Can violence be prevented with kindness and compassion? This teacher says it's a start.
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L'Oréal Paris Women of Worth

Kaitlin Roig-Debellis had never felt more terrified than she did on December 14, 2012.

All photos courtesy of L'Oreal Paris.

At 9:30 a.m., she was leading her first-grade class in their morning meeting at Sandy Hook Elementary  when she heard gunshots. "There was not a moment of pause or hesitation," says Roig-Debellis. "I knew it was a weapon and I knew it was coming into our school."


Roig-Debellis herded all of her students into the classroom's minuscule bathroom.  She used a storage cabinet to barricade the door.  She recalls worrying that not all of the children would fit, and that she wouldn't be able to save all of the children that had been entrusted to her care.

"I felt absolutely helpless," she says.

Thankfully, Roig-Debellis's class was rescued by a SWAT team 45 minutes later. While she and her students were physically unharmed, many others at Sandy Hook were that day, and the event completely changed the teacher's outlook on life. It robbed her of the person she'd been before the tragedy.

"My sense of safety and security were gone," she says.

When she looked in the mirror in the weeks and months following the shooting, she couldn't find the intensely independent person she'd been. She'd become afraid of everything.

"I realized that wasn't a way to live," she says.

As an educator, Roig-Debellis knew what she had to do. In order to help herself and her students heal, she had to turn tragedy into a teachable moment.

After the shooting, people all around the world began sending the students and teachers of Sandy Hook letters and presents to show their support and offer condolences.  

The gifts, Roig-Debellis remembers, were an inspiration. They helped her realize how many people cared and how important it was to foster connections — not just in her own community but with the rest of the world.

Roig-Debellis is a staunch supporter of stricter gun laws, but she also recognizes that policy is only part of preventing violence. She believes that kindness and compassion are also essential to help ensure safety in schools and beyond. And she knows that helping kids understand that they're part of a global community is an important part of making that a reality.

So, a year after Sandy Hook, Roig-Debellis launched Classes4Classes — a non-profit that's bringing social-emotional learning to the forefront of the primary school curriculum.

Classes4Classes is a social network that allows classrooms all around the country to connect with each other and show off the work they've been doing — giving students a chance to see how students across the country are both like them and different.

More importantly, the network allows classrooms to support each other by giving gifts that improve students' ability to learn. Teachers post what they need on the site and other classrooms help raise awareness in order to inspire donors to help fund these gifts. Then, the class receiving the gifts pays it forward (or 4ward in Classes4Classes parlance) by raising awareness and funds for another school in need. The lesson? That we're all stronger together and kindness is a bond that's not easily broken.

"We try to inspire and encourage children that kindness is the right choice," Roig-Debellis says. "What you put out you get back."

For Roig-Debellis the success of her non-profit is a clear sign that she has to keep pushing forward, spreading her message of kindness and compassion throughout the world.

Since the site went live, Classes4Classes has helped raise thousands of dollars for schools nationwide. Roig-Debellis, who heads the organization, has also had great success. She's written a book, is a popular speaker and had been named a L'Oreal Paris Woman of Worth for her bravery and transformative work. The prestigious honor has been awarded to 10 women annually since 2005 who've demonstrated both a fierce passion and dedication to their community.

For the educator, though, what's most important is the impact she's had on children. Making the world a kinder, safer, more connected place is what gave her her life back. Teaching kids that they're worth it every single day is what keeps her going.  

"What happened on that day was so full of hate and, in my opinion, so full of loneliness," she says. "For me, connecting kids to care about one another is the greatest thing I can do."

To learn more about Kaitlin Roig-Debellis and Classes4Classes, check out the video below.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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Anderson Cooper has interviewed hundreds of people, from top celebrities to heads of state to people on the street. He is fairly unflappable when it comes to chatting with a guest, which is what makes his reaction while interviewing inaugural poet Amanda Gorman all the more delightful.

Gorman stole the show at President Biden's Inauguration with a powerful performance of her original poem, "The Hill We Climb." People were blown away by both her words and her poise in delivering them, especially considering the fact that she's only 22 years old. But it's one thing to be able to write and recite well, and another to be able to impress in an off-the-cuff conversation—and Gorman proved in her interview on Anderson Cooper 360 that she can do both at a level most of us can only dream of.

In the interview, Gorman explained how she dove into research to prepare her poem to fit the occasion, and then how that work was disrupted by the attack on the Capitol.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.