We asked about the best presents you've ever given. The answers will make you smile.
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The holidays are here, which means that gifts are on everyone's minds.

Sure, you're probably dying to know what your friends and family got you (we hope it's what you've wanted all year). However, when it comes down to the actual gift exchange, you might find that giving leaves you feeling better than receiving.

Whether you're gifting jewelry to your wife, a bag of Hershey's Kisses to a work colleague, or a sweater covered in dachshunds that your friend will show off at every holiday party this year, there's just something about giving that warms all of our hearts.


In order to prove this theory, we asked real people about a time in their life when giving a gift was better than anything they could have found under the tree. Take a second to grab a tissue before you read these responses.

1. Tracey Carnazzo calls her best friend Noelle her "soulmate." For her, there was no greater gift than buying the gown the woman she loves most would be married in.

Tracey and Noelle. Photo courtesy of Tracey Carnazzo.

"Noelle's been my best friend for over 20 years," says Carnazzo. The pair, who live in New York,  do everything together — from traveling to hosting a popular podcast. When Noelle's mother couldn't make it wedding dress shopping with her daughter, Carnazzo (who also served double duty as both officiant and maid of honor)  took the reins.

"She was planning on buying the dress herself," explains Carnazzo, "but your mom is supposed to buy your dress! I bought it for her because I am her 'other mom,' even though she's three years older than I am."

"It made her feel loved and taken care of. It made me feel great to be able to give her something that she really deserves. Seeing her walk down the aisle in it was better than any gift I’ve ever received. I really love her. To see her happy is when I'm truly happy."

2. David Pardo said 'thank you' to a mentor who had helped him through so much.

Photo by Lucas Lenzi on Unsplash.

"I had a mentor who, when my life was difficult, spent a couple years effectively playing my therapist by phone every week or two, even though he was 1000s of miles away," writes Pardo in an email. His mentor was training to be a counselor, but wasn't comfortable accepting anything in return for his guidance. That didn't stop Pardo from repaying him down the road, though.

"About 4 years after we last spoke, my finances improved along with my mental state, [so] I gave him $1000 as a bit of a start on paying him back," he continues. "He'd been living in his van while finishing his PhD. A divorce while in grad school wrecked his finances. He didn't have a place for his son to live with him."

"After getting the money, he was able to get a place where he could live with his young kid. Being able to fix the thing that is most hurting someone brings a special type of satisfaction."

3. Martha Miller gave a memory that will endure for more than a lifetime.

Photo courtesy of Martha Miller.

"My father-in-law, Hubert, was turning 80 right before Christmas and certainly didn't need a single thing," writes Miller in an email. "I was trying to think of something meaningful we could give him and it finally struck me. He waited a very long time to become a grandfather and was thrilled when two grandsons were born just six weeks apart."

"I got the idea of giving him a photo shoot with them as a present. My sister-in-law and I took Hubert and our boys dressed in Notre Dame jerseys Grandpa had given them for the photo session the next week. My father-in-law wanted several sets of pictures so he could send them to his six brothers and sisters."

"When Grandpa passed away at 88, my son, then 10 years old, spoke at the funeral. He said his favorite memory of Grandpa was having the picture taken with his cousin and Grandpa in the jerseys Grandpa had given them. I tear up just thinking about it. We have the picture placed prominently in my son's room so he will be reminded of his wonderful Grandpa who loved him dearly and the fun time he had with Grandpa and his cousin. I love that this present was so meaningful to Grandpa, and that it is still bringing joy to us and to our son."

4. For Lisa Umar, bringing all of her mom's friends together for her birthday showed her that there's no better gift than making someone happy.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Umar.

"I was living in Washington, D.C. at the time while my family lived in Phoenix," Umar says. "For my mom's birthday, I decided to plan her a surprise party. I managed to track down a bunch of her friends, another friend donated their house for the evening and I sent out printed invitations and everything."

"I also flew home the day before so I could help set up the party and surprise her. She was totally surprised and cried a lot. I may have cried a little too. It felt awesome to pull the entire thing off as a complete surprise, and I was able to get so many of her friends all together in one room.

"There's really no better feeling than making someone that happy. Then, of course, she's reminded me every single year that no gift I ever give her will ever top it. Worth it!"

5. Rachel Toburen gave her mother a very different gift — one of a heartwarming companion.

Photo of Petal via Rachel Toburen.

"I fostered a litter of puppies, and my mom (two time zones away) fell in love with one," says Toburen. "She was trying to figure out some way to adopt the puppy, but coming to Colorado wasn't a possibility."

"To surprise her, we paid Petal's adoption fee, and flew to Michigan to deliver a 12-week-old puppy to my mom for Mother's Day. We told her about it in advance so she would be prepared and have her house ready. It was a lot of work on our end, but seeing my mom fall in love with this puppy from across the country, and then getting to have her...that was pretty awesome."

6. Jess Keegin gave a child the gift of education.  

Photo courtesy of Jess Keegin.

"I started sponsoring Tasila through Children International in 2012 when she was five years old," writes Keegin. "Zambian children typically start school when they're seven, but when I got Tasila's family report at age eight, it said she didn't attend school because her family (which consists of a single mother — her father is deceased — as well as four other siblings) can't afford it."

"I immediately knew I was going to change that, so I reached out to Children International to see what the costs would be to get her in school. She started school in January of 2014."

"She went from a child who looked constantly grumpy and unhappy to one whose smile could light up a room. When I asked CI what her school costs would be for 2017, I received a note that said she was 1st in her class."

"Her education will cost $171 in 2019. It's the best money I'll spend all year."

7. And David Pemberton proves that you can make people feel loved and special no matter how much or how little you spend.

Comic courtesy of David Pemberton.

"When I lived in Denver, I had absolutely no money, and my parents had to scrape together what they could to buy me a ticket back home to Tennessee for the holidays," says Pemberton.

"I have a big family — my present list that year was in the teens — and I knew that I wouldn't be able to buy anyone anything. So I got a ream of computer paper, some pencils, and a few sharpies from the office and I drew a one-page comic for everyone in my family. Each comic was inspired by my favorite memory with them. I bought several $1 frames from the local Goodwill to frame them."

"That year, as we all sat around to open gifts, it was always the comics that made people cry. And I mean everyone cried. Why does that make it better than receiving a gift? Well, I think it's because it let me know that everyone cherished these memories just as much as I did."

This holiday season, the best present you can give is one that you've wrapped with love. The joy you get in return will last you all year long.

Photo courtesy of Yoplait
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When Benny Mendez asked his middle school P.E. students why they wanted to participate in STOKED—his new after school program where kids can learn to skateboard, snowboard, and surf—their answers surprised him.

I want to be able to finally see the beach, students wrote. I want to finally be able to see the snow.

Never having seen snow is understandable for Mendez's students, most who live in Inglewood, CA, just outside of Los Angeles. But never having been to the beach is surprising, since most of them only live 15-20 minutes from the ocean. Mendez discovered many of them don't even know how to swim.

"A lot of the kids shared that they just want to go on adventures," says Mendez. "They love nature, but...they just see it in pictures. They want to be out there."

Mendez is in his third year of teaching physical education at View Park K-8 school, one of seven Inner City Foundation Education schools in the Los Angeles area. While many of his students are athletically gifted, Mendez says, they often face challenges outside of school that limit their opportunities. Some of them live in neighborhoods where it's unsafe to leave their houses at certain times of day due to gang activity, and many students come to his P.E. class with no understanding of why learning about physical health is important.

"There's a lot going on at home [with my students]," says Mendez. "They're coming from either a single parent home, or foster care. There's a lot of trauma behind what's going on at home...that is out of our control."

Photo courtesy of Yoplait

What Mendez can control is what he gives his students when they're in his care, which is understanding, some structure, and the chance to try new things. Mendez wakes up at 4:00 a.m. most days and often doesn't get home until 9:00 p.m. as he works tirelessly to help kids thrive. Not only does he run after school programs, but he coaches youth soccer on the weekends as well. He also works closely with other teachers and guidance counselors at the school to build strong relationships with students, and even serves as a mentor to his former students who are now in high school.

Now Mendez is earning accolades far and wide for his efforts both in and out of the classroom, including a surprise award from Yoplait and Box Tops for Education.

Yoplait and Box Tops are partnering this school year to help students reach their fullest potential, which includes celebrating teachers and programs that support that mission. Yoplait is committed to providing experiences for kids and families to connect through play, so teaming up with Box Tops provided an opportunity to support programs like STOKED.

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Over the past 30-plus years, there has been a sea change when it comes to public attitudes about LGBT issues in America. In 1988, only 11% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while in 2020, that number jumped to 70%

Even though there is a lot more work to do for full LGBTQ equality in the U.S. the country is far ahead of most of the world. According to Human Dignity Trust, 71 jurisdictions around the world "criminalize private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity," many of these specifically calling out sexual practices between men.

In 11 jurisdictions, people who engage in consensual same-sex sexual activity face the possibility of the death penalty for their behavior. "At least 6 of these implement the death penalty – Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen – and the death penalty is a legal possibility in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, and UAE," Human Dignity Trust says.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!