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The incredible story you didn't hear about the gay dads featured in American Girl magazine.

More than 10,000 comfort packs later, Rob Scheer continues fighting for foster kids.

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You may have heard about Amaya, the 11-year-old girl with two dads who was featured in American Girl magazine.

And you may have heard about the backlash that came in response to Amaya's article.

But what you may not have heard about is the most important part of all: the work Amaya, along with the rest of her family, is doing to help the estimated 400,000 U.S. children currently living in the foster care system.



11-year-old Amaya is involved in the Comfort Cases cause. Photo by Joyce Smith.

The whole story stars with Amaya's father, Rob Scheer.

When he was 10 years old, Rob lost both of his parents and entered the foster care system. At 17, he became homeless. Without family and without permanent shelter, he made do by sleeping in cars or restaurant bathrooms before eventually joining the military. All the while, he carried his belongings in a garbage bag, standard practice for foster kids.


Things eventually worked out for Rob, and now he's paying it forward. Photo by Joyce Smith.

More than three decades later, Rob found himself confronted once again by those same garbage bags.

He went on to become a successful businessman; along the way, he fell in love with a man named Reece. Eventually, the two decided to start a family.

More than six years ago, as Rob and Reece began taking steps to adopt a child, the couple received a call from a social worker, asking if they'd be interested in fostering a sister (Amaya) and brother (Makai), ages 4 and 2. They said yes, and the next day, the two children arrived at their home — with garbage bags in tow.

"I believe we need to make a change in how we think about children in foster care. So often, they're thought of as 'problem children,' but they deserve so much more."

Soon after, the couple took in two more foster children — boys Greyson and Tristan. Rob and Reece eventually adopted all four.

Left to right: Greyson, Rob, Makai, Amaya, Reece, and Tristan. Photo by Joyce Smith.

"I want to make sure no child is given a trash bag again," Rob told me by phone.

That was the motivation behind his and Reece's nonprofit, Comfort Cases. The volunteer-fueled group works to compile and distribute care packs for children entering foster care. "Something to call their own," Rob said.

"No other child should ever arrive at a foster home like this," he says. "I believe we need to make a change in how we think about children in foster care. So often, they're thought of as 'problem children,' but they deserve so much more."

Each Comfort Case care pack includes things like a backpack, a set of pajamas, a blanket, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a stuffed animal, and a hairbrush.

A sample Comfort Case. Photo by Joyce Smith.

Since starting in late 2013, Comfort Cases has distributed more than 10,000 packs to foster kids nationwide.

And while that's super helpful to the kids receiving them, the overall goal is to help these children find loving, caring, permanent homes.

"We as a community need to show [these kids] that we care for them and love them," said Rob. "They want what any of us want: to feel that we're loved and being treated like anyone else."

To do that, we need to stop stigmatizing children in the foster care system as somehow broken or less worthy of love.

A huuuuuge pile of Comfort Cases sits in a corner at a recent volunteer event. Photo from Comfort Cases.

November is National Adoption Month, and there's no better time to have a positive influence in a child's life.

Of course, not everyone can adopt or even foster a child. Not everyone has the means to donate to projects like Comfort Cases. What we all can do, however, is share success stories like that of the Scheer family. We can help treat these kids with the love and respect they all deserve.

May every child living without a permanent home find a warm, welcoming, and loving environment like this family. The world would be a better place for it.

Makai, Amaya, Tristan, and Greyson. Photo by Joyce Smith.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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