You'll rethink the luxury of having your own mailbox after learning Luis' story.

A few weeks ago, one of the volunteers who staffs the check-in desk tapped on the doorjamb of my office.

"A guy on the phone — Luis — asked if we can send him his mail," he said. "The guy says it's really important."

I was working at a nonprofit that offers services that help people living on the streets acquire permanent supportive housing. Forwarding mail is not one of those services.


"Sorry," I replied. "Bethesda Cares' policy is that we don't forward mail. We'll hold it for people, but we can't forward it. Luis has to come get it himself or send someone with written authorization to pick it up." The volunteer nodded and went back to the phone.

I turned back to my work, but the volunteer was back within a moment. "He says he just got a job. The guy's finally working, but it's during all the hours that we're open. He can't get here and doesn't know who he could send. He says the mail has important ID stuff in it. He's afraid he'll lose the job if he doesn't have it."

Well, crud.

I understand why we don't forward mail for the 375 clients who use Bethesda Cares as their mailing address (liability, workload, cost), but Luis had recently got into housing and had a job. I didn't want to go against policy, but I didn't want to bust this guy's chops either. The volunteer and I brainstormed for a moment, and we decided that Luis could send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope and that I would get it back out to him, which is exactly what happened a few days later.

Having no mailing address pretty much stinks, more than you might think.

Practically speaking, people who are trying to enter or re-enter society have to create and re-create connections, paper trails, and systems of interactions with large commercial and governmental entities. If you don't have a mailing address, this task is nearly impossible. While a lot of correspondence is now done online, plenty of agencies that process crucial paperwork like IDs and benefits information still rely on the good old U.S. Postal Service.

Emotionally speaking, having "no fixed address" — which is how law enforcement and administrators refer to someone who is homeless — leaves you untethered. Maybe you have a bus stop you call your own, but you know that's not the reality. Having an address, a place where people can find you (even if only by snail mail), reaffirms your existence. It  confirms your identity, especially when you're desperate for any permanent elements in your life.

Knowing that friends, families, and agencies can find you, even when you yourself don't know where you're going to sleep, is an anchor.

So in addition to helping people find housing, Bethesda Cares allows clients to use its mailing address as their own.

And when I say "as their own," that's exactly what I mean: We want clients to use just our street address, without our organization's name. Adding "c/o Bethesda Cares" reveals their status as homeless, and we want them to have the dignity of keeping their current situation private if that's their preference.

Some clients check their mail only sporadically; they aren't really expecting much. For others, though, coming in to ask for their mail is an important weekly touchstone. It's a layer of routine in their otherwise chaotic lives. It's a reason to come in to our safe space, where they know someone will greet them by name, address them respectfully, offer some coffee and maybe ask how they are. It's a place where they can seek respite from the elements without being told to move along.

Most importantly, it's a reason to come into the place where they will eventually seek other services — like talking to a case worker about housing.

I'm well aware that our office mailing address is a sorry substitute for a home address.

But it's not intended to be a permanent fix. Every service we offer is designed not only to ease our clients' lives, but also to serve as a tool of engagement. It's a chance to say "yes" to someone who's become deeply disenfranchised in society, who is unwilling or unable to believe that anyone will consistently have their backs.

In order to use our address, clients must have an intake interview with a caseworker. We learn their stories and a bit about their immediate needs. And we get to say "yes" — "Yes, you can get your mail here," "Yes, come have a hot meal every day of the year," "Yes, we have clean socks for you."

And, eventually, "Yes, we can help you seek housing."

Homelessness represents the total collapse of support systems, both public and personal.

Rebuilding that shattered trust takes years.

Every touchstone we provide and every indignity we soothe brings that client one step closer to taking the leap of faith they'll need to apply for housing — the leap of faith needed to hope for something better after so many years of accepting the worst.

While our office guides clients on the long path out of chronic homelessness, our greater community has a vital role, too, in making sure that our clients know they aren't forgotten and that they are worthy of our time and our resources.

Anyone can help restore a person's dignity. Just find a local organization working to end homelessness and drop off a package of cookies. Drop off clean socks or unopened toiletries. Maybe include a note filled with kind thoughts.

That way, when clients come in to check on their mail, you'll be helping to reinforce, in any way you can, that they matter.

This story originally appeared on amylfreeman.com and is reprinted here with permission.

True

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!

This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

RELATED: A gay couple's pride flag helped give a young teen the courage to come out to their family

One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

RELATED: A homophobic ad was placed next to a pizza shop. They messed with the wrong place.

He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.