Family

The moving reason a mom and daughter teamed up to tackle bullying in schools.

'So many kids are afraid to tell for fear it will get worse. I always tell them it won’t get better if they don’t ask for help.'

The moving reason a mom and daughter teamed up to tackle bullying in schools.
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Hasbro Be Fearless Be Kind

When Morgan Guess was 8 years old, she began to be bullied mercilessly by another third grade girl.

Mary — what Morgan calls the girl to protect her identity — was new in school, but immediately started tormenting her. She'd pinch Morgan's neck, pull her hair, she'd even lead her around everywhere. It was like Mary had claimed Morgan as her personal pet.

And despite the obvious distress the situation was causing her, Morgan didn't tell anyone about her tormentor.


Morgan Guess. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

"I didn't tell anyone because I thought it would get worse," admits Morgan in an email.

However, faltering academic performance and a string of panic attacks and stomach spasms put her mom, Susan, on high alert.

"She was afraid and so was I," shares Susan. "Morgan had never experienced violence and she didn't know what to do with it."

Susan called the school, and together they came up with a plan that mainly consisted of keeping the two girls apart. Needless to say, it wasn't full-proof.

The school never addressed the issue outright, and as such, the plan just ended up isolating Morgan, and Mary still found ways to get to her. This sent Morgan down a depressive spiral for which she was prescribed antidepressants, all before reaching age 10.

When Morgan's doctor suggested she leave school, Morgan knew she had to come at the issue from a different direction.

Morgan wearing a T-Shirt from the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

"My parents told me pretty early on that bad things are going to happen and I could choose to ignore them, I could blame others, or I could choose to do something about it," writes Morgan.

So, together with her mom, Morgan decided to find a way to change how bullying is addressed in schools.

They did this by focusing on the overarching problem rather than a specific bully or school system, and that started with getting kids to open up about their bullying experiences. To get the ball rolling, they brought a few speakers to their town who are well-versed on the subject, including Jodee Blanco, author of "Please Stop Laughing at Us," and Lee Hirsch, director of the documentary "Bully."

Slowly but surely, kids began to feel comfortable sharing their stories. And the response lit a fire under mom and daughter.

Morgan Guess. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

"We saw kids stand up and talk about cutting, about not being heard, not being believed, and we knew we had to do more," writes Susan. "Morgan wasn't alone and these kids were waiting for someone to speak up, to stand up for them."

While Mary transferred to another school after third grade thereby ending Morgan's personal bullying crisis, she was now committed to protecting as many kids as possible from a similar experience.

Morgan and her mom knew the issue was much bigger than their small town of Paducah, Kentucky. That's why they began petitioning their governor to make a change.

Over the next three years, they worked on getting the state to appoint a statewide task force to study the effects of bullying and share best practices for coping with it. At the end of it, both Morgan and Susan served as members on it. Morgan was by far the youngest at just 11 years old.

Eventually the task force introduced the official Kentucky anti-bullying bill to the House of Representatives, and asked Morgan to give her personal testimony as support for it. The bill clearly defines bullying as any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be related. This makes it harder for bullying to go undetected. It passed the house with an overwhelming 39 votes to 1.

Morgan speaking on behalf of anti-bullying at a Commonwealth of Kentucky press conference. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

It was a pivotal experience for Morgan.

"I think she will run for office one day, and I think she will propose additional legislation," says Susan.

Until then, however, she's doing what she can in her hometown.

On the local front, mom and daughter have been spearheading a number of bold anti-bullying initiatives.

Every August, they run a Kindness Color Walk to remind the community the importance of being kind at the start of the school year.

Two participants in the Kindness Color Walk. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

In 2016, they got their community to write 12,000 letters of encouragement to kids in school. They also hosted a #bekindpaducah mural tagging event, which allowed people all over the world to write positive messages and tag anyone who might need them.

And today, Morgan's working on opening a mental health drop-in center for kids who need counseling.

It's no surprise, considering all of the above, that Morgan was named one of ten Hasbro Community Action Heroes, part of the company's BE FEARLESS BE KIND initiative to empower kids to have the empathy, compassion and courage to stand up for others and be inclusive throughout their lives. The award recognizes young people who are doing just that, and making a difference in their communities.

Morgan (center) with Hasbro Community Action Heroes Josh Kaplan (Left), and Zachary Rice (Right) in New York City. Photo courtesy of Hasbro.

Earlier this year, Morgan joined the nine other Hasbro Community Action Heroes in New York City where they developed a pledge to inspire others to “be fearless and kind.” Youth, parents and caring adults can now take that pledge and learn about ways to put their empathy into action as part of the YSA’s Kindness Rising campaign.

And Morgan's work is far from finished.

When she first started this, Kentucky led the nation in teen suicide attempts. She hopes their efforts have helped lower that number, but more specifically, she hopes they've helped give kids the courage to speak out.

Morgan at the #bekindpaducah mural event. Photo courtesy of Susan Guess.

"So many kids are afraid to tell for fear it will get worse," says Morgan, "I always tell them it won’t get better if they don’t ask for help."

No one knows that better than Morgan herself.

"We have to work together to make schools kinder places, but we also have to know our rights and we need to insist on safe and inclusive schools and communities," she explains.

No doubt Morgan will continue to advocate against bullying as she comes into adulthood, and her mother couldn't be prouder.

"We often talk about how when we push through our fears, there is something beautiful on the other side. My hope is that she will take risks and dig deep to find the courage, always, to stand up for someone in need"

Learn more about the Be Fearless Be Kind pledge here:

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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."

via Wikimedia Commons and Goalsetter

America's ethnic wealth gap is a multi-faceted problem that would take dramatic action, on multiple fronts, to overcome. One of the ways to help communities improve their economic well-being is through financial literacy.

Investopedia says there are five primary sources of financial education—families, high school, college, employers, and the military — and that education and household income are two of the biggest factors in predicting whether someone has a high level of financial literacy.

New Orleans Saints safety, two-time Super Bowl Champion, and social justice activist Malcolm Jenkins and The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation hope to help bridge the wealth gap by teaching students about investing at a young age.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.