This lovable grandma turned her daily 3-mile walk into a personal crusade against litter.
True
Dignity Health old

I try to keep my desk organized. There are my books to my left, my computer in the middle, and my lamp and notebook to the right. I like it that way — being tidy just feels right.

Larie's also a fan of tidy.

Larie McKeever is 80 years old. Every day she dons an orange safety vest, grabs a couple of trash bags, and takes a three-mile walk along Golf Course Road in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Along the way, she makes her neighborhood more beautiful by picking up litter and garbage.

“I try to leave the house as soon as it’s light outside,” Larie told the Northwest Herald. “But if I open my door and it’s pouring down rain, I won’t walk. Then again, if it starts raining while I’m on my walk, I won’t turn back.”

Larie finds all kinds of things.

You'd be amazed at what people throw away. Some of it is pretty normal — candy wrappers, for instance — but Larie's found driver's licenses and credit cards, too. She turns them in, of course. She also picks up aluminum cans, which are sold for recycling (the money goes to a local food pantry).  

Her walks are even good for her heart.

Larie has a condition known as aortic stenosis. One of the valves out of her heart doesn't work quite right. But the daily exercise is great for her.

Larie's instinct for picking up trash has been with her for years, handed down from her father.

As she and her dad walked to his work every day in Story City, Iowa, they'd pick up any litter they'd come across. 

"I think about my dad a lot when I'm walking," Larie told the Northwest Herald. "I think about how proud he would be that I'm still picking up litter, all these years later."

Now, years later, this particular walk started as Larie going to meet her granddaughter Kate's middle-school bus.

Wouldn't it be amazing if we had a million of her?

Because we could certainly use them. If you're a neat freak like me, you might not want to read this next sentence.

According to Keep America Beautiful, the average mile of roadway in the United States has over 6,500 pieces of litter on it.

GIF from "Parks and Recreation."

That's more than one piece per foot! All together, that adds up to more than 50 billion styrofoam 44-ounce soda cups, grease-stained fast food bags, and cigarette butts mucking up our beautiful country. 

Litter is more than just ugly — it can be downright dangerous.

"There's AAA research that shows that people have accidents as a result of litter," said Cecile Carson, senior director of affiliate development at Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit dedicated to making littering unacceptable. 

If a piece of trash flies out of the back of a pickup truck, for example, it could hit another car and cause a crash. 

Of course, litter hurts the environment, too. Broken glass and bits of metal can cut people and pets. Plastic and cigarette butts end up in animals' stomachs. And anything on the road can end up in our water supply. 

"Everything leads downstream," said Cecile. 

When you really love a place, you want to keep it clean. And this can have a big effect.

Keep America Beautiful has done a lot of research on this fact, and they say the problem is mostly individual people's behavior.

"Littered environments attract more litter," said Mike Rosen, a senior VP at Keep America Beautiful. "So if you can decrease the amount of visible litter, you can begin to change attitudes and change behaviors."

Before and after a cleanup. I wouldn't want to walk down "before," but I'd be real happy to have "after" in my neighborhood. Image used with permission from Keep America Beautiful.

Furthermore, if people see their neighbors and community members making an effort to go out and clean up, that also makes people think twice before littering.

"It personalizes it," said Cecile. A litterer might say, "Oh, that's the Kiwanis Club, that's the 4-H – I'm not going to litter on those people."

Image used with permission from Keep America Beautiful.

People like Larie — and anyone dedicated to stopping litter — deserve some recognition for keeping our country beautiful.

It's one thing to decry litter and trash, but it's quite another to go out and do something about it yourself. Larie's already inspired others in her community to pick up junk as they walk too, but imagine what America's streets would look like if everyone were as dedicated as Larie.

"I just like seeing the parks and streets cleaner," Larie said. "I don't like litter; I never have."

Watch Larie in action below.

True

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!

Those of us raising teenagers now didn't grow up with social media. Heck, the vast majority of us didn't even grow up with the internet. But we know how ubiquitous social media, with all of its psychological pitfalls, has become in our own lives, so it's not a big stretch to imagine the incredible impact it can have on our kids during their most self-conscious phase.

Sharing our lives on social media often means sharing the highlights. That's not bad in and of itself, but when all people are seeing is everyone else's highlight reels, it's easy to fall into unhealthy comparisons. As parents, we need to remind our teens not to do that—but we also need to remind them that other people will do that, which is why kindness, empathy, and inclusiveness are so important.

Writer and mother of three teen daughters, Whitney Fleming, shared a beautiful post on Facebook explaining what we need to teach our teenagers about empathy in the age of social media, and how we ourselves can serve as an example.

Keep Reading Show less