These prison inmates are saving the Earth as they serve their time.

It's a big day for these turtles. After rehabilitation, they're healthy, happy, and getting released back into the wild.

The 23 endangered western pond turtles swam away with much fanfare after successfully receiving treatment for a disease that caused their shells to deteriorate.


GIFs via Oregon Zoo/YouTube.

These vulnerable animals were able to make a triumphant return to the water thanks in large part to a unique conservation effort at Larch Corrections Center.

That's right — residents of the Vancouver, Washington, minimum security facility essentially ran a small hospital for the turtles as they recovered.

They delivered basic care and provided minor treatments. And after all their hard work, the men were able to attend the release, and witness their patients' return to the river.

Efforts like this are possible through Washington's Sustainability in Prisons Program.

It began in 2003 as a pilot project between Cedar Creek Corrections Center and Evergreen State College. Cedar Creek was looking to go green, and had already launched gardening, compost, and recycling projects. Around the same time, a professor at Evergreen, Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, was looking to work with inmates to study forest mosses, which desperately needed to be replenished.

The two projects crossed paths and within five years, the partnership grew and expanded to become the Sustainability in Prisons Program (SPP).

The program has now expanded to every corrections facility in Washington, with most boasting anywhere from eight to 12 projects on site, including gardening classes, dog training programs, composting and recycling initiatives, even environmental literacy courses and lectures.

SPP guest lecturer Rus Higley of the Marine Science and Technology Center at Highline College observes a red octopus with a student. Photo by Liliana Caughman, used with permission from the Sustainability in Prisons Project.

The program's partnerships with zoos along with local and national fish and wildlife departments have led to many successful conservation efforts.

Incarcerated individuals at Cedar Creek Corrections Center learned about beekeeping and even became certified as apprentice beekeepers. The men in the program learned fundamentals and how to build and maintain colonies and even how to manufacture lotions and lip balms from beeswax.

Entomologist Sam Hapke (center) trains inmates to become beekeepers. Photo via Sustainability in Prisons Project, used with permission.

In a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center are growing sagebrush, a woody shrub, to restore habitats for the sage-grouse, a local bird that relies on the plant for survival. The plants the inmates raise in the facility's nursery will be planted in central Washington.

A conservation technician tends to the sagebrush nursery. Photo by Jeff Clark, BLM, used with permission from Sustainability in Prisons Project.

The women at the Mission Creek Corrections Center built a facility to breed and raise Taylor's checkerspot butterflies. The creatures were once fairly common in the Pacific Northwest, but have experienced rapid decline since 2001.

Photo by USFWS Endangered Species/Flickr.

Mission Creek partnered with the Oregon Zoo (which created the first Taylor's checkerspot program) and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to release 2,500 butterflies into the wild each year onto restored prairies on the Puget Sound. Together, the Mission Creek and Oregon Zoo facilities have released more than 17,000 butterflies.


An inmate feeds a butterfly honey water from a Q-tip. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele, used with permission from Sustainability in Prisons Project.

And though it's too early to track recidivism rates, the program already has plenty of success stories.

"The program is getting mature enough that folks are starting to release from prison and enroll in the Evergreen State College and other academic institutions," said Kelli Bush, SPP program manager.

But SPP doesn't only benefit the incarcerated individuals who learn new skills and gain sense of pride for a job well done.

It also helps the research professionals and project partners — and not just with their sustainability efforts. Because many of them are interacting with the correctional system for the first time, it's often a learning experience for everyone.

Biologist Stefani Bergh (left) talks about western pond turtle care with SPP program coordinator Sadie Gilliom and two of Larch's newest turtle technicians. Photo by Carl Elliott,used with permission from Sustainability in Prisons Project.

"[Science and research professionals] are interacting with incarcerated individuals and gaining a human perspective on issues that are typically outside their scope," Bush said. "And so you really see just really beautiful exchanges between these two groups ... I think it's changing perspectives about who's incarcerated and what incarcerated individuals are capable of."

The model has been so successful, it's catching on across the country.

"Other states have begun modeling programs on the work here in Washington, including really great work being done by Oregon ... Ohio, Maryland, Utah," Bush said. "So it's kind of all over the nation now. "

SPP and Department of Corrections staff members (left) join turtle technicians at a release in 2014. Photo via Sustainability in Prisons Project, used with permission.

Whether it's an injured turtle or someone behind bars, an opportunity to change can be hard to come by.

But with proper rehabilitation and lots of support, both can return home and find success.

Watch the pond turtles and their keepers mark the end of their recovery in this short video from the Oregon Zoo.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
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It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.

Over the past 30-plus years, there has been a sea change when it comes to public attitudes about LGBT issues in America. In 1988, only 11% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while in 2020, that number jumped to 70%

Even though there is a lot more work to do for full LGBTQ equality in the U.S. the country is far ahead of most of the world. According to Human Dignity Trust, 71 jurisdictions around the world "criminalize private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity," many of these specifically calling out sexual practices between men.

In 11 jurisdictions, people who engage in consensual same-sex sexual activity face the possibility of the death penalty for their behavior. "At least 6 of these implement the death penalty – Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen – and the death penalty is a legal possibility in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, and UAE," Human Dignity Trust says.

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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!