Pavel Verbovski

Forrest doesn't mind admitting he needed a second chance. The 49-year-old had, at one point, been a member of the Army; he'd been married and had a support network. But he'd also run into a multitude of health and legal problems. He'd been incarcerated. And once he was released, he didn't know where he would go or what he would do. He'd never felt so alone.

But then, some hope. While working with Seattle's VA to obtain a place to live and a job, Forrest heard about Mercy Magnuson Place, a new development from Mercy Housing Northwest that would offer affordable homes to individuals and families who, like Forrest, needed help in the city's grueling rental market.

Forrest remembers not wanting to even go see the building because he didn't want to get his hopes up, but a counselor persuaded him. And when he learned that the development was a repurposed former military barracks — now a historic landmark — he knew he'd feel right at home.

Today, Forrest couldn't be happier. "I've got a 10-foot-high ceiling," he says. "I've got 7-foot windows. I look out onto a garden." His studio apartment, he says, has more space than he knows what to do with. For someone who's spent chunks of his life not having a place to call his own, the three closets that Forrest's apartment boasts are a grand luxury.

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Courtesy of Queens Public Library

If you were asked to imagine a public library, your mind would conjure up a familiar image: a giant room with books crammed onto every wall and shelf; patrons quietly reading at tables; a librarian (pleasant but stern) who would help you find anything you need but wouldn't hesitate to shush you at the slightest indication that your voice might raise above a whisper.

Perhaps these images were true during your childhood, but the library has changed. Though public libraries have always served as meeting places where people might gather for a book club or town hall, many are now full-fledged community centers where residents can not only borrow books and use computers, but also take part in programs that teach everything from life skills to job preparedness.

The Queens Public Library (which services the Queens borough of New York City) is a leader in this evolving space. The library's 66 locations boast more than 87,500 programs. These include standards like story time and knitting workshops, but also branch out into wellness (you can do yoga in the library!) and classes that help community members navigate the road to citizenship. And all of these programs are available within a mile of where most people reside. "Wherever you live in Queens, there's a branch near you," says Ewa Kern Jedrychowska, the deputy communications director for the library.

One program that's become overwhelmingly popular is "Ready, Set, Bank" (Listos, Clic, Avance), which the library offers in partnership with Capital One. Monique Hector, who manages programs with the library's Job and Business Academy (JBA), says JBA realized there was a need for a class on managing money and using online banking during existing workshops which helped residents find jobs.

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Courtesy of Capital One

It was around Christmas 2018 and Jean Simpkins, 79, was looking out the window of her new three-bedroom apartment. Eleven floors above Washington, D.C., the grandmother of two gazed out at the lights of the city and became overwhelmed with gratitude. "The only thing I could say," Simpkins remembers, "was 'Thank you, Father.'"

Almost a year later, Simpkins still can't help but look at the apartment as a miracle — one she desperately needed. Fifteen years ago, when her grandson was born, she became his primary caregiver. Six years later, when her granddaughter was four, Simpkins was awarded full custody of her, too. She's spent the time since trying to give her grandchildren the life she knows they deserve, which has been difficult on a fixed income. On top of that, Simpkins worried that the neighborhood the family resided in wasn't the best influence on her kids. Something had to change.

Then she learned about Plaza West, a new development created by Mission First housing that would reserve 50 of its apartments specifically for families in which a grandparent or other older adult was raising children who were related to them. The waiting list, Simpkins says, was daunting. There are a great deal of grandfamilies in the D.C. area and she was sure it might be years before she got the call. But soon after applying, she was offered a choice between a two-bedroom and a three-bedroom apartment. She accepted the latter, sight unseen. She knew that each of her grandchildren needed space of their own.

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Photo by Jonny Mansfield on Unsplash

Take a second and think about your favorite teacher. Regardless of how long it's been since you stepped foot in a classroom, it's likely that you have fond memories of one teacher, or several, who made a lasting impact on your life. They went above and beyond because they cared, supported you through challenging times, and inspired you to reach for your dreams.

For Celina Lee, now a career coach, lawyer, and author, it was her eight grade English teacher, Mr. Weiss, who stood up for her when she didn't know how to stand up for herself, and helped her find her voice.

Courtesy of Celina Lee

"I was tortured by ongoing bullying when I was in middle school because I had come from South Korea and didn't speak English well," said Lee. "One morning I went to see him to tell him it was just impossible to finish all the homework, including an essay he had assigned. He listened to me with patience. Then he looked me in the eye, and with intention, he said, 'Celina, you can do this.'"

Several days later, to Lee's amazement, Mr. Weiss declared in front of the classroom, "We have a wonderful writer in our class. Celina, why don't you read your essay out loud for everyone?"

"I was stunned," said Lee.

She finished reading her essay and the class applauded. Many years later, this moment still sticks with Lee.

"After that day, school wasn't so bad anymore. His belief in me changed the way others saw me, and how I saw myself. It took just one instance of encouragement at a critical moment to make all the difference."

Teacher satisfaction undeniably comes from students mastering a curriculum, but educators also derive tremendous fulfilment in "ah ha" moments or life lessons that mold students into strong, tolerant, confident, and happy people.

Adam Cole taught choir at a Georgia middle school until 2006. His proudest accomplishment even today: helping students overcome interpersonal challenges and reach their true potential.

Photo courtesy of Adam Cole

"In addition to getting my kids ready for all their choral performances, I felt an obligation to work on their self-esteem and confidence," Cole said. "We had a tradition that in the last five minutes of every class, anyone who wanted to could come up and perform whatever moved them. This was a great experience — not only for the most outgoing students, but also the most shy."

Cole remembers one student in particular:

"I had a young man who started with me in sixth grade. He was a nice kid, friendly, and a little uncomfortable socially. It was clear he wanted to be outgoing and charismatic, but had no idea how to be," said Cole.

Over the course of three years, Cole would coach the young man on eye contact, posture, and presentation.

"By the eighth grade he was nothing like the kid I met years before. The thing that made me happiest was that, when he came up to the front of the room, he was charismatic. Any time I can see firsthand how powerful our work actually is, it makes me proud, and it makes me want to fight for us and for our students."

Although teachers may be tempted to shrug it off as "just part of the job," these moments are truly special. The attention and commitment given to each student to help them grow ties teacher and student together in a transformational way.

For veteran educator Allison Bruning, helping a student embrace her cultural identity created a lifelong bond.

Photo courtesy of Allison Bruning

Bruning was teaching second grade in Fort Stockton, Texas when she learned one of her incoming students was Mary*, a sweet girl, but very shy and struggling with Language Arts, who happened to live on the Navajo reservation.

"I could tell something was bothering her. Even though she was very nice, she had a hard time making friends," said Bruning.

Eager to help her student, Bruning met with Mary's mother and learned that Mary had struggled on the Reservation as well, wanting nothing to do with her cultural heritage. Mary was in a school where she, her sister and her parents were the only Native Americans.

"I felt it was very important for a student to master his or her first language before trying to conquer a second one," said Bruning.

To help Mary connect with her heritage, Bruning assigned her a special project where she would have to learn a new Navajo word each week, then present that word and its meaning to Bruning every Friday. Over time, Mary's appreciation for her culture and language grew. She learned more Navajo words and, in doing so, was also able to increase her English Language Arts ability as well. Mary's confidence had developed to the point where she asked her teacher if she could give a demonstration to her class about her culture, dressed in her traditional Navajo clothes.

Mary's skills advanced quickly; soon she was reading above her grade level and returned to the Navajo reservation at the end of the year where she continued to thrive. She graduated with honors from high school last year and is now in college.

"Culture is very important and is lost forever if it is not passed down to the next generation. I was proud to help a child appreciate her heritage. And I was even prouder to have been invited to her high school graduation last year," said Bruning.

Incredible and inspiring teachers are all around us. But today's teachers often do not have the resources and support to tackle issues that students face, such as mental health and wellbeing.

That's why Walgreens has launched WE Teachers to provide teachers with tools to help their students thrive. Special learning modules developed in partnership with the ME to WE Foundation and Mental Health America provide no-cost training to help teachers navigate the tough social issues into the classroom, including youth violence, diversity and inclusion, mental health and wellbeing, poverty, and bullying.

Teachers have more tangible needs as well, as it's not uncommon for educators to spend their own money to purchase classroom supplies.

Through Walgreens WE Teachers Award, part of WE Teachers, you can nominate educators who go above and beyond like Mrs. Bruning, Mr. Cole and Mr. Weiss to receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. At least 500 nominated teachers will receive a WE Teachers Award. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, visit walgreens.com/metowe. Teachers can apply, too.

When you shop back to school at Walgreens, you're joining their commitment to support teachers and schools across America. When we support teachers, the future is brighter for all of us.

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