Many people just know Chobani as the company that makes those little cups of greek yogurt goodness.

That's right. Line 'em up! Photo by Meng He/Flickr.

But thanks to Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya, the company is also known for something else — hiring refugees.

Hamdi Ulukaya visiting a refugee camp in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Michael Gonda/Wikimedia Commons.


This kind of support is important for the nearly 85,000 refugees who entered the U.S. this past year, fleeing their home countries due to extreme poverty, natural disasters, or war. Once stateside, many refugees struggle to find a way to provide for their families while overcoming a language barrier and navigating a slew of cultural differences.

It's an experience Ulukaya knows all too well as a Turkish immigrant of Kurdish descent. Ulukaya moved to upstate New York in the 1990s and by 2007 had turned an $800,000 loan and defunct yogurt factory into the tasty yogurt treat we all know today.

When business picked up and Ulukaya needed more hands, he turned to a nearby refugee resettlement center for help. He offered newcomers transportation and translators as well as salaries above minimum wage. When he opened a second factory in Twin Falls, Idaho, he went around and did the exact same thing.

Today, Chobani employs over 300 refugees. And the company isn't stopping anytime soon.

In 2015, Ulukaya started the Tent Foundation, an alliance of industry leaders that helps displaced refugees from around the world and integrates them into the workforce.

"These actions have inspired us to launch the Tent Pledge and the Tent Challenge," Ulukaya wrote in a CNN Money opinion piece. "The Tent Pledge asks companies all over the world to step up and do more. We're asking them to provide refugees with job training, employment opportunities, and the kind of direct assistance that experts have identified as a priority — everything from blankets and water, to debit cards and Internet access."

Sadly, not everyone was thrilled to hear about Chobani's dedication to helping refugees find work and support their families.

This was just one of many similar tweets calling for boycotts of companies that have made progressive commitments to social justice and equality.

But just as fast as hateful tweets calling for a Chobani boycott started showing up, people responded even faster to show their support for the company.

Mostly people were buying lots of Chobani yogurt and tweeting pics of their bounty:

Try though some people might, there's just no stopping Chobani's commitment to hiring refugees.

On top of Ulukaya's refugee hiring policy and the work of the Tent Foundation, he also started the Giving Pledge, a commitment to give majority of his fortune to aid refugees. Just like in his Tent Pledge, he's tapped the world's wealthiest people to be part of it.

Many people don't understand that refugees and immigrants play an important role in improving the economy — opening small businesses, creating new jobs, and helping raise wages for all workers. Initiatives like Chobani's are a huge step in the right direction, helping refugees get settled and integrated in society. At the end of the day, a little empathy towards refugees, coupled with the right job opportunity, can make all the difference in our success as a country.

Connections Academy

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

True

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.

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