When it comes to politicians arguing about tax cuts, many of us (myself included) get confused. But that's why there are bubble charts! So tell me — does that big red dot make any sense to you?
One of the biggest challenges deployed service members face is the feeling of being separated from their families, especially when they have children. It's also very stressful for children to be away from parents who are deployed for long periods of time.
For the past four years, the USO has brought deployed service members and their families closer through a wonderful program that allows them to read together. The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program gives deployed service members the ability to choose a book, read it on camera, then send both the recording and book to their child.
Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program www.youtube.com
The program was created through a partnership between the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation and the USO. Hope was one of the most beloved comedians of his generation, and he traveled the world for over six decades, putting on USO shows to boost the morale of the nation's service members.
In 2019, families shared more than 39,000 stories through the program.
The program has been an incredible way for U.S. Army Captain Justin Meredith to connect with his young son Jayden and express himself creatively. Just before he was set to be deployed to the Middle East, he checked into the local USO center where he was introduced to the program. At first, he felt a little awkward in front of the camera but soon took a real shine to making the videos.
When he arrived, he became a regular at USO Camp Buehring in Kuwait where he'd show up every day to read a new book to his son. He began to really liven things up by adopting funny voices, wearing costumes, and using props.
"The zanier that I am on the camera and the goofier the voices, the characters, the props, the more he just really engages with it," Justin said. "My son is so engaged, and he's so happy and he lights up seeing me."
Justin's nightly readings to Jayden had a profound effect on the family by keeping them close while he was away.
Justin Meredith's son and extended family members ended each day by listening to the latest book recording in their custom-made "Just-In-Time Center" while Justin was on deployment in the Middle East.via Courtesy Photo
"It became a life-changing thing, a better way to stay connected, and it was great because while my wife [was] technically raising him [while I was deployed], I could use the books to help influence and mold and help him out with some of the initial things that he's going through," Justin said.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Ruben Pimentel is a father of three and uses the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program to connect with his family while he's deployed. He loves that the recordings will live on long after he's returned from his service overseas.
"I know I'm not there, but I'm able to connect with my family. Even when I'm 60 years old, I'll be able to look back and see myself reading to my kids. It's a family heirloom," Pimentel said.
Sgt. Nick Masi reads a book to his four children while stationed in Afghanistan.via USO
The program is especially popular during the holidays. In 2019, the USO held a special event where service members read "The Night Before Christmas" in front of a festive, fake fire in a costume of their choice.
Sgt. Nick Masi, a father of four, thought the program helped him feel close to his loved ones during the holidays.
"It felt as though the reading program had transported me to be with my family, even if just for one story," he said.
The USO had to temporarily shut down in-person events in centers last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn't stop service members from keeping the tradition of reading to their families alive. Service members who are USO volunteers at USO Erbil in Iraq outfitted the back of a pickup truck with a trifold to make a "room" for them to read to their families.
A service member reads a book to his child in the back of a pickup truck. via USO Erbil
The USO team decorated their makeshift set, grabbed some books, and set up a chair.
Then, they hit the road, sharing their studio with service members on-base, stopping at popular places as well as remote areas. The USO's goal was to reach as many service members as possible.
Deployment is hard on service members and their families, but they do it so we can all enjoy peace and freedom at home. So, it's our job to keep them as happy and comfortable as possible during their times of sacrifice.
Click here to see how you can contribute to the USO and support services like the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program, which has helped over 100,000 service members and their families be together, or share a story, when they're miles apart.
Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.
"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."
Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."
It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.
"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.
She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.
When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."
Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.
"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."
One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.
Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.
When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.
"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.
"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.
"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.
To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.
Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
This story was originally shared on Capital One.
Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.
"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.
While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.
Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.
La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.
That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.
Photo courtesy of Capital One
The organization also offers participants the opportunity to enroll in its Culinary Small Business Incubator, a 9-week training course that teaches participants to create and scale their own food-based startups.
During that program, LA Cocina VA provides participants with support for developing the internal operations of their businesses and provides a shared kitchen for community members to rent space at affordable rates.
Patricia Funegra, who founded La Cocina VA in 2014, said that helping people like Klohr is exactly why she wanted to create the incubator.
"I have firsthand experience of the difficulties of being an immigrant and person of color in America," said Funegra. "At the same time, I also know the enormous opportunities that exist here to improve people's lives."
With the help of funding from Capital One, the center has been able to support 160 participants since opening with roughly 85% of graduates being hired for jobs in the food industry upon completion.
La Cocina VA also received support from Capital One's Community Finance team as it provided financing for the construction of Gilliam Place, an affordable housing unit in which La Cocina VA moved its operations into in 2020.
After moving into Gilliam Place, Funegra launched the Zero Barriers Training and Entrepreneurship Center, a hub for startup founders that includes a kitchen incubator and a community cafe to provide workforce development opportunities for residents.
That support comes as part of the Capital One Impact Initiative, a multi-million dollar commitment to support growth in underserved communities and advance socioeconomic mobility by closing gaps in equity and opportunity.
La Cocina VA students also worked alongside Capital One Cafe ambassadors to learn skills in management and personal finance.
Photo courtesy of Capital One
"The COVID-19 pandemic forced entrepreneurs, especially people of color and immigrants, to shift their entire business models just to survive," said Emilia Lopez, the Senior Vice President of US Card Customer Resiliency, who serves on La Cocina VA's Board of Directors. "As a La Cocina VA board member, I am proud of the commitment and support Capital One provides La Cocina VA and thankful for their effort this past year to help entrepreneurs quickly adapt their businesses to support alternative dining options."
La Cocina VA is also in constant communication with employers, partners, hotels and restaurants to make them aware of their pipeline of graduates.
"La Cocina VA taught me not just the physical work that goes into baking and cooking but also how to have a good understanding to mentally and financially launch my business," said Klohr. "They're helping me make those connections and I know they'll always have my back."