+
upworthy
Pop Culture

From comedies to kickass concerts, these two creatives are here to make social impact fun

Aaron Brown and Lenny Barszap raised millions for the unhoused community in a movement they've named "Trojan-horse social impact."

socia impact, kevin smith, musci festivals
Lenny Barszap (Left) Aaron Brown (right)/ (The Pharcyde, Brownout, Adrian Quesada, Lenny Barszap, Chris Rogers (muralist), Chris Baker (TOOF), Aaron Brown) - photo credit IIsmael Quintanilla III

Have fun doing good.

There is often a distinct line between social impact—that is, something meant to provoke thought, connect us to our humanity, inspire positive change, etc.—and entertainment, which provides us a fun escape.

But sometimes that line can become blurred in innovative ways, allowing entertainment itself to be the change agent.

This is the concept behind creative partners Aaron Brown (Onion Creek Productions) and Lenny Barszap (Entertaining Entertainment)’s Been There music festivals, which are specifically intended to be social movements in disguise.


But first, let’s go back to 1997 when Brown and Barszap were in college. They met an unhoused former professor living in the park at the end of their block - a chance encounter that would change their lives forever.

Not wanting the man to suffer Texas’ infamous storms, Brown and Barszap offered the man a chance to crash on their porch—and later their couch as boundaries began to soften—which began a nearly yearlong chapter of bonding with him and others from his community.

Their relationship, along with the antics that ensued, would later become the basis for “Home Free,” a coming-of-age college comedy that Barszap calls “‘Dazed & Confused’ meets ‘Superbad,’” which premiered at Hollywood's iconic Chinese Theatre in July 2023 and earned rave reviews, including one from Kevin Smith saying it is “the most important comedy you’ll see this year.”

And while “Home Free” succeeds in providing laugh out loud moments, Brown and Barszap hoped it could be the first of many “Trojan horse-style social impact films,” using humor as the spoonful of sugar to raise awareness on the serious issue of homelessness.

That’s why the duo partnered with The Other Ones Foundation (TOOF), an organization that offers people in Austin, TX facing homelessness shelter, opportunities and support. Through this partnership, six percent of all donations raised for Brown and Barszap’s film went directly to the foundation. In addition, 10% of the film's profits were earmarked for TOOF and other nonprofits fighting to end homelessness.

Which brings us back to Been There, which got its title as a way of suggesting “we can get beyond homelessness and someday look back from a new perspective with empathy.”

Here’s how it started: In 2021, TOOF had recently begun supporting a tent encampment of around 200 people experiencing homelessness in East Austin, later renamed The Esperanza Community. Brown and Barszap began making relationships with Esperanza’s residents during production of “Home Free” (especially when filming was slowed to a halt during COVID).

Before/After images of The Esperanza Community

That year, Austin had been hit by some severe ice storms, causing power outages and devastating the tent community. And while replenishing supplies would have been enough to help the neighborhood recover, Barszap and Brown thought “why not go beyond necessities and replenish people’s spirits as well?”

And so, the pair called upon their musician friends, who just so happened to be Grammy award-winning heavy hitters in the industry, to put on a kickass private music festival.

The Esperanza community got to enjoy the talents of Adrian Quesada, best known for his work with The Black Pumas, as well as local legends like the latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma and indie darlings Wild Child, just to name a few. And even better, though no one intended to make the event a fundraiser, a couple of inspired attendees donated a collective $600,000 to TOOF on the spot.

Because their first event was such a success, another Been There festival was held in 2023, this time intended as a fundraiser, composed of musical heroes from the 90s and local Austin heavyweights. Headlining the act was legendary hip hop group The Pharcyde, who also contributed two new songs to the original soundtrack for “Home Free,” produced by Adrian Quesada. The Pharcyde were accompanied for the first time ever by a live band, Austin’s Latin-funk heroes Brownout who have backed the likes of Prince, GZA and many more.

Barszap told Upworthy the second festival was an even bigger hit. Not just because of the money it raised, but because it brought people together who might normally be separated by social barriers. And it all took place in Esperanza, which has now become a flourishing transitional tiny home community.

“It was incredible…so many showed up to the event and were surprised they were having an amazing night with people who were transitioning out of homelessness and getting back on their feet. Everyone was so moved that we raised over $1million that day, enough to build over 100 new tiny homes for The Esperanza Community,” he said.

(The Pharcyde, Brownout, Adrian Quesada, Lenny Barszap, Chris Rogers (muralist), Chris Baker (TOOF), Aaron Brown) - photo credit IIsmael Quintanilla III

The first two Been There music Fests were hosted at The Esperanza Community in Austin but Barszap and Brown envision a series of Been There's in cities across the country. "When you see the power of artists coming together to help our neighbors and spotlight the organizations doing the most innovative work, it's undeniable. We've seen first-hand how music and art can change lives," says Brown.

As more non-profit music festivals similar to Been There continue popping up across the country, both to reinvigorate those who are disenchanted with how capitalism has affected the industry, it’s becoming clear that this is more than a novel concept—it’s a style of entertainment that people actually want to participate in.

As for what the future holds: today, Been There is more than a music festival. It has transformed into a non-profit in its own right, bringing even more “Trojan horse-style social impact entertainment that kick-starts a movement” including festivals, films, art, music and proving that making a difference doesn’t have to be a chore or byproduct of guilt.

Lenny Barszap (Left) Aaron Brown (right)

Maybe it’s not so impossible to, as Barszap puts it, “have fun doing good.”

If you’d like to support more of Been There’s impactful entertainment, donate here.

Island School Class, circa 1970s.

Parents, do you think your child would be able to survive if they were transported back to the '70s or '80s? Could they live at a time before the digital revolution put a huge chunk of our lives online?

These days, everyone has a phone in their pocket, but before then, if you were in public and needed to call someone, you used a pay phone. Can you remember the last time you stuck 50 cents into one and grabbed the grubby handset?

According to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, roughly 100,000 pay phones remain in the U.S., down from 2 million in 1999.

Do you think a 10-year-old kid would have any idea how to use a payphone in 2022? Would they be able to use a Thomas Guide map to find out how to get somewhere? If they stepped into a time warp and wound up in 1975, could they throw a Led Zeppelin album on the record player at a party?


Another big difference between now and life in the '70s and '80s has been public attitudes toward smoking cigarettes. In 1965, 42.4% of Americans smoked and now, it’s just 12.5%. This sea change in public opinion about smoking means there are fewer places where smoking is deemed acceptable.

But in the early '80s, you could smoke on a bus, on a plane, in a movie theater, in restaurants, in the classroom and even in hospitals. How would a child of today react if their third grade teacher lit up a heater in the middle of math class?

Dan Wuori, senior director of early learning at the Hunt Institute, tweeted that his high school had a smoking area “for the kids.” He then asked his followers to share “something you experienced as a kid that would blow your children’s minds.”


A lot of folks responded with stories of how ubiquitous smoking was when they were in school. While others explained that life was perilous for a kid, whether it was the school playground equipment or questionable car seats.

Here are a few responses that’ll show today’s kids just how crazy life used to be in the '70s and '80s.

First of all, let’s talk about smoking.

Want to call someone? Need to get picked up from baseball practice? You can’t text mom or dad, you’ll have to grab a quarter and use a pay phone.

People had little regard for their kids’ safety or health.

You could buy a soda in school.

Things were a lot different before the internet.

Remember pen pals?

A lot of people bemoan the fact that the children of today aren’t as tough as they were a few decades back. But that’s probably because the parents of today are better attuned to their kids’ needs so they don't have to cheat death to make it through the day.

But just imagine how easy parenting would be if all you had to do was throw your kids a bag of Doritos and a Coke for lunch and you never worried about strapping them into a car seat?


This article originally appeared on 06.08.22

Parenting

Mom creates a stir after refusing to drop her child off at a parent free birthday party

"I loved drop off parties. I didn't want to sit at some kids party."

Photos by Ivan Samkov and Gustavo Fring|Canva

Mom refuses to let kid go to "drop-off" birthday party

There are many Millennial moms that were raised on "Unsolved Mysteries" and "America's Most Wanted" during formative years, which may or may not have influenced the way they parent. It can be hard to think clearly when Robert Stack's voice is echoing in your head every time your child is out of eyesight. The jokes about what is responsible for the average Millennial's parenting style resembling more like a helicopter are endless. But sometimes additional caution is warranted where others may find it unnecessary.

At least that's what many folks on the internet believe after one mom seemingly split parents into two camps with her revelation about children's parties. Liv, who goes by the TikTok handle Liv SAHM, takes to social media to explain that her seven-year-old son was invited to a birthday party but when she went to RSVP, she noticed the invitation said, "drop off only."

The mom explains, "It's at someone's house. I don't know these parents. I don't know that there's actually going to be other adults besides this child's parents."


Liv states that she would not be dropping her young child off alone with strangers. To many parents this seems like a reasonable response. If you don't know the parents or any other adults then how can you ensure your child will be safe. Other parents felt like Liv was completely overreacting with a helicopter parenting style.

"Little kids have been going to peoples birthday parties without clingy parents for decades," one person declares.

"I'm a drop off kinda house. I want the parents to leave that is one less person I have to feed. I don't wanna have to make small talk with other parents," another says.

"That's a big no for me too! And I always try to take my kids to classmates parties because people never show up," someone writes.

"That's so worrisome. I completely agree with you mama bear, same with my son," a commenter says.

"Yeah, that would make me uncomfortable too! It's always a little interesting to me when parents drop off their kids at parties," someone else adds.

@livsahm

No thank you! I don’t feel comfortable with that. #mom #momsoftiktok #momlife #sahm #sahmlife #birthday #birthdayparty #celebration #controversial #parenting #parentingtips #parents #no

There's no right or wrong way to throw a party for a kid because there's no rulebook. Generally parents are accustomed to seeing invitations that say no siblings or the offer of parents staying or leaving. Many commenters pointed out that it seemed odd that the invitation was worded in a way that sounded like parents staying wasn't an option.

Some parents noted that the world has changed since they were children and wouldn't feel safe dropping their kids off either. Others found no issue with it and think fellow parents are overreacting. What do you say, odd or perfectly fine?

via Pixabay

A sad-looking Labrador Retriever

The sweet-faced, loveable Labrador Retriever is no longer America’s favorite dog breed. The breed best known for having a heart of gold has been replaced by the smaller, more urban-friendly French Bulldog.

According to the American Kennel Club, for the past 31 years, the Labrador Retriever was America’s favorite dog, but it was eclipsed in 2022 by the Frenchie. The rankings are based on nearly 716,500 dogs newly registered in 2022, of which about 1 in 7 were Frenchies. Around 108,000 French Bulldogs were recorded in the U.S. in 2022, surpassing Labrador Retrievers by over 21,000.


The French Bulldog’s popularity has grown exponentially over the past decade. They were the #14 most popular breed in 2012, and since then, registrations have gone up 1,000%, bringing them to the top of the breed popularity rankings.

The AKC says that the American Hairless Terrier, Gordon Setter, Italian Greyhound and Anatolian Shepherd Dog also grew in popularity between 2021 and 2022.

The French Bulldog was famous among America’s upper class around the turn of the 20th century but then fell out of favor. Their resurgence is partly based on several celebrities who have gone public with their Frenchie love. Leonardo DiCaprio, Megan Thee Stallion, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Reese Witherspoon and Lady Gaga all own French Bulldogs.

The breed earned a lot of attention as show dogs last year when a Frenchie named Winston took second place at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and first in the National Dog Show.

The breed made national news in early 2021 when Gaga’s dog walker was shot in the chest while walking two of her Frenchies in a dog heist. He recovered from his injuries, and the dogs were later returned.

They’ve also become popular because of their unique look and personalities.

“They’re comical, friendly, loving little dogs,” French Bull Dog Club of America spokesperson Patty Sosa told the AP. She said they are city-friendly with modest grooming needs and “they offer a lot in a small package.”

They are also popular with people who live in apartments. According to the AKC, Frenchies don’t bark much and do not require a lot of outdoor exercise.

The French Bulldog stands out among other breeds because it looks like a miniature bulldog but has large, expressive bat-like ears that are its trademark feature. However, their popularity isn’t without controversy. “French bulldogs can be a polarizing topic,” veterinarian Dr. Carrie Stefaniak told the AP.

american kennel club, french bulldog, most popular dog

An adorable French Bulldog

via Pixabay

French Bulldogs have been bred to have abnormally large heads, which means that large litters usually need to be delivered by C-section, an expensive procedure that can be dangerous for the mother. They are also prone to multiple health problems, including skin, ear, and eye infections. Their flat face means they often suffer from respiratory problems and heat intolerance.

Frenchies are also more prone to spine deformations and nerve pain as they age.

Here are the AKC’s top ten most popular dog breeds for 2022.

1 French Bulldogs

2 Labrador Retrievers

3 Golden Retrievers

4 German Shepherd Dogs

5 Poodles

6 Bulldogs

7 Rottweilers

8 Beagles

9 Dachshunds

10 German Shorthaired Pointers


This article originally appeared on 03.17.23

Family

Dad shares what happens when you give your child books instead of a smartphone

The key to fostering healthy habits in children is to be wholly present and reject the “pressures of convenience”

via Armando Hart (used with permission)

Armando Hart and his son, Raya.

One of the most pressing dilemmas for parents these days is how much screen time they should allow their children. Research published by the Mayo Clinic shows that excessive screen time can lead to obesity, disrupted sleep, behavioral issues, poor academic performance, exposure to violence and a significant reduction in playtime.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to 1 to 2 hours daily for children over 2. But American children spend far more time in front of screens than that and the situation is only worsening.

Before the pandemic, kids between the ages of 4 and 12 spent an average of 4.4 hours a day looking at screens, but since 2020, the average child’s daily screen time has increased by 1.75 hours.


A father in Long Beach, California, is getting some love for his TikTok video sharing what happens when you give your kid books instead of an iPhone. Armando Hart posted a video showing his 10-year-old son, Raya, reading a book in the back of a car and it’s been seen over 8 million times.

"Give them books instead of phones when they are little and this is the result," the caption reads. "Thank me later."

We’re so blessed with our son Raya. I think he’s read more books than I have.

@lifeinmotion08

We’re so blessed with our son Raya. I think he’s read more books than I have. #Books #Read #Fyp

Hart and his wife started reading to their son every night before bedtime, hoping to instill a love for books. "It was all about leading by example and creating a nurturing environment where reading was celebrated," Hart told Newsweek. These days, Raya is an avid reader who enjoys just about anything.

“My son likes novels, fiction, nonfiction, and realistic fiction,” Hart told Upworthy. “He also likes informative content, such as reading the almanac and other informative magazines. He loves to build, cook from recipes, and make art.”

For Hart, reading is all about creating a sense of balance in his son’s life.

“It's not about being against technology but about fostering a balanced approach that prioritizes meaningful experiences and hands-on learning,” he told Upworthy. “By instilling a love for reading, creativity, and exploration early on, we're equipping Raya with the skills and mindset he needs to thrive in an ever-changing world.”

Hart believes that the screen time discussion isn’t just about technology but a trend that goes deeper. “It speaks to a broader societal problem: our youth's lack of self-esteem, confidence and fundamental values. While screen time may exacerbate these issues, it is not the sole cause,” he told Upworthy.

“In contrast, physical activity, such as exercise, promotes joy and well-being. Spending hours scrolling on a phone can detract from genuine moments of happiness and fulfillment,” he continued. “Therefore, we must address the deeper underlying issues affecting our youth's mental and emotional health rather than solely attributing them to screen time.”

Hart believes the key to fostering healthy habits in children is to be wholly present and reject the “pressures of convenience” that encourage parental complacency.

“We prioritize quality time together, whether exploring nature, sharing meals with the best available foods, or engaging in meaningful conversations. In today's rapidly advancing technological world, staying grounded in our humanity and embodying integrity in everything we do is crucial,” he continued. “This means staying connected to our authentic selves and teaching our son the importance of honesty, kindness, and respect.”

Joy

Watch as this couple experiences a lifetime together in a single day

Watch a couple age a lifetime together in a single day.

Couple prepares for their physical transformations.

In this super-cool video from Field Day and Cut Video, a young engaged couple is given a rare opportunity to see how they might look 30, 50, and 70 years in the future. With the help of some seriously talented makeup artists, the couple ages before each other's eyes.

But, it's the deep emotional impact of imagining a life shared together that is far more striking than their physical transformation.


Their love seems to strengthen as they see each other age, and the caring they display for one another is likely to make even the most cynical person a little emotional.

This article originally appeared on 05.15.15