This family is the face of Venezuela's historic humanitarian crisis.
Luis and Jude Vivas, with their son, Luis Jr.

Editor's note: If you want to help the Vivas family, you can contribute directly to their GoFundMe campaign here. The campaign has been verified by the GoFundMe team, with 100% of the proceeds going toward immediate food, medical and housing needs for the family.

When I connect with Jude and Luis Vivas, the couple is resting inside a tiny motel room in  Cúcuta, Colombia. The width of the room barely holds a small, twin sized bed that is covered in the six backpacks they carried across the Venezuelan border with their young son, Luis Jr.

“We are very tired,” Jude says, translating the words of her husband into English. “Tired of not knowing what is going to happen.”


The Vivas family are part of the estimated four million refugees who have left Venezuela since 1999. A recent poll found 57 percent of citizens say they want to leave but can’t.

Getting across the border was a perilous journey. Jude and Luis faced obstacles every step of the way, including corrupt government officials who demanded thousands in U.S. dollars to process their passports. They couldn’t even carry proper suitcases across the border, which would make them targets for assassination from supporters of Nicolás Maduro’s administration.

While they are some of the “lucky” ones who have made it out of Venezuela safely, their situation is far from resolved as the largest refugee crisis in the Americas continues to unfold under the political unrest first started during the Bolivian Revolution by Hugo Chávez and continuing under Maduro.

“We had held onto a lot of hope for the country,” Jude says. “But nothing happened. Everything became worse and worse. When I became pregnant, everything changed completely.”

For those stuck in Venezuela, there is little that outsiders can do to help. But a retired American military veteran came up with a generous and compassionate plan to help the Vivas family.

Venezuelan migrants wait in line to receive food outside La Divina Pastora shelter in Villa del Rosario, Colombia, in the border with Venezuela, on February 13, 2019. (Photo by LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images).

Dan Hall was recently diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic and progressive lung disease. The military veteran was told by his doctor to find new hobbies like chess that would help focus his mind.

Hall decided to start taking Spanish language lessons. He became part of a larger group of around 730 people that was being tutored by Jude and other instructors. As the crisis in Venezuela continued to impact Jude and her family, Dan realized that even the income she received from him and other students was largely going nowhere.

“She was working eight hours a day and making around the equivalent of $25 a month,” Hall said. “Forget paying rent and buying groceries. It was barely enough to afford diapers.”

The problem is the Venezuelan government seizes all funds coming into the country, with an especially critical eye to any funds coming in from America. Jude’s already modest income became virtually non-existent when subjected to massive government taxes and being converted into the Venezuelan bolívar, which has been decimated through inflation.

And if she worked with private citizens to convert her PayPal funds into physical money, they often charged upwards of 60 percent to facilitate the transaction.

That’s when Hall decided to take action. He launched a GoFundMe to help raise funds for the Vivas family to help cover some of their relocation costs, including government fees, transportation, food supplies and temporary housing.

Jude’s language tutoring allows her to work from virtually anywhere she can get an Internet connection and her husband Luis is a trained chef. Their hope is that once they settle into a safe and normal situation in Colombia they will both quickly be able to return to making a living to help provide for their family.

Hall has worked directly with GoFundMe to ensure that all of the funds raised go directly to the Vivas family and are not impacted by the current political crisis in Venezuela. Despite his own health challenges, Hall is also using his own money to fly directly to Bogota in early March to deliver the funds directly to Jude and Luis.

“They are very tight-fisted,” Hall says. “They’ve only asked for $250 to buy a Luis a coat in Bogota, for bus tickets and some food.”

One bright spot in the crisis has been the leading role Colombia has taken to help refugees.

In our conversations, Hall and the Vivas family were quick to express gratitude to the government and people of Colombia. Even though their escape from Venezuela has been treacherous, they say it never could have happened without knowing they would find safe harbor once they crossed the border.

“If there’s a gold medal to a country in 2019 it’s got to go to Colombia,” Hall said.

And in an age when so many countries are ignoring their humanitarian obligations to refugees, Colombia has stood out as a beacon for hope and a shining example of how to do things right in a crisis.

A woman and a baby wait in Cucuta, Colombia, after crossing the Simon Bolivar International bridge from San Antonio de Tachira, in Venezuela, on February 20, 2019. - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido forged ahead Wednesday with plans to bring US medical and food aid into the country in defiance of the military-backed government, raising fears of possible weekend confrontations. (Photo by Luis ROBAYO / AFP) (Photo by LUIS ROBAYO/Getty Images).

There’s no end in sight to the turmoil in Venezuela but helping one family can shine a spotlight on the corruption and historic humanitarian crisis that is unfolding. There is a way to help.

Speaking to the Vivas family, it’s clear they wish they were not in the position of asking for outside help from strangers. But Jude and Luis are trained professionals, proud of the work they do and eager to get back to work.

But they’re also incredibly grateful for the people who have donated already and hope that their story will end up helping others, along with educating people who don’t really understand why what’s happening in Venezuela is so important.

When I ask Jude how many of their friends and family have been affected by the crisis, she and Luis both laugh before stating flatly that every single one of their friends has been forced to flee the country.

“In three years, literally all of our friends have had to leave the country,” Jude says. “We try to make little jokes with each other about how we showed up all of their ‘goodbye parties’ but there wasn’t anyone left to attend ours.”

Jude says that when she and Luis crossed a bridge into Colombia they were surrounded by entire families seeking refuge.

“Our families are sad but they know this is the best for us,” she said.

When I asked Jude and Luis if they are hopeful that they’ll be able to return to Venezuela sometime soon, they sound doubtful.

“It’s not that we’ve lost our faith in Venezuela, it’s a beautiful place and anyone who has been forced to leave their country knows the feeling of wanting to return and be buried in the place where they were born,” she says. “But they have changed the culture. We don’t want that lifestyle for our son.”

Luis adds that he thinks it will take at least 10 years to put an end to the systemic government corruption that has transformed Venezuela from a country with a soaring economy and culture to one on the brink of collapse. “We need to educate the children and make the laws work,” he says.

Hall says that his primary mission is to help the Vivas family make it out of Venezuela safely and start their new lives in Colombia. He also jokes that he’d like to get his Spanish language group back on schedule. But he says that helping organize this fundraiser, the first time he’s ever done something like this, has changed his views on refugee crises around the world.

“One of the things I’ve learned is how difficult it is to help a refugee. It’s very easy to help an organization but it’s nearly impossible to help an individual refugee or family,” he said. “We can’t help millions but we can help these three.”

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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 Forbes / YouTube

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 18, gave a blistering critique to a House of Representatives panel on Thursday, focusing on the country's fossil fuel subsidies.

Thunberg appeared virtually at the two-day Earth Day summit where the Biden Administration announced its pledge to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

Thunberg has become an international climate icon after delivering impassioned speeches to the United Nations and inspiring the largest climate change protest in history in 2019.

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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.