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Gates Foundation

Filmmaker Samantha Bode was camping in Northern California when she noticed something strange.

A group of industrial utility vehicles bearing the markings of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power were parked near Mono Lake — despite the fact that they were some 350 miles from the city of Los Angeles itself.

As a recent L.A. transplant herself, Samantha couldn’t sate her curiosity. “It was disorienting,” she wrote in a blog post. “I thought to myself, ‘Did I somehow get back to Los Angeles? No. That was definitely an LADWP truck in Lee Vining, California — a six-hour drive north of Los Angeles.’”


Samantha Bode. All photos by Samantha Bode/"The Longest Straw." Used with permission.

She began to ask around, and that's when she learned about the Los Angeles Aqueduct — the 338-mile-long pipeline that imports the city's water from Northern California.

“I was amazed and appalled to learn that Los Angeles could only be a bustling metropolis because of an extensive network of imported water,” she told Upworthy over email. “I was even more amazed and appalled by how few Angelenos seemed to know about the origins of the water that goes to quench their thirst, cleanse their bodies, and, ultimately, create our city into the habitable place that we now benefit from.”

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Samantha had always felt a strong connection to the land. There was comfort in knowing the water that gave life to everything came right from the well in her backyard.

It makes sense, then, that LA’s aquatic instability might cause her even more concern.

“Every time I saw a sprinkler out of whack, a car being washed, a driveway being hosed, I would think of the small towns I passed by on my way back from Mono Lake," Samantha wrote on her blog.

As poor cities like Flint, Michigan, suffer through water crises that threaten health and hygiene, most Angelenos remain blissfully unaware of their own tenuous situation — and money might not save them from that very same fate. It's startling to think that a major American city like Los Angeles could be so unsustainable that its very lifeblood would have to be imported in order for it to thrive.

Photo by Samantha Bode/"The Longest Straw." Used with permission.

So in summer 2015, Samantha packed her camping gear and camera and hit the trails to document the 400-mile journey from Los Angeles to Mono Lake, where L.A. gets more than one-third of its water.

Samantha’s two-month journey took her across the Mojave Desert, through underground tunnels, and over sheer cliffs — all to spread the word of L.A.’s increasingly bleak water crisis.

“If you ever need to gain a deep appreciation for water, hike through the Mojave Desert in 100 degree heat,” Samantha said in a press release. She expanded on this for Upworthy: “We would start hiking at 5 AM and stop at 11 AM, when we would build a shade shelter by stringing up a tarp to available plants. We would hunker down there, staring at lizards or each other, playing cards as the tarp whipped against our heads in the wind. At 4 PM, we would hike for a few more hours until sunset, counting every sip of water we took along the way."

With help from her friend and film producer Angela Jorgensen, she stashed five-gallon caches of water at convenient(ish) spots along the trail just to keep herself alive. “At every water cache, I would say a little prayer that no thirsty animal or gun crazed target shooter would ruin our cache. This is TMI, but I usually only peed once a day.”

Over the course of her 65-day hike, Samantha spoke with people connected to the water and land, and she's turning their collective stories into the full-length documentary film “The Longest Straw.”

Samantha and the rest of her production team plan to use their film to raise awareness about L.A.’s real water problems — and to empower the government and environmental groups to find alternative local water sources. This includes extensive stormwater capture systems, better wastewater treatment, and free or discounted “gray water” installations, to encourage residents to repurpose their lightly used bath, hand washing, or dish water.

The finished film will also be shown at film festivals in the Los Angeles area, and the production team plans to do some educational outreach at local elementary schools as well.

“I hope that by viewing 'The Longest Straw,' people will come away with a greater sense of unity with the people of the Owens Valley and Mono Basin, and therefore a greater sense of responsibility for that water as a shared resource,” Samantha said. “If the people of Los Angeles, the Owens Valley, and the Mono Basin all stand together with a unified voice, we have a better chance at ensuring the future sustainability of Owens Valley and Mono Basin water for all.”

Whether or not you live in Los Angeles, "The Longest Straw" website has lots of excellent resources for making your water consumption more sustainable — though you might be shocked to find just how much water it takes to make all your favorite things. There are also links to support the film and its educational outreach.

Here’s the first official trailer for the upcoming documentary:
Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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