They'd never seen a computer. Now they're training to be the tech experts of tomorrow.
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Johnson & Johnson Caring Crowd

Over 247 million children in Sub-Saharan African countries have no school supplies. Not even a backpack.

Photo courtesy of CodeToHope.

Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest poverty rates in the world. And with all money going toward food, shelter, and tuition fees (many schools aren't free), parents are often unable to afford the supplies their children need to succeed. That's why it's not uncommon for kids to show up to school empty-handed.


But that's just one of the factors that puts Sub-Saharan Africa at the top of the list for education exclusion. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO), more than one-fifth of children between the ages of 6 and 11 aren't in school. That number increases to one-third among children between the ages of 12 and 14. And by the time they're 15, over 60 percent of children are no longer attending school.

Thankfully, there is an organization working to bridge the education gap. It's called CodeToHope.

Philemon Padonou distributing laptops to a teacher. Photo courtesy of CodeToHope.

CodeToHope is a non-profit dedicated to bringing technological skills training to youth who may have never experienced it otherwise due to lack of access. The organization was founded by Philemon Padonou, an engineer who grew up in the Benin Republic of West Africa and then moved to The United States to work and learn English.

When he enrolled in computer science classes in the US, though, Padonou made an important discovery: His lack of early computer literacy was holding him back.

"One of the biggest setbacks for him was that he couldn't type as fast as his peers," says Jacqueline Gaston, a Technology Services Analyst with the organization.

"His assignments were taking so much longer, even though he understood the material in the same way his peers did. These basic computer literacy skills, which he had to pick up on the spot, would have given him more opportunities."

So Padonou decided that he had to find a way to give those skills to the kids in his community. He was going to offer them an education in digital literacy so they could have opportunities that he didn't.

CodeToHope's goal is to fight poverty by giving future leaders the tools they need to empower their communities. That meant starting with the bare necessities.

Photo courtesy of CodeToHope.

Since its launch in 2016, CodeToHope has provided over 1000 children with backpacks full of supplies.

"The backpacks have notebooks, pens, pencils and a ruler," says Gaston. "Things that we would consider as being basic necessities. For some students, even buying this is unattainable." The kits also contain mosquito nets to help students prevent the spread of malaria. 90% of all malaria cases occur in Sub Saharan Africa, and two-thirds of those who succumb to the disease are children under the age of five. Even giving kids this seemingly meager protection can help keep them in school, and may even save their lives.

And these supplies are only one part of CodeToHope's campaign against poverty. The second part is all about technology.

Photo courtesy of CodetoHope.

The organization's main thrust is to provide children living in Sub Saharan Africa with access to computers and the education they need to become experts in the field of technology. Such access, the people at CodeToHope believe, will not only provide more opportunities, but allow communities to create better links to healthcare, knowledge and economic growth.

To date, CodeToHope has donated more than 400 computers to schools in Benin, which has, in turn, allowed the non-profit to serve nearly 3,000 students in the short time they've been an active organization. CodeToHope also arranges for expert mentors to teach children how to use the new devices — something that's incredibly important in a place where there's no oversight on digital education.

And this is just the beginning of CodeToHope's initiatives.

In 2019, CodeToHope plans to harness solar power to help the remote villages of Ganvie and So-Ava gain access to reliable electricity for the first time. The hope is that electricity allows for major improvements to occur, which may help bring the community together.

"Our model isn't to go in and provide help and leave. We're trying to create a sustainable model where we can help communities and make sure that we're having a positive impact."

The idea is that the education provided by this project will help prepare these children for the ever-changing world around them, which will, in turn, go miles to improve the overall health of their village, as there is a known correlation between education and health conditions of an area.

"We're not trying to fix their problems. We're trying to enable them to fix their own problems."

CodeToHope is only growing, and that's largely thanks to Johnson & Johnson's initiative, CaringCrowd®.

Photo courtesy of CodeToHope.

Philemon Panodou works at Johnson & Johnson. The company's credo  — to put the needs and well-being of those the company serves first — is actually what inspired him to create CodeToHope. It's also where he was first introduced to the logistics of creating a non-profit and where he secured initial funding. When Panodou began looking for gently used computers to bring to Benin, his J&J colleagues donated some along with funds.

Today, two of CodeToHope's major projects have been funded via CaringCrowd — a new type of fundraising platform that utilizes the power of social sharing to do good and improve wellbeing on a global scale.

CaringCrowd allows people like you to make the goals of non-profits around the globe a reality. Each project is independently reviewed by a team of outside experts so you know the money you pledge is going to a reputable place.

Best of all, Johnson & Johnson will match up to $250 per person per project as long as funds last. So the more we share the projects we're passionate about, the more monetary momentum they gain.

That means more backpacks, more computers, and more education for children in Benin and beyond.

The fight against poverty is long and arduous. But every notebook, pencil, mosquito net and computer brings CodeToHope one step closer to transforming the lives of the children who need it most — widening their futures to a dazzling array of opportunities they may have never had otherwise.

With organizations like this and people like Panodou constantly fighting for a better world, those brighter futures are entirely possible.

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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."

The difference between a politician and a public servant may be a matter of semantics, but when it comes to getting legislation passed that actually helps people, the contrast is stark.

Texas Representative James Talarico is on a mission to get his constituents the life-saving medicine they need. The 31-year-old lawmaker has just introduced legislation that would cap the price of insulin—a medicine people with type 1 diabetes need to live, which has become unaffordable for many—at $50 a month.

The mission is personal for Talarico, as he nearly died three years ago when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

He shared his story on Twitter:

"In May 2018, I was a healthy 28-year-old running for the Texas House. I decided to walk the entire length of my district and hold town halls along the way. I hike Big Bend every year, so I wasn't concerned about a 25 mile walk...

But halfway through the walk, I began feeling nauseous and fatigued. Before the town hall in Hutto, I vomited in the bathroom."

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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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