Some tired new moms went for a walk with their strollers — and started a brigade.
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In May 2012, a group of pregnant women met in a Lotus yoga class in Seattle, Washington's Columbia City. All of them were due in the next month or so and they connected immediately.

Mamas trying to find peace from their crazy lives. Image by www.localfitness.com.au/Wikimedia Commons.


One of the women, Stephanie Keller Chiappuzzo, suggested they continue to meet up with one another after they'd all had their babies. And they'd start with a simple walk around the park.

About 10 people showed up for that first walk, and in Stephanie's words:

"Nobody was pretending new motherhood was amazing or beautiful. We were all exhausted, overwhelmed, and felt completely out of our depth. I often wonder what we looked like to an outsider on that first walk..."

Well, it didn't matter what they looked like at all. These new moms were in it together. And they were onto something.

Soon after, another one of the mothers, Amy Sauer Smith, had the idea to start a Facebook group to avoid the increasingly inconvenient hassle of group texts. Through the page, the moms continued to deepen their relationships with one another. As Stephanie says: "Walks quickly turned to meet-ups at each other's houses and some serious group therapy. Some of us returned to work, some of us didn't. We all still struggled and supported each other."

First baby happy hour: "Moms who drink and breastfeed." Photo by Columbia City Stroller Brigade, used with permission.

From those walks and meet-ups and that one little Facebook page with a dozen members, the Columbia City Stroller Brigade was born. And they never looked back.

Today, the group has nearly 900 members.

But what makes the group unique in a world of advice blogs and mommy groups isn't its size. It's that the 900 members reflect the true diversity of the parenting community in Columbia City.

Not only are there dads who are members and gay couples and adoptive parents, foster parents, birth parents, etc. But the group is a home for a diversity of opinions and strategies on parenting as well. Says Stephanie:

"It's easy to find pages that support your specific interests such as attachment parenting, positive discipline, to cry-it-out or not-to-cry-it-out, or labels like Working Mom or stay-at-home Mom. But on this page all those different parents are actually talking to each other. There have been some heated disagreements, but never any judgement. We are all learning that underneath those labels we are all trying to do the best we can with this parenting gig!"

In a world of mommy wars and parent shaming and debates on right and wrong, the Stroller Brigade is a place where people can safely challenge each other's ideas and learn from one another in a shared community. (If only the rest of the world could do the same...)

As if that isn't valuable enough, these badass parents don't just talk the talk online.

Time and time again, they walk the walk, providing real, tangible support to community families who need it most.

When a mother in the group gave birth to a premature baby with Down syndrome, it was clear she and her family needed some help. Their family already had two other small children, so she and her husband were suddenly underwater trying to care for their premature newborn with special needs. After one short post in the Facebook group about needing a few items, 1,000 mothers responded with clothes, food, special bottles, milk, items for preemies, Down syndrome resources, offers of childcare for her other kids, and mountains of moral support.

Breast milk. Not sure how else to caption it. It's breast milk. Image by Parenting Patch/Wikimedia Commons.

Another time, a woman in the area tragically died during childbirth. The father desperately wanted to fulfill her wish and give their newborn baby, who survived, breast milk. A mother in the group responded by coordinating their first ever milk drive, allowing breastfeeding mothers in the community to donate their own milk for the baby.

The Stroller Brigade went to work. In just three days, the group raised 2,703 ounces of milk from 28 donors — enough milk for the baby to drink exclusively breastmilk for close to four months!

They are now coordinating their second annual drive, this time for an adoptive mother, and are hoping to beat last year's record.

That is the power of connection.

When they're not busy doing serious, generous work to help each other in times of need, they are helping each other in fun ways right there on the Facebook page.

There they can ask and answer questions that, as mothers, they all secretly spend time googling on their own. Stephanie recalls one of her favorite discussions in the group being sparked by a blind poll they took asking how often they were having sex with their spouses. Let's just say that the answers made everyone feel a lot better.

The OGs of the CCSB at their second birthday party. Photo by Columbia City Stroller Brigade, used with permission.

Today, as one of the group's co-administrators with Amy, Stephanie thinks back to that first crazy walk in the park four years ago and how there are still so many mothers who feel the same way they all did on that day.

"Now when I see new moms struggling with the gear and the crying kid and the spit-up I just want to reach out and say you will be okay. But instead I ask, 'Are you a member of the Columbia City Stroller Brigade?' Because I know this group can help them get through those earliest months of insecurity and self-doubt. We all just need to know that everyone feels that way and nobody is living the Pinterest dream."

As their mission statement says, this kind of support and authenticity may seem like not a big deal but it could mean something much more to someone else. I'm sure parents everywhere can agree.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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