Meet the people infusing their communities with love and support when it’s needed most
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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.


In 2020, Mariposas shifted gears somewhat to help immigrants in the community who have lost their job or income stream due to the pandemic. The volunteers bring food and other essential supplies to families' homes, but Edith often lingers beyond the initial drop off, providing a sympathetic ear for families dealing with high levels of stress. Her patience and genuine concern inspires other Latinx people to come into the Mariposas circle and become community leaders, which in turn is making Memphis a more welcoming place for immigrants.

Tom Dittl, a first-grade teacher in Wisconsin

Like most teachers in 2020, Tom Dittl had to find fun, creative ways to navigate the challenges of teaching his students virtually. And he took it to the next level. Recently, Dittl made a music video of Jack Johnson's song "Upside Down" while dressed up as The Man in the Yellow Hat — a character from Curious George children's stories — to cheer up his students who've been cooped up at home. But the song also had a deeper purpose: He hoped it would inspire them to be kind to one another and spread that kindness around their communities.

In the video, he tells his students that you can always be kind, even when you're going through something tough. In response, many of them made "kindness rocks" and put them all over their neighborhoods as reminders for others to be kind.

Teachers have had one of the toughest jobs last year (not to mention every year). When a teacher like Mr. Dittl makes such a noticeable impact on his students, despite the obstacles and distractions of 2020, it's unequivocally a win.

Nikki and Jonathan Romain, creators of the Art Inc. Center in Peoria, Ill.

Arts education is so often overlooked, even though it can be a pathway to creative thinking, personal growth and a successful future. It's typically the first thing to go in lower-income public school curriculums, which leaves inner-city youth without an artistic outlet, or at least one that's professionally guided. So Nikki and Jonathan Romain decided to open up another artistic avenue for the inner-city youth of Peoria, Ill., in the form of an art center called Art Inc.

The Center provides space and tools for the entire community to have an experiential arts education. Nikki and Jonathan also offer support and structure for young people to try their hand at various forms of artistic expression and pursue higher education goals. Nikki is the Executive Director and handles most of the business of the nonprofit, whereas Jonathan, using his professional artist expertise, runs development of the art and culture programs. He also serves as a counselor for youth who may be struggling to find their way. Together, they've made Art Inc. a haven for all community members and a place where art is always valued.

Kari Harbath, 'involuntary expert in grief' in Utah

Kari Harbath is no stranger to hardship and suffering. In April 2019, due to pregnancy complications, she gave birth to a daughter who is deaf, blind and has CHARGE syndrome, a rare disorder that affects multiple organ systems in the body. If that weren't challenging enough, the following September, Kari lost her mother, and then this past June, she lost her husband of 13 years.

Yet somehow, after a year of unimaginable loss, Kari has managed to carry on with life and the care of her daughter, Sloan. In fact, she's taken what she's learned through her experience with grief and uses it to support others dealing with similar hardships. She's willing to return to that uncomfortable place over and over again just so she can help someone else climb out of it. Kari is available as a resource for anyone who's struggling or caring for someone who has disabilities and may feel lost.

Chavonne Hodges, Founder of Grillzandgranola in New York

When Chavonne was 26, she was going through a divorce and struggling with a panic disorder. She knew she needed to do something to help herself feel better, so she started working out at a gym. While there, she noticed a serious lack of racial and body diversity, so she decided to create her own gym and exercise program that caters to both. The gym is called Grillzandgranola, and aside from physical health, it's dedicated to mental wellbeing and community collaboration.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Grillzandgranola has moved classes online and created a space for group therapy called FEEL Better. These free therapy sessions are led by a diverse group of mental health professionals and are designed to help Black, Indigenous and people of color cope with grief, isolation, and negative emotions during these challenging times.

Love Wins
Kind, selfless acts have the power to change lives. It doesn't matter how big or small your act of kindness is, if it's thoughtful and genuine, you're doing it right. Not sure where to start? By joining P&G Good Everyday, you can lead with love through your actions. Each time you answer surveys, take quizzes and scan receipts, you can feel good knowing that P&G will automatically donate to your favorite cause like ending period poverty, saving wildlife, or providing natural disaster relief.

Join us and #LeadWithLove. We know that even the smallest acts of good can make a world of difference.

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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!

Those of us raising teenagers now didn't grow up with social media. Heck, the vast majority of us didn't even grow up with the internet. But we know how ubiquitous social media, with all of its psychological pitfalls, has become in our own lives, so it's not a big stretch to imagine the incredible impact it can have on our kids during their most self-conscious phase.

Sharing our lives on social media often means sharing the highlights. That's not bad in and of itself, but when all people are seeing is everyone else's highlight reels, it's easy to fall into unhealthy comparisons. As parents, we need to remind our teens not to do that—but we also need to remind them that other people will do that, which is why kindness, empathy, and inclusiveness are so important.

Writer and mother of three teen daughters, Whitney Fleming, shared a beautiful post on Facebook explaining what we need to teach our teenagers about empathy in the age of social media, and how we ourselves can serve as an example.

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