7 siblings orphaned in a tragic car crash are all adopted by the same empty-nester couple
via second.chance.7 / Instagram

Seven children survived a car crash in El Centro, California in 2018, but tragically, their parents did not. It was another devastating moment in the lives of the children who had been raised in and out of homeless shelters because their parents were addicts.

A few months later, a ray of hope shone in their lives when they were the focus of a segment on foster children on CBS 8 News in San Diego. The emotional segment went viral and Pam Willis, 50, watched it several times on Facebook.

"I can't explain it — I just knew I was supposed to be their mom," Pam told Today Parents.


She even tagged her husband in the comments.

via Facebook

At the time, the Willis' fifth and youngest child was a senior in high school and the couple were about to be empty-nesters. "I saw seven and thought 'oh my goodness.' The first thing I thought of was, 'No one's going to have room for them.' And the second thing I thought was 'I have room for them," she told CBS.

"I thought Gary was going to tell me I was wacko — we were getting ready to retire," Pam admitted. But, after seeing the video, Gary felt the same way.

7 siblings who survived a crash which killed their parents celebrate first Mother's Day www.youtube.com

Pam called the adoption agency and it said they had already received thousands of requests to foster the children. Two months later, Pam and Gay were matched with Adelino, 15, Ruby, 13, Aleecia, 9, Anthony, 8, Aubriella, 7, Leo, 5, and Xander, 4.

During the screening process, the Willis family learned the children had endured a lot of trauma during their chaotic upbringing and still had psychological and physical scars from the accident.

The older children were reluctant to form a bond initially.

"It was easy to connect with the little ones. They were just desperately craving permanency," Pam said. "The older two were a little trickier."

"I think they didn't quite trust that we were real. Like maybe we were going to go away," Pam said. "I think it's so hard to trust when so much has been taken from your life. Ruby didn't know how to be a kid. She had to be a mother figure at a very young age."

But last August, the adoption was final and the seven children had a virtual adoption ceremony with their new siblings, Matthew, 32, Andrew, 30, Alexa, 27, Sophia, 23, and Sam, 20.

The oldest child, Adelino, is grateful for his new parents.

"Thank you for everything," he said. "You took us out of a really difficult, difficult time and honestly, I probably wouldn't have been here now if it weren't for you guys. Thank you."

After the adoption, Pam and Gary's oldest daughter made an Instagram video about the couple that went viral, even catching the attention of actor Kristen Bell who shared it on her page.

Pam hopes that her story will inspire others to foster and adopt children, too.

"There are so many children in need of homes - as you know from doing your stories - and I feel this huge responsibility to make people aware of that," Pam said. "I think it's a whole world people don't understand or know, but if they did - would have a heart for it."

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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!

Screenshots via @castrowas95/Twitter

In the Pacific Northwest, orca sightings are a fairly common occurrence. Still, tourists and locals alike marvel when a pod of "sea pandas" swim by, whipping out their phones to capture some of nature's most beautiful and intelligent creatures in their natural habitat.

While orcas aren't a threat to humans, there's a reason they're called "killer whales." To their prey, which includes just about everything that swims except humans, they are terrifying apex predators who hunt in packs and will even coordinate to attack whales several times their own size.

So if you're a human alone on a little platform boat, and a sea lion that a group of orcas was eyeing for lunch jumps onto your boat, you might feel a little wary. Especially when those orcas don't just swim on by, but surround you head-on.

Watch exactly that scenario play out (language warning, if you've got wee ones you don't want f-bombed):

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