When a dad showed how drums can unlock kids' creativity, the White House noticed.

Let's be real: How many times can a parent listen to "The Wheels on the Bus" without losing his or her mind?

"Make it stop!" GIF via "The Simpsons."


The answer differs for everyone (it's about two times for me), but hey — when it comes to music for our kids, we have to roll with the options that are given to us.

Thankfully, one dad decided to flip the script on children's music, and even the White House took notice (more on that later).

Meet Norm Jones, a professional musician who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons.

Norm enjoying some smooth beats by the ocean. All photos from Norm Jones and used with permission.

When he became a father, he tried to search for music for his kids that was "cool," but very little suited his tastes. Instead, he did what any good musician would do: He took matters into his own hands.

"I was looking for music that had interesting grooves, soulful melodies, and clever lyrics, but there really wasn't a go-to source for kids' music at the time," Norm told me. "So I did my best to fill the void."

That sparked the birth of Rhythm Child, a small company Norm created with his wife, Heather. It provides parents and teachers with the opportunity to share engaging musical interaction with their children and students. This is done by introducing kids to the importance of rhythm, movement, and diverse sounds.

Music can have huge educational benefits for kids, and Norm wanted the world to know it.

Numerous studies have shown how music can help kids with intelligence, social skills, emotional awareness, language development, and coordination. Additionally, Norm believes it's a much better option than the growing trend of kids burying their noses in their tablets, cellphones, or other devices for hours on end.


"Get off that iPad, kid!"

"In an effort to become more connected, adults are constantly staring at their phones and instead are becoming less connected with the world around them," Norm said. "This epidemic of distraction is being passed along to our children, and it has to stop. Music and rhythm can help."

Nobody is on trial when it comes to device usage; after all, electronic music is a form of expression, too. The problem arises when we allow our devices to control us instead of the other way around.

"In an effort to be more connected, adults are constantly staring at their phones and instead are becoming less connected with the world around them. This epidemic of distraction is being passed along to our children, and it has to stop. Music and rhythm can help."

So how does Norm use music to inspire children? Drumroll, please.

Drums.


Norm uses the beat of a drum as a teaching tool.

The dude is a percussionist and a damn good one. So good, in fact, that he once won the grand prize in the children's category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

He travels the state of California to introduce children to the instrument as a tool for education, entertainment, and empowerment. As Norm said, "Most importantly, I've been able to introduce children to a part of themselves that they might not even know exists."

He holds concerts.

He visits schools.

And no matter how big or small the audience is, he ensures everyone in attendance has a drum to play.

This little one is focusing hard on keeping the beat.

"When I first started, I was bringing anything that was safe for kids to hit in my garage," Norm admitted. "After a couple of years, I partnered with Remo Drums, and we provide the instruments to everyone in the audience, sometimes as many as 300."

After receiving a lot attention for his work, Norm received an invitation to perform on the White House lawn for its annual Easter Egg Roll in 2011.


It was the thrill of a lifetime for Norm to perform at the White House.


Because of Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative, all of the acts on stage needed to have some element of physical activity for the event. Norm certainly had that covered.

"Rhythm Child was recognized for the interactive drumming that went along with our music, and once we were pitched to the main folks at the White House, we got in," Norm beamed. "It was definitely a game changer to have the First Family recognize our work."

So what's next for Norm and Rhythm Child?

More drumming, of course.

The happy hands of the little drummer boys and girls.

He's reached thousands of kids in California and now plans to expand beyond the state to perform in schools and concert venues across America.

"We are responsible for preparing our children to be leaders and critical thinkers," Norm said. "In order to do that, we need to find ways to expand their creative expression. I'm just doing my small part to help."

This man is absolutely helping. Other than being a valuable teaching tool, music is a universal language that unifies people of all backgrounds.

Because all it takes is a drum and a couple of mallets, and you'll find a new friend.

If you're a parent who gets an anxiety attack over the thought of your kids playing with loud drums, is it any worse than the little ones playing Angry Birds on a device or blowing up pixelated terrorists on an Xbox?

Only you can answer that.

"We are responsible for preparing our children to be leaders and critical thinkers. In order to do that, we need to find ways to expand their creative expression. I'm just doing my small part to help."

In the meantime, Norm has shifted his focus to what brought him to this place to begin with: being a good dad.

"This all started as my way of being a good father and applying my life's passion to also benefit my kids. If I can use that passion to also benefit kids all over the world, then my lifelong dream will become a reality."

Word.

Now let's hope moms and dads will help their kids keep the beat.

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!