The inspiring reason this former foster kid is helping underserved kids make movies.
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Johna Rivers spent most of her young life with the cards stacked against her.

She was put into foster care at the age of 9, and that's where she stayed until she was a legal adult.

"Everything around me was traumatic from the time I was a baby up until I was 19,” says Rivers.


Kids in front of the housing project where Rivers grew up. All photos via Extra.

But her hardships didn't stop there. Rivers was homeless for three years after she left foster care. This is an unfortunate reality for many kids who age out of the system. According to a recent NPR study, approximately 25% of former foster children become homeless after exiting foster care. The sudden absence in shelter and support also results in much higher incarceration and teen pregnancy rates.

And, not surprisingly, very few of these young people (6%) ever make it through college.

But Rivers was determined to flip the script on foster kid statistics.

She started by making education a priority.

Even though she says her high school was rated one of the worst in Los Angeles, she pushed through it and managed to graduate by 2011.

“I was extremely blessed and humbled to make it out of the environment, and be able to not allow those circumstances to define me," says Rivers.

And, thanks to the help of her mentor, Syd Stewart, she set herself up for a success in a career in the arts.

Stewart (left) and Rivers (right).

Stewart is a filmmaker and also the founder of Better Youth, a nonprofit that mentors disadvantaged youth like Rivers in media arts.

She showed Rivers her first film set over 10 years ago. “She introduced me to a whole new world that I never knew about," recalls Rivers.

Through Stewart's guidance, Rivers learned that she had not only compelling stories to tell, but a powerful voice to tell them with. Aside from her film work, Rivers is a spoken word artist who has performed all over the world.

However, she wanted to do more than just make art for the world. Following her mentor's example, Rivers decided to help others like her reach for their creative dreams too.

She co-founded the Real to Reel Global Youth Film Festival to help raise up the voices of underserved kids.

Rivers (center) with kids from the Real to Reel Film Festival.

Launched in October 2015, Real to Reel showcases films produced by youth ages 14 to 23 that shine a light on often overlooked social issues. The foster system is one of those issues — in 2017, Real to Reel's film offerings were all produced by current and former foster kids.

Rivers hopes the festival will help kids like her realize they deserve a place at the creative table. She wants to remind them that, with a little extra effort, anything they can dream up is achievable.

"You gotta put in the work, you gotta show up, you gotta believe in yourself, because if you don’t, nobody else will," says Rivers.

Rivers working on a film.

But, of course, you'll get further with people like Rivers and Stewart standing behind you. Few people know that better than Rivers, which is why she continues to give a little extra back whenever she can.

When she's not making movies, Stewart is a foster youth outreach liaison for the Spirit Awakening Foundation, which helps underserved youth find their spiritual identity through creativity. Clearly, she's made helping kids like her tell their stories a big part of her life's mission.

After all, her own story helped her realize her purpose. If she hadn't found a way to share it, she wouldn't be where she is today.

To learn more about Rivers and her festival, check out this video:

When You Give Extra, You Get Extra: Johna Rivers

After a mentor opened up a whole new world for this young filmmaker, she wants to do the same for others.

Posted by Upworthy on Friday, April 20, 2018
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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.