His mom took care of him when he was a sick child. Now he's paying her back big time.
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Old Navy Cozy Socks

Dashawn Hightower was only 3 years old when doctors discovered he had a tumor wrapped around his kidney.

He went through two years of intensive treatments that included having a needle stuck under his chest to make sure his kidney was still working.

Eventually, he made it out the other side cancer free but sans one kidney.


"Every day, I just think I’m lucky to be here," Dashawn says.

Dashawn Hightower. All photos via Dashawn Hightower, used with permission.

However, the experience wasn't only hard on him — his mother and two younger sisters were seriously affected as well.

Dashawn's mother became extremely overprotective of him, even after he was declared healthy again.

"She didn’t want me to do anything," Dashawn recalls. "No sports. No after school activities."

His mother raised him and his sisters on her own, and it was always difficult to make ends meet. So when Dashawn got into his teens, he decided to find a way to lift some of the burden off of her, even if it meant worrying her a little bit in the beginning.

It began with him attending a 6 a.m. meeting at his school about a student-focused career-building program.

When he reached high school, he joined This Way Ahead — an internship program designed to help teens get a leg up on their future.

An intern working at Old Navy.

The internship program is one of the efforts under Old Navy's cause platform ONward!. The brand is actually expanding the program through a trigger donation this Black Friday. You can buy their cozy socks for $1, and each purchase will result in a $1 donation to Boys & Girls Clubs, up to $1 million. The money will go to creating an employment program for Boys & Girls Club youth, offering them career coaching and a first job at Old Navy stores.  

It's all about giving kids the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

Every day, the program focused on a different job-based subject — what questions to ask at an interview, how to write a great resume, customer conflicts, etc. Slowly but surely, Dashawn felt his confidence building. He knew he could be a great business leader.

"It taught me responsibility," Dashawn says. "I own all my actions."

As a result, Dashawn started taking care of his sisters more. He'd help them with their homework and get ready for school. And soon, he landed his first job.

Dashawn with his mom at his Old Navy job.

"[The program] helped me to have the upper hand when I interviewed for a position at Old Navy," Dashawn recalls.

Not surprisingly, he aced the interview and was brought onboard as a paid intern in 2014. Last year in November, he was hired as a full-time staff employee, and today, he's a business and training operations specialist at Old Navy's Herald Square location in New York City.

He's finally getting to lift some of the financial strain off his mom, and she could not be happier with how far he's come.

She even remembers the first time he bought her a pair of shoes. She had the receipt framed.

Today, Dashawn takes every opportunity that comes his way to make life better because he knows he might not have had a life at all.

Dashawn with interns in the TWA program.

"I could’ve died when I was 3," Dashawn says. "So I’m going after everything I can, the most I can. I’m hungry."

He tries to instill the same go-getter attitude in his associates and the interns he now manages. Many of them come directly from Old Navy's first jobs program, so they're already at the top of their game. But they still come to him sometimes with questions or concerns about their next steps. Since he's been in their shoes, he shares the same advice he's given himself in the past.

"No matter what you do, you always show your best," he says. "And every time you complete a certain chapter, it’s just a chapter. You have the whole book to complete. You have the whole journey to look forward to."

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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."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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