Coalfield prides itself on its flexible placement opportunities. If a job or industry doesn't work out for a crew member, there's always another chance. They don't leave anyone stranded.

Matt asked for another placement. That's when he was introduced to Saw's Edge Woodshop.

His step father is a woodworker and it's something he'd always wanted to try his hand at. He started out on a scroll saw, and almost immediately Matt knew he'd found his new home. Woodworking was his passion.

"I come into work early in the morning, stay late sometimes," Matt explains. While the majority of the workday is spent on making things that Coalfield can sell in order to fund the program, Matt spends hours doing wooden cutouts of West Virginia, a state he's prouder than ever to call his home. He's even beaten his own record for speed.

"My personal record of West Virginia cutting out is 1 minute 47 seconds," he says

Matt can't imagine a life without the wood shop. His personal motto is now 'Life is art. Art is life.' "If I can see it, I can make it. I can take nothing and turn it into something."

This self-efficacy has permeated all aspects of his life. He gets to do what he loves and is earning enough money to live on his own — something he wasn't expecting. It's a testament to the power of education paired with passion. He's an expert woodworker now. He's learned how important college can be—he's also training in technical science.

For the first time, Matt sees that he can have a future he's proud of. And he's already looking for a way to giveback.

"[Coalfield] treats me like I am part of the family," he says. "Ever since I've worked with Coalfield, I felt like I can live again with no stress. And I can. I feel more connected to the community because I feel like I'm giving back to the community and helping Appalachia build back up from the ground up."

"I'd like to still be part of Coalfield Development after I graduate because I have that much respect and passion for them. One day, I'd like to be in partnership with Coalfield adding another wood shop. I'd like to teach and help others grow."

"I want to try to create more jobs in West Virginia. Everybody knows West Virginia needs more jobs."

Coalfield Development can't make this transformative work happen on their own. Thanks to partners like Stand Together Foundation, the nonprofit is taking big steps forward, revitalizing the community and helping people like Matt tap their hidden potential.

Stand Together Foundation believes social change starts at the community level. And when it comes to breaking the cycle of poverty, it's imperative community nonprofits stand on their own in order to teach their clients how to do the same.

"They've helped us to realize small adjustments that would make longer lasting impact both within our organization and the work itself out in the region," explains Ryan. "We've been able to learn a lot of lessons from others without having to fully invest and fall on our faces through experimentation. They have brought back [that knowledge] to bear within corners of our organization that were not as efficient as they could have been."

With Stand Together Foundation's help, Coalfield has bypassed some of the growing pains and pitfalls community-based organizations often face. And that's translated to more people empowered and more hope brought back to a place that so desperately needs it.

"What we want to continue the momentum of is this building of hope within the region, the opportunity to tell a different story," says Ryan.

"A story that is about promise. About future. About individual success. It is about being here, and enjoying this place, and not feeling as though you're oppressed by being here. It's a very free place to be. It's an opportunity-filled place to be."

Stand Together Foundation invests in solving the biggest problems facing our nation today in order to unleash the potential in every individual, regardless of their zip code. By supporting organizations like Coalfield that are helping people find careers that will not only help them survive, but thrive, solutions to poverty and lack of opportunity are arising. You can get involved and find a transformative org near you at Standtogetheragainstpoverty.org.

To find out which of these organizations supports your values, take this quiz here

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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!

This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

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One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

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He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.