Yesterday, a little girl gave the pope a letter. Today, he said 5 things that sound just like her.

Yesterday, 5-year-old Sophie Cruz had what was probably one of the best days of her life.

The daughter of undocumented immigrants eagerly broke past security as Pope Francis rode by and was rewarded with a hug from the global religious leader. In that touching moment, she handed him a handwritten letter that outlined her plea for immigration reform.


Photo by Esra Kaymak/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

The heartwarming story of the little girl with a determined spirit and an important message made international news.

It was fitting lead-up to the pope's agenda today, which many thought would be far less warm and fuzzy: giving a historic speech to Congress.

In his speech this morning, Pope Francis covered a variety of issues, from climate change and poverty to the death penalty and, yes, immigration. If you listened closely throughout, you'd have heard quite a few things that are sure to have made little Sophie proud.

This one's for you, Sophie. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Here are five lines from Sophie's letter, paired with lines from the pope's speech to Congress, that make me wonder if the bold little girl had a hand in writing it:

Sophie: "I want to tell you that my heart is sad,"

Pope Francis: “I also want to dialogue with those young people who … face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults."

The pope began his remarks by listing the groups of people who were a priority for him to speak with and think of during his trip to the U.S.

High on that list were young people. He could have just addressed them in a generic, cliche way, as most people do when they speak of children, calling them "the future" or "hope for tomorrow." Instead, he made note of how many children are suffering the consequences of decisions made by adults.

He was speaking, of course, of the children whose hearts, like Sophie's, are sad.

Sophie: "I have a right to be happy."

Pope Francis: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Sound familiar? The pope quoted this line from the Declaration of Independence for a reason: a reminder to Congress that we have the unalienable right to pursue happiness here, the land of the American Dream. Sophie knows it too. What would happen if elected officials kept that in mind?

Sophie: "All immigrants just like my dad help feed this country."

Pope Francis: “I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day's work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and — one step at a time — to build a better life for their families. ... These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. "

The pope wasn't speaking exclusively about immigrants here, but he made clear that he was talking to the hardworking people in this country who aren't just taking care of themselves and their families.

He was talking to the many people who are taking care of our entire nation through their work and their concern for others.

And it sounds like Sophie's dad might be in that group.

Sophie: "They deserve to live with dignity. They deserve to live with respect."

Pope Francis: “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics."

Sophie sounded very clear on this point, and so did the pope: Everyone deserves basic human dignity.

But Pope Francis took it one step further and reminded Congress that their #1 priority should be to protect it. He not only believes that Sophie's parents and all humans deserve dignity — he's making clear whose job it is to ensure that they get it.

In other words, "I got you, Sophie."

Sophie: "My friends and I love each other no matter our skin color."

Pope Francis: "We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good."

Unity, solidarity, and oneness were repeated themes throughout the pope's remarks. He called politics an "expression of our compelling need to live as one" and spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his work in the civil rights movement as one of four Americans who exemplified the type of leadership and moral courage we are desperately in need of today.

On this front, little Sophie employed some boldness that the pope (who notably made no reference to race, racial discord, or discrimination) did not. But maybe her edits on his draft got cut for time?



Pope Francis' speech and Sophie's letter are both wonderful reads, so make sure to check them out in their entirety.

While the 5-year-old may not have actually helped write the pope's remarks, it's clear that her letter yesterday went straight to his heart because today, in speaking to Congress and boldly encouraging them to help the vulnerable, welcome the stranger, and protect the American Dream, the pope did exactly what Sophie asked.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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