This mom’s journey through divorce and illness reminds us why single moms are heroes.

Being a single parent can be tough. It can be even tougher when you’re coping with serious health issues.

Allison Brown and her husband have been separated for some time, but they co-parented their son, Jed, equally up until two years ago.

Simultaneously she has antiphospholipid syndrome, which makes her prone to blood clots, and as such, she’s already had two pulmonary embolisms — one right after Jed was born.

It was also recently discovered that she has a genetic oddity on the BRACA2 gene and a family history of breast cancer, so she’s made the decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy in 2018.

Allison and Jed Brown. All photos via Allison Brown.

Jed wants to be with her in the hospital, and while she’s always been open with him about her health issues, this feels like uncharted territory. He’s been with her through illnesses before, but this surgery will change how she looks and no doubt have an emotional impact, so she’s apprehensive about letting him see the aftermath.

“I’m not entirely sure what the ‘right’ thing to do is,” Allison writes in an email, “but I go back to one of our family reminders: We can do what we can do. And sometimes we can do hard things.”

As it turns out, Allison isn’t alone in her concern. Many families struggle with knowing what the “right” thing to do is, but they still manage to #familygreatly.

Family Greatly

Myth: There’s one perfect way to family.
Truth: There’s a billion ways to #FamilyGreatly.

Posted by Kraft Brand on Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The truth is, there isn’t one “right way” to be a parent. And, through her relationship with her son, Allison’s come to realize that.

She cherishes Jed, and together they’ve successfully navigated some difficult times. But mostly she tries to savor every moment with him that she can.

“He is kind, he is moral and thoughtful, he is just a lovely person a lot of the time,” writes Allison. “He is working hard to be responsible and I really appreciate that. I think we are very close, in part because we are a household of two, in part because I’m pretty unflappable.”

Jed on the soccer team.

Of course, as Jed grows up, she’s realizing he doesn’t need her as much. It’s a hard reality, but she knows it’s what needs to happen.

“I know I’m not all he could ever need nor should I be anymore,” explains Allison. “Life is bigger, and his world is wider.”

But even though Jed’s a teenager now, they’ve maintained their tight bond thanks to a few unique traditions.

For example, every night at dinner, they hold hands and share a “moment of gratitude,” which can be anything that happened in their day that they’re grateful for. Since Allison can’t be there all the time, it’s a great way for them to reconnect.

She also makes sure to be there for all the big events, like Jed’s soccer games and choir concerts.

She wishes she could be around more often to encourage him to stop staring at phone/computer/television screens all day, but that’s likely a struggle that would exist whether she worked or not.

Jed and Allison Brown.

And really, at the end of the day, Allison believes she is enough for Jed because she’s proud of the man he is becoming.

“The world is big, and there are a million ways to be successful and measure success,” she writes.

Time with your kids goes by fast — Allison knows this better than most. So instead of worrying about the future, she hopes parents, like herself, can stay in the present with them as long as they can. After all, that’s what truly matters with family.

Life may throw you curveballs along the way, but as long as you can come back and share a moment with your kids, you’re nailing parenthood.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a family of two or 10, if you’re celebrating around a big Christmas tree or eating leftover pizza while watching your favorite show — if you’re spending time together, that’s what makes a great family.

This holiday season, Allison and Jed will be taking their traditional trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago to see the lights festival. It’s just something that makes the month of December a little more special for them.

Families are made by these traditions that make them unique, no matter how big or small they are. And that uniqueness outshines perfection every day of the week.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/this-mom-s-journey-through-divorce-and-illness-reminds-us-why-single-moms-are-heroes

11 lives were lost in 11 days. For the LGBTQ community in Utah, enough was enough.

It was the summer of 2017 when a small community in Utah watched in horror as 11 people took their own lives in 11 days.

All photos provided by Starbucks.

One after the other, the state had been struck with a wave of LGBTQ suicides, shaking the queer and transgender community to its core.

“These are the kids who feel like God doesn’t love them, their parents won’t understand, their community won’t understand who they are,” local Utah resident Stephanie Larsen explains.

This sense of isolation has only fueled youth suicides in the state.

“Suicide is now the leading cause of death for young people in Utah, and the suicide rate has tripled since 2007.

Seeing that LGBTQ youth in her own city desperately needed a safe place to go, Larsen founded Encircle, a resource center in Provo, Utah.

“The reason for Encircle is to keep kids alive,” Larsen says.

Having watched so many LGBTQ youth take their own lives, Larsen knew something had to give. “[I wanted] to give these kids a safe space to be, so they can grow up and have time to think about ‘Who am I? Who do I wanna be?'”

Encircle offers support groups, counseling, speaker series, and most importantly, a sense of affirmation and togetherness to LGBTQ folks in Provo and beyond.

“We can help them have a safe place to be [and] move the community to better understand these kids and their families,” Larsen says.

And she believes that this understanding is possible after having lived it herself. It wasn’t that long ago that she herself harbored prejudice of her own. “But life changed, and experiences changed me,” she explains.

And as an “all-American Mormon,” if change was possible for her, she believes that change can happen in Provo, a city known for being one of the most conservative in the country.

“[We] meet them where they are and help us all progress and become better,” Larsen says.

Having only been open six months, the center has already changed lives.

Donna Showalter, whose son Michael is a regular at Encircle, says the center has made a real difference in their lives.

“When I was running for student body president, an account was made about me being gay,” he says. “[They said,] ‘Whatever you do, don’t vote for Michael Gaywalter. We don’t want our school being run by a f*ggot.'”

This experience terrified Donna, who feared for his life as the harassment escalated.

“There was a time when we were really worried about Michael’s safety,” his mother says. “There was always the thought in my mind that he might not come back.”

“I would text him, ‘Where are you?’ And he would say, ‘I’m at Encircle,’ and I would instantly stop worrying,” she says.

“That pit in my stomach would go away instantly. I knew that he was safe.”

“I really feel like Encircle literally saved his life,” she says.

And this, of course, is what Encircle is all about — creating a space where youth are safe to be their whole selves.

When Larsen created the center, she envisioned a place where LGBTQ youth could show up as they are without having to leave their community and their families.

“We will never tell any of the youth who they should be,” Larsen explains. “Our approach is, you need to be who you need to be … and they need to look inside of themselves and say, ‘This is where I will find happiness. And this is where I will be whole and complete.'”

For the 11 LGBTQ people who lost their lives last summer, that’s a wholeness they were never able to find. But in a small house in Provo, Utah — a safe haven in a city that so often feels like a small town — each and every day, there’s a reason for hope.

For the youth of Encircle and the families and friends who love them, nothing is ever easy. But together, they can at least know it’s not a journey they’ll be taking alone.

Learn more about the incredible work happening at Encircle:

Upstanders: Love for All in Utah

At one point, she thought homosexuality was evil. Then life happened, and she made it her mission to make LGBTQ youth feel safe and loved.

Posted by Upworthy on Monday, November 20, 2017

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/11-lives-were-lost-in-11-days-for-the-lgbtq-community-in-utah-enough-was-enough

This educator didn’t punish troublesome kids. She gave them a closet full of stuff.

This time last year, the top three most misbehaved boys at Equetta Jones’ elementary school were from the same family.

As assistant principal, it fell to Jones to figure out how to solve the problem. Other educators might prescribe detentions, suspensions, extra tutoring help, or even a doctor’s appointment to be evaluated for an attention-deficit issue. But Jones sensed that the problem ran deeper — and she had a solution.

“No child comes in every day and says ‘I want to be angry. I want to hit you. I want to curse you out. I don’t want to learn,’” she says. “So it is our responsibility to find out why they’re verbalizing those things.”

Photo courtesy of Equetta Jones/Highlands Elementary School, used with permission.

Often, the problem is the same: Many kids are not having their basic health, shelter, and nutritional needs met. “The middle class, we forget about the fact that when we wake up every morning, we wake up with shelter,” Jones says.

Not all of her students have that luxury.

That’s why Jones’ school worked with an organization called First Book to install a “Care Closet” — a supply of basic essentials for kids in need.

First Book, which supplies books and educational tools for kids in low-income communities, started offering living essentials when they heard from teachers that they’re just as important when it comes to helping kids do well in school.

With the Care Closet in place, Jones can give kids what they need and establish a sense of security so they can focus on school.

Photo courtesy of Equetta Jones/Highlands Elementary School, used with permission.

Her students are no longer worried about whether or not their basic needs are being met. “Their focus is now on coming in and being the best student they can be.”

The Care Closet project gives kids what they need to succeed. But they’re not handouts — they’re hand-ups.

Jones has a system in place to make sure the supplies make the greatest possible impact on the lives of the students.

Parents can come and ask for help, or if teachers notice that a child has an issue, they can discreetly let Jones know and she’ll take the child aside and get them what they need.

Photo courtesy of Equetta Jones/Highlands Elementary School, used with permission.

“I will give them the care package, let them go to the bathroom, clean themselves up, give them a fresh pair of clothes, fold up the dirty clothes, and then send them back home and call up the parents and let them know what I did,” she says. The whole process is discreet; Jones even bought department store-style shopping bags to keep their contents private.

Once the kids have what they need, that’s when the real work begins. When Jones calls children’s parents, there’s an understanding: Though the Care Closet doesn’t cost money, it doesn’t come for free.

“You need to give Ms. Jones back some time,” she says. Parents are asked to come into school and be engaged — either through volunteering or through coaching sessions that help the parents deal with some of the pressing problems in their families’ lives.

“We feel that the information we’re giving is going to not only help them as a parent but also help the child within the classroom.

Photo courtesy of First Book, used with permission.

Jones’ method has already created big changes for some of the families at her school.

The three boys who were at the top of the disciplinary chart last year? They’re thriving now — thanks to Jones’ care closet intervention.

She found out that the boys’ mother was in an unhealthy relationship that was having a toxic effect on the whole family. “But she was afraid to leave because then the children wouldn’t have anything,” she says.

Photo courtesy of First Book, used with permission.

So Jones brought her in for a conversation.

“I connected her with some outside resources, gave her a scripted plan of what we expected of her,” she says. “And then we said, ‘Mom, follow through with us and we’ll do everything we can to support you.’” That was in September.

“Now it’s November, and Mom just recently moved into her own place,” Jones says. “She meets with me regularly for coaching sessions, we helped her write a resume, and she now has a job at one of our elementary schools.”

Now that their basic needs are being met, the three boys can concentrate on being successful kids. “They’re starting to smile,” she says. “They’re proud of who they’re becoming.”

Photo courtesy of First Book, used with permission.

First Book continues to expand the Care Closet project across the country.

When kids have a caring presence like Jones and the resources they need, they have an opportunity to succeed.

“Unfortunately, if we don’t catch those signs in advance, we’re faced with some of the situations that some of my older students are faced with,” she says. When their basic needs aren’t met, kids become desperate.

“It’s never, ‘I plan to grow up and be this criminal,'” she says. “It’s ‘I was faced with a situation and I found out this was a way for me to get things I couldn’t get.'”

That’s why Jones is so adamant about making sure her students have a solid foundation to further their education.

“All of their needs are being met here,” she says. And now that they have established that stability, “They know that their job is to go and learn.”

For more, take a look at how First Book’s Care Closets are changing schools across the country:

Millions of children from low-income areas don’t have the tools needed to learn, placing them at a disadvantage that perpetuates poverty. First Book is a community that believes education is the way out of poverty for kids in need.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/this-educator-didnt-punish-troublesome-kids-she-gave-them-a-closet-full-of-stuff

Think seeing traumatic events doesn’t faze first responders? Think again.

“I’m good to go” is a phrase that Marines and first responders like Mike Washington are usually all too familiar with.

It’s often the knee-jerk response to the call of duty, even if emotionally they’re anything but “good.”

“As firefighters, as law enforcement, as military, we try to play that tough image,” explains Washington, a firefighter for the Seattle Fire Department. “And we wouldn’t share if we’re having a hard time dealing with something. We internalize it.”

Mike Washington, Seattle firefighter. All photos provided by Starbucks.

Washington’s been a firefighter for 29 years, and before that, he did four combat tours with the Marine Corps. He always sought a life of action, but what he didn’t consider was how other people’s traumas might affect him.

“Seeing that level of human tragedy, of a car accident or a shooting or a murder — it takes a toll,” Washington says.

But it was losing his son in 2008 that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Washington and his son.

While at work, he learned his son, Marine Sgt. Michael T. Washington, had been killed in action in Afghanistan. Even though he was completely devastated, he didn’t let anyone see him cry, not even at the funeral.

But this time, the strain of emotional suppression was too much to bear.

He began drinking heavily. He got into bar fights and fights with his colleagues. He’d even run through red lights on his motorcycle in hopes that someone would hit him and end his suffering.

Washington at his son’s grave.

After several years of witnessing this distressing behavior, his veteran friends knew Washington needed help.

They organized a post-traumatic stress retreat to a place called Save a Warrior — a weeklong detox program designed to help veterans cope with their trauma.

Through counseling, he began to come to terms with the years of trauma he’d experienced and even uncover incidents he’d buried so deeply that he had no memory of them.

“You will see things that you can’t un-see,” Washington says. “We ignore it, but they’re ticking time bombs. And if we don’t learn ways to deal with that stress, to work with that stress, eventually it’s all going to catch up to you.”

Slowly but surely, Washington began to recover — and it didn’t take long for him to realize the best way for him to continue healing was to help other first responders.

Washington with first responders in Critical Incident Stress Management.

So he joined the Seattle Fire Department’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team, a national effort to help first responders relieve their emotional stress by talking through it.

The goal of the program is to show first responders from day one that they don’t have to keep it all inside. There are much better ways of coping that will keep you healthier and happier on the job.

That’s why Washington is as candid as possible when describing his own trauma with those he is trying to help. “I don’t want another firefighter to be in this situation where I was, and the way to do that was to just lay myself out and just say ‘here it is,'” Washington explains.

And so far, Washington’s support has helped several of his colleagues, including firefighter Denny Fenstermaker.

Fenstermaker had been a firefighter for 39 years, but in March 2014, he witnessed destruction and tragedy like he’d never seen before.

First responders on the scene of the Oso, Washington, mudslide.

Oso, Washington, a town near where Fenstermaker was fire chief, was devastated by a mudslide, so he led in a crew to rescue survivors. In the process, Fenstermaker wound up uncovering bodies of many people he knew, and the experience took a toll on him — to the point where he felt like he was losing his ability to lead.

Thankfully, Seattle’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team came on the scene, and Fenstermaker met Washington. They connected right away, and Fenstermaker started opening up to him.

“This is a guy that understands exactly where I’m at because he’s already been there,” Fenstermaker explains.

Washington talks to a veteran with two other firefighters.

Washington feels like he’s a better person and firefighter because he’s no longer keeping his traumas inside. His all around courage is helping so many others find their way again.

Trauma can affect anyone, no matter how strong they are. But talking about it is the first and most important step back from the edge.

Learn more about Washington’s story here:

Upstanders: The Firefighters’ Rescue

This program is making mental health a priority for firefighters.

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, November 16, 2017

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/think-seeing-traumatic-events-doesnt-faze-first-responders-think-again

Her students were always tired and unfocused. Then standing desks changed everything.

Fourth-grade teacher Amanda Grey used to have the hardest time getting her 27 students to focus in class.

They’d slump down in their chairs, tilt backward, and get distracted by any number of things.

While you might be thinking this sounds like your average fourth-grader, there was one common thread in their behavior that might’ve been the catalyst: sitting.

Image from iStock.

A student in the United States sits an average of 4.5 hours a day while in school. Add that to all the sitting they do at home, and they’re spending approximately 85% of their day being sedentary.

Several studies have noted that prolonged sitting can be bad for your long-term health, even with regular exercise. But perhaps the most immediately harmful aspect of sitting for kids is how it can negatively affect attention spans.  

Thankfully, about three years ago, Crossfit studio owners Juliet and Kelly Starrett brought standing desks to Grey’s school.

Student at a standing desk at Vallecito Elementary. Photo by Amanda Grey, used with permission.

Vallecito Elementary was also where the Starretts’ daughter Georgia went to school, and the couple would often volunteer to run sack races during school field days. They noticed that while the students appeared healthy, they lacked range of motion in their hip extension when they jumped.

Thinking this was likely due to too much sitting, they approached the school about trying standing desks in a classroom. The school administration was receptive and agreed to replace their traditional desks with standing desks in one fourth-grade classroom in August 2014.

After a brief period of adjustment, the students were on board with the change to standing in class.

Teachers and parents alike were noticing they have more focused energy, which helped them perform better in school.

Vallecito student doing work at a standing desk. Photo by Amanda Grey, used with permission.

“I have found that my students’ overall academic performance has improved simply because they are more attentive during lessons when they’re standing,” explains Grey. “I deal with far fewer behavior issues while I teach, less student distraction and overall more focus.”

The rest of the teachers at Vallecito saw similar results and were thrilled when the Starretts decided to find a way to fund standing desks for the entire school. By that point, they had founded their nonprofit, Stand Up Kids, which is all about educating schools on the importance of fitness and mobility.

Thanks to a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign, the Starretts raised $110,000 — enough to buy standing desks for all 450 Vallecito students.

The best part for Grey is seeing how standing desks have made school life so much better for her students, especially those with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD.

Photo by Amanda Grey, used with permission.

During Grey’s second year with standing desks, she had a new student who had a history of “overactive behavior” that made it difficult for her to get her work done. At the end of the student’s first day, Grey asked her what the best part of her day was.

“She told me that she loved not getting in trouble for needing to stand up throughout the day and being told to stay in her seat,” recalls Grey. “It was so clear to me that this student needed to be active and have a variety of seating options during her school day to be successful. I was very glad to welcome her into a school community that offers that type of learning environment.”

Since the Starretts started their initiative, over 27,000 kids nationwide have access to a standing desk. Grey hopes that’s just the beginning.

While populating an entire classroom with standing desks is expensive, Grey encourages teachers to be creative in getting kids on their feet.

“Even if you’re not able to get one desk per student, having five will make a difference,” says Grey. “I would also explore ways to make sitting desks into standing desks as a way to experiment with the positive impact on students.”

Schools and teachers can get a leg up on fundraising for standing desks or other active lifestyle plans for students, by visiting Stand Up Kids’ fundraising page.

Remember, it’s not just about standing — it’s about encouraging a more active lifestyle in kids so it becomes an inherent part of their adult lives. Any way teachers can promote moving in the classroom is a step in the right direction.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/her-students-were-always-tired-and-unfocused-then-standing-desks-changed-everything

This doctor knew he could save lives. But would his conservative legislature let him?

When Dr. Hansel Tookes stood before his conservative Florida legislature, he knew he had an uphill battle ahead of him.

But there were too many lives at stake not to try.

His voice was clear and unwavering when he asked the legislature to consider a bill that would allow him to provide drug users with clean needles.

At that time in Florida, it was illegal to do so — and as a result, Miami led the nation in new HIV and hepatitis C infections.

All photos provided by Starbucks.

Tookes knew the use of dirty needles was a pervasive problem. Some drug users were picking them up directly off the ground, desperate for relief but unable to access clean needles to prevent further harm to themselves.

This accelerated the spread of disease in the community.

“The simple epiphany that Florida needed syringe exchange came when I was a third-year medical student,” he explains.

Clean needles can make all the difference: In fact, Tookes says, the evidence behind needle exchanges as a prevention tool is strong — as strong as the evidence that smoking cessation prevents cancer.

“We have this tool that we were withholding from this vulnerable population,” he says. But harm reduction isn’t always the first line of defense when it comes to public health, especially for those who believe in a more punitive approach to substance abuse.

Tookes knew that the idea of providing drug users with needles would be a tough sell, but he was determined.

When he reached out to Tim Stapleton, head of the Florida Medical Association, Stapleton was skeptical at first. “I thought that [he would] become discouraged,” he shares. “[But] he wasn’t going to let anything stop him.”

Thus began Tookes’ journey as an advocate and his seven-and-a-half hour drives to Tallahassee, working the capital and building momentum to change the law — and change the lives of drug users in Florida.

It took several years of advocacy work, but astonishingly, the bill did pass, with an overwhelming majority of the legislature backing him.

“Every time he hit a wall, he just figured out how to get over that wall,” Stapleton explained.

And Tookes’ persistence paid off.

On Dec. 1, 2016 — fittingly, World AIDS Day — the first needle exchange program in the state of Florida opened.

“We serve 250 people regularly,” Tookes explains, “And we do an intake where we offer anonymous HIV and hepatitis C testing.”

The exchange also began offering the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone (Narcan) in April — a decision that has already prevented numerous tragedies.

In just the first month, 16 lives were saved.

“So many people are dying,” Tookes says. “We had a responsibility to do something about that.”

The impact was undeniable. One center visitor, struggling with addiction, shared his own story of when he saw someone in the midst of an overdose.

“I had my Narcan, and I sprayed him. Within a minute or so, he started breathing normal,” he explained. “We don’t want to die. None of us do.”

Without the exchange offering access to Narcan, though, these completely preventable deaths would become repeated tragedies.

With unintentional drug overdose a leading cause of preventable death in the United States, creating access to Narcan can have a huge impact on local communities.

“Everybody’s life is valuable,” Tookes says. “Everyone’s.”

And it was that conviction that helped Tookes see this cause through, as a medical student with a desire to make a difference and now as an advocate saving lives and preventing the spread of dangerous diseases.

Check out his incredible story below:

He saw an HIV epidemic in Miami and decided to stand up and take action.

Posted by Upworthy on Wednesday, October 25, 2017

While Tookes began his journey in public health facing resistance and skepticism, his persistence — and his commitment to those most vulnerable in his community — has truly made a difference.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/this-doctor-knew-he-could-save-lives-but-would-his-conservative-legislature-let-him

Kids playing with electronic devices too much? This program will get them on their feet.

Little Candace scored six three-pointers in her basketball game this weekend. Too bad it was on her iPad and not on the court.

Sound familiar to any parents out there? Kids spending an inordinate amount of time in front of electronics instead of getting up and running around on their own two feet?

Well, mom Kathleen Tullie was not a fan of this scenario, so she decided to create a morning fitness program to get kids going before school.

But she had to fight for it, even with a community of parents behind her.

Kathleen Tullie, founder of BOKS. Photo via BOKS.

Tullie was a seasoned businesswoman when a downturn in the market and her cancer diagnosis convinced her to give up her career and become a stay-at-home mom. While reading a book called “Spark” by John Ratey about how regular exercise has the power to improve brain functionality, she was inspired to take a hard look at her kids’ school’s physical fitness program.

“We have an obesity and mental health crisis — why are we not letting our kids run around before school? I had elementary school kids, and they were only getting PE at school once a week,” says Tullie.

She brought the idea of a before-school fitness program run by parents to her kids’ school principal.

Kids in BOKS program doing jumping jacks. Photo via Kathleen Tullie.

It seemed like a no-brainer, but even armed with a group of parents committed to hosting the program, the principal gave a resounding “no.”

He thought it would be too much trouble.

Naturally, that didn’t stop Tullie. She kicked the idea over to the superintendent, who loved it and told her to run with it (pun intended).

She then sent out an email announcing the program to all the parents, and within a week, nearly 100 kids were geared up to go.

Once it was in full swing, she started receiving tons of emails from parents and teachers saying what a profound impact the workout was having on their kids.

They were sleeping better, had better attitudes, and were performing better academically.

Kid running in BOKS program. Photo via BOKS.

Tullie never imagined the interest it would get and decided to form a nonprofit to elevate her mission.

First, she wrote to that author, John Ratey, to tell him of her plans for the nonprofit. He immediately wrote back saying, “I’ll be a director. Let’s start something.”  

Then Tullie went to Reebok to see if they’d be willing to do a T-shirt sponsorship. She ended up speaking to Matt O’Toole, Reebok’s CEO, about the program for two hours.

He told her he loved what she was doing and wanted to back them to “help reinvigorate a culture of participants.”

Just like that, they were taken under the umbrella of the Reebok Foundation, and the program became known as BOKS.

From there, BOKS spread like wildfire. Seven years later, it’s now in 2,500 schools and four different countries.

BOKS kids running a relay race. Photo via Kathleen Tullie.

Tullie, along with her original “Mom Team” Cheri Levitz and Jen Lawrence, could not be more thrilled that BOKS took off. Sure, there were hard times, like the first year and a half when none of them took home a paycheck, but their dedication paid off in a big way.

“I feel like I’ve been given this opportunity where I have to make a difference,” says Tullie. “I want to get to the point where every school is active.”

Her son and daughter are now 13 and 16, love fitness and play all sorts of sports. She hopes her endeavor has inspired them to go after their dreams with everything they’ve got.

What fuels Tullie most are the incredible success stories she hears from parents, teachers, and trainers all the time.

A trainer with kids playing BOKS games. Photo via Kathleen Tullie.

One woman in particular who always stands out as truly inspiring to her is Jesse Farren James, a mom from Boston who’s been a lead trainer at an inner-city school for two and a half years and has always struggled with her weight.

When it was first suggested she become lead trainer, she wasn’t sure she’d be an appropriate role model, but that quickly changed.

“BOKS gave me a chance to show kids that no matter what size and shape you are, if you are a natural born athlete or have a lot to work on, BOKS is fun,” writes James in an email. “BOKS reminded me that fat or thin, I am of use. I can make a difference, a big one.”

That’s why Tullie’s goal is for there to be a program like BOKS in every school. If kids see fitness as fun, accessible, and totally inclusive, they might make it part of their routine for the rest of their lives.

Interested in bringing BOKS to your community? Sign up for their training program here.

Find out more about what BOKS is all about here:

Our children are expected to live five fewer years than we will. And it’s from something preventable.

Posted by Upworthy on Friday, October 27, 2017

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/kids-playing-with-electronic-devices-too-much-this-program-will-get-them-on-their-feet

Want healthy, happy, confident kids? Throw some dirt on them.

Every parent knows getting dirty and messy is practically part of a kid’s job description.

Whether they’re playing outside, coloring on the floor, or just eating, they’ll definitely get covered in something grimy.

Given that inevitable result, there are at least two ways parents can react — obsessively clean their child and scold them for their actions or simply embrace the mess.

And while it may seem strange to do the latter, it actually can be beneficial for everyone involved.

Letting kids have the freedom to get dirty encourages a level of confidence around the unknown world out there. And such an attitude can make them much more capable of navigating their life ahead.

Harley Hawkins getting up close and personal with dirt. Photo via Zoe Hawkins, used with permission.

Plus, letting kids revel in the dirt actually helps boost their immune systems.

“If we are overly sterile and don’t expose the immune system to the germs it’s supposed to fight, that skews the immune system to an allergic and self-reactive response,” explains Samantha Lin, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

That’s why Lin lets her own son play and explore uninhibited.

“I don’t jump to stop him if he wants to get in the sand, dirt, mud, leaves, water running out of the waterspout, etc.,” Lin says. “If your immune system is working correctly, then these exposures should not make you sick.”

And best of all? Being pro-dirt can make parents’ lives less stressful since they don’t feel compelled to police their kids’ behavior as much.

Via iStock.

We spoke with six parents to learn why it pays to give kids the freedom to get dirty.

Their answers are as enlightening as they are hilarious.

1. Zoe Hawkins from Arizona encourages her daughter, Harley, to play with food.

Harley digging in at mealtime. Photo by Zoe Hawkins.

“Using their hands, babies learn to feed themselves, learning the difference in taste and texture between a piece of toast and a spoonful of yoghurt and a wedge of cheese or meat,” Hawkins writes on her blog.

“No force feeding, no ‘here comes the airplane,’ just letting the little one figure out food in a positive, fun way, hopefully setting the tone for a future of wonderful dinner-time experiences and discoveries.”

2. Minnesota native Emily Conigliaro made a mud kitchen, and now kids from the neighborhood play there.

Experimentation in the mud kitchen! Photo by Emily Conigliaro, used with permission.

“My daughter really loved to dig in the garden and get muddy,” explains Conigliaro. “I poked around on Pinterest and saw the idea for a mud kitchen. So I dug stuff I had out of the garage and found pavers and bricks. Then took a trip with her to the thrift store to pick out what tools she wanted.”

“The mud keeps her, as well as most of the other kids in our neighborhood, very busy! They all really love to get dirty,” she continues. “They will even sometimes paint themselves with mud. This year we planted some wildflowers next to the mud kitchen so the kids can pick flowers and plants to add to their masterpieces.”

3. Living in the infamously dirty city of New York, Andrew Dahl has relaxed into letting his daughter touch most everything.

“She loves grabbing subway poles, and I let her go to town,” Dahl says. “She undoubtedly gets far, far more germs at day care, so it’s not worth getting too concerned about some subway gunk. She’s also all about putting rocks and dirt in her mouth.”

Believe it or not, city kids tend to have stronger immune systems because of their exposure to busy public spaces like the subway.

4. Los Angeles mom Diana Metzger lets her baby get messy for the same reason she lets her dog do it — it makes them happy.

Izzy Metzger playing in the sand. Photo by Diana Metzger, used with permission.

“When Izzy was about 1 and a half, a bunch of milk got spilled on the floor, and we let her slide around in it and move it all around with her hands,” Metzger recalls. “She was a total mess, as was the kitchen floor, but she was laughing and having so much fun exploring that, so why stop her?”

Metzger continues, “Also I have the same motto about Izzy at a playground as I do for my dog Harper at the dog park (or Izzy at the dog park for that matter). Dirty equals happy, which equals tired.”

5. Julie G.’s experience cleaning her daughter’s car seat is probably one that many parents can relate to.

Julie G’s daughter on the playground. Photo via Julie G., used with permission.

“I use ‘dirt is good’ to justify just about everything,” Julie G. explains. “Most recently, we’ve had a lot of rain, and my daughter got muddy footprints on her car seat cover. I decided to wash it yesterday for the first time in a year and a half. I was shaking it out over the grass outside first to get rid of crumbs. A Twizzler fell out into the grass, and my daughter ate it. Not too bad except she has only had Twizzlers once, on a road trip, in May.”

It may sound gross, but hey, that sort of bold eating might help her be less picky when she’s older.

6. And Carol Berkow from Pleasantville, New York, knows her daughter’s messes are just part of the building blocks of life.

Helen Berkow enjoying a meal. Photo by Carol Berkow, used with permission.

“She likes to squish things between her fingers, rub them all over her face, stick her face into bowls of food, rub food in her hair, throw everything, and feed the dog,” Berkow says. “As much as I’d like things to stay neat at mealtime, and not to have to wash the baby, the table, and the chair three times a day, she needs to learn to feed herself, and she won’t learn any other way.”

As you can see, dirtiness can have so many benefits, most of which would never be realized if parents force their kids to stay clean.

Of course, getting dirty often requires regular laundering, and some families don’t have that luxury. Without easy access to a washing machine, cleaning clothes takes time, energy and money — things some families can’t always afford.

The good news is that there are companies like Whirlpool who created the Care Counts laundry program – installing washers and dryers in schools to give families in need access to clean clothes. That way, every parent can let their kids get dirty without worrying how they’re going to eventually get their clothes clean.

Via iStock.

Learn more about how the simple act of laundry is helping improve attendance by visiting Whirlpool’s Care Counts™ website.

Having the freedom to get dirty should be something every child enjoys. Not only is it fun, it allows them to explore their world with reckless abandon and learn about themselves. This is just one way to help turn what’s become a privilege into every child’s right.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/want-healthy-happy-confident-kids-throw-some-dirt-on-them

This museum is fighting to preserve the near-forgotten history of black New Orleans.

Francis Sylvester was walking home at the end of Mardi Gras when he saw a part of someone’s costume lying in the street.

30 years later, it became the first official piece in the Backstreet Museum’s collection when its doors opened to the public.

“He saw someone take the suit off and discard it, without even looking back,” says Bruce Barnes, current president of the Backstreet Museum, of the founder’s impulse to nab the garb.

Clearly, it was no longer of any use to its owner since Mardi Gras was over.

In fact, all across the city, people were taking off their beautiful custom-made costumes and throwing them in the trash.

To Sylvester, that was a crying shame.

“That moment sparked him to create a space where people could see the beauty and the work of what it takes to create a Mardi Gras Indian suit,” says Barnes.

In 1999, Sylvester Francis took his collection of costumes, photographs, films, and other paraphernalia from the parts of New Orleans culture that often go unseen, and he put them on display for all to see. And so, the Backstreet Cultural Museum was born.

Mardi Gras Indian costumes from past years are displayed at Sylvester’s Backwater Museum in Tremé. Photo via Barry Solow/Wikimedia Commons.

For non-natives of New Orleans, mention of the city can conjure the image of huge costumed celebrations, joyful second-line brass band parades, and tons and tons of beads.

But there’s a whole subculture in New Orleans that many beyond the city limits have never seen. That’s because it’s made mostly of African-American groups whose culture was born out of slavery and segregation — parts of history that society often tries to forget.

When Mardi Gras began, anyone who was considered “second-class” was not allowed to participate in the city’s main krewes, or parading groups.

“You couldn’t create a krewe and so forth and say we’re gonna parade down St. Charles Avenue,” says Barnes. “It wasn’t allowed.” Instead, marginalized groups took to the outer neighborhoods, where they donned masks and outfits and held their own parades.

This pattern of disenfranchised communities establishing groups of their own started out of necessity but then became proud tradition. Over time, these “second-class” traditions became as strong, if not stronger, than the original Mardi Gras celebration itself.

Today, many residents of New Orleans are proud members of clubs and groups their ancestors established generations ago.

The first is the Mardi Gras Indians, a black masking group that named itself in an homage to the Native Americans who helped slaves escape to freedom. On Mardi Gras, when the rest of the city takes to the main streets, the Mardi Gras Indians parade through the neighborhoods.

“They’re celebrating another tradition, sort of in defiance of years of enslavement, of segregation, or disenfranchisement from all sorts of different groups of people,” Barnes says. Their suits, rescued by Sylvester, now reside in the Backstreet Museum.

The 2013 parade’s King Zulu rides atop his float. Photo via Ford Brackin/Pixabay.

The museum also houses artifacts from the Skull and Bones Gang and the Baby Dolls, two other groups that parade on Mardi Gras.

Barnes himself is the chief of the Northside Skull and Bones Gang, a group of black men who dress as skeletons and go through the neighborhoods of New Orleans with a message.  

Says Barnes, “We remind people about living a good, productive life, how to avoid a short life, a life cut too short through drugs, through violence, through all of these things that can potentially happen to you.”

Barnes and two other members of the Northside Skull and Bones gang pose in costume. Photo via Rick Oliver/Facebook.

But just because the skeletons are all men doesn’t mean that black women are left out of the fun. That’s where the Baby Dolls come in.

“Baby Dolls are another black Afro-Creole tradition,” says Barnes. “They have bonnets, they have silk satin dresses, baskets that carry baby bottles with drinks in them, like rum and coke, stuff like that.” Just like the skeletons, the baby dolls promenade not in the main parade, but around the smaller neighborhoods of town.

A baby doll in full costume marches in the 2011 Zulu Mardi Gras parade. Photo via Brad Coy/Flickr.

In reality, all New Orleans parade culture is closely tied with the culture of the disenfranchised — not just the traditions surrounding Mardi Gras.

Insurance and any type of social aid were much more difficult to acquire for people considered to be “second-class.” Those people had to look elsewhere for help.

“You lose your job, you get hurt on the job — it’s a burden. Or you could drop dead,” says Barnes. “The hardest thing for people who don’t have money to do is to pay for a funeral.”

So in response, social aid and pleasure clubs formed in order to help members’ afford health care, funerals, and day-to-day necessities when they came upon hard times.

When social aid and pleasure clubs held those funerals, the entire association got involved — which is how those quintessentially New Orleans jazz funeral parades came to be.

Francis himself took part in many of those brass band funerals and has kept photos, videos, pamphlets, and more documenting each and every one.

A row of grand marshals parades in front of the Olympia brass band in a 1981 jazz funeral-style parade. Photo via U.S. National Health Service/Wikimedia Commons.

Today, the Backstreet Museum exists not just to preserve this culture, but to perpetuate it.

“We do different things throughout the year,” Barnes says. “People who want to get connected with the spirit of what the city is, the carnival, those kinds of traditions. Anthropologists, sociologists — they all show up.”

In a way, the Backstreet Museum has become its own sort of benevolent society, open to community members and the curious alike. Like the social aid and pleasure clubs that preceded it, everyone is welcome.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/this-museum-is-fighting-to-preserve-the-near-forgotten-history-of-black-new-orleans

How a trip across the border inspired a doctor to fight for health care equality.

When Dr. Paula Aristizabal first started working in pediatric oncology, she was a little uneasy.

“I was scared because I didn’t know what to expect,” Aristizabal explains. Even though cancer specialists have to assume they’ll be treating people with a lower than average survival rate, knowing that all her patients would be children made it somewhat more daunting.

Fortunately, however, that was far from the experience Aristizabal ended up having.

Aristizabal. Photo via Northwestern Mutual.

“I learned pediatric cancer is highly curable, so it was very rewarding because I would be able to make a difference in [my patients’] lives,” Aristizabal says.

Little did she know treating cancer in children wouldn’t be the only way she’d make a positive impact on health care.

After completing her pediatric oncology training, which is the study of childhood cancer, in her home country of Colombia and her fellowship at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, Aristizabal joined the medical staff at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California. She, soon after began collaborating with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital on a project to improve pediatric cancer care in the U.S- Mexican border region.

On an initial visit to a city hospital in Mexico, she learned they didn’t have anything like a pediatric oncology ward.

“I thought, ‘Oh, goodness, it’s so different from the U.S.,'” Aristizabal shares. “I saw the disparity right there.”

Since 2008, she’s improved care in several Mexican hospitals, including two in Tijuana and La Paz.

Image via iStock.

But that was just the beginning.

It became Aristizabal’s mission to address the racial and ethnic disparity occurring in hospitals in the United States as well.

When she began to notice disparities in how the treatment worked for Hispanic patients where she practiced in San Diego, she decided to do some research to better understand barriers to response to treatment.

Aristizabal learned that while it’s likely there are biological differences that can contribute to disparities in the survival rate of Hispanic children with cancer, she also found a disparity in access to health care due to language and cultural barriers.

Thanks to funding assistance from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and Northwestern Mutual, whose Childhood Cancer Program has generated more than $15 million for research and family support nationwide, Aristizabal was able to conduct her own research on that disparity. This was an important research focus for Northwestern Mutual in their mission to ensure that all kids have a chance to grow up.

She took an in-depth look at her own specialty in particular. She learned a large percentage of parents of kids with cancer have a low level of health literacy, meaning they have trouble navigating America’s complex health care system due to their cultural background. For example, Hispanic families are less likely to participate in clinical trials, which, in pediatric cancer, often offer the best chance of survival.

Image via iStock.

Since her first language is Spanish, Aristizabal knew she could do her part to help close that cultural and linguistic gap.

At the Peckam Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s Hospital, where she practices pediatric oncology, 50% of the children who receive treatment  are Hispanic. At her clinic, 95% of her patients are Hispanic, and 65% of their parents speak Spanish as their first language. Aristizabal knew her cultural background was key to providing them the best care possible.

“Since I’m Hispanic, and I know the culture and speak Spanish, I try to provide cultural concordant care and language concordant care,” Aristizabal says.

Research shows that when individuals receive care from someone in their own language and culture, the treatment results are much better.

Image via iStock.

When a doctor can fully communicate with patients, they can be sure they’re getting all the necessary details about a medical condition. In turn, patients feel more at ease knowing their doctor fully understands their condition and can clearly communicate a treatment plan. All this adds up to better results.

But Aristizabal can only do so much as one doctor. That’s why she’s inviting others to contribute to lessen this country-wide disparity.

“We need to prepare because the Hispanic population in the U.S. will comprise more than 30% of all Americans by 2050. There’s something we can really do in our own institutions.”

Image via iStock.

One simple step is to access a free bilingual treatment journal from the ALSF website to help families track their care plan.  The journal is funded by Northwestern Mutual as another way to address disparities.  

If pediatric cancer centers don’t have bilingual doctors on staff, they can improve access to interpreter services. Another strategy is that their doctors pursue cultural awareness training. Institutions can also offer medical Spanish lessons to their staff or any other language that might help their patients.

It requires a bit of effort, but it will make a world of difference.  

Just imagine a scared child who doesn’t speak English in a hospital. A doctor who can speak their language could be the only thing that puts them at ease.

“It’s so rewarding when you learn about other cultures,” Aristizabal says. “It facilitates the care that you provide because when you learn about another culture, you’re able to better understand where [patients] are coming from.”

And any doctor knows that’s more than half the battle.

Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and its subsidiaries. Learn more at northwesternmutual.com

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/how-a-trip-across-the-border-inspired-a-doctor-to-fight-for-health-care-equality