This Mobile Dentist Is Giving Underserved Children Something to Smile About

According to Christy May, executive director of Miles of Smiles, 26,000 children in Clay and Platte Counties, Missouri, are without access to dental care.
That’s where her nonprofit comes in. Miles of Smiles delivers comprehensive dental services on-the-go to patients who qualify. Families earning less than twice the federal poverty guidelines are eligible for free care.
To learn more about Miles of Smiles and how you can help, watch the video above.
More: Trading Pencils for Hammers: These Kids Are Learning Math and Getting Jobs Right Out of High School

This LGBTQ Gym in the South Is About So Much More Than Fitness

“As soon as you walk in [to a regular gym], someone is redirecting you, saying, ‘You’re in the wrong locker room. You’re in the wrong restroom,’” says Dillon King, a transgender man based in Louisiana. “You’re not there to make anybody else uncomfortable. But … it makes you realize, [you are] in fact making somebody uncomfortable just by being here.”
King is not alone in feeling this way. For all the good they can do for our health, gyms tend to be spaces that create rigid boundaries around expectations based on gender. And in the face of harassment and discrimination, many gender nonconforming people choose to simply stay home.
After years of uncomfortable experiences at the gym, King decided to create one where people like him could feel free to pursue healthy lifestyles — without judgment. And so he and his wife founded Flambeaux CrossFit in 2016 in Metairie, Louisiana, just a few miles outside of New Orleans.
Flambeaux doesn’t use gender categories to differentiate its equipment or restrooms, and emphasizes that all fitness levels, backgrounds and gender expressions are welcome.
The gym has become a center of fitness and community for queer people and their allies. “It seemed [before] that most of our get-togethers were at clubs, nightclubs, going out, staying up late, drinking always,” King told the SunHerald. With Flambeaux, the Kings have created a welcoming space for the LGBTQ community that also connects with their passion for fitness and healthy living.
“It’s more than a gym, it’s like a family,” says Flambeaux member James Husband.
Watch the video above to meet King and the team, and to learn more about Flambeaux.
More: This Nonprofit Offers a Lifeline to Transgender People — Just as They Need It Most

In the South, Preventing HIV Among Black Women Starts at the Salon

At the Wize Guy barber shop and beauty salon in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood, three barbers are at work edging up their male customers. On the other side of the salon, a hairstylist works on a female client’s weave while three other women wait their turn.
It’s these women who Catrina Coleman, a health educator for the local nonprofit CrescentCare, is trying to convince to get on PrEP, a category of preventative drugs designed to stop the spread of HIV. Wize Guy is one of a dozen or so salons around New Orleans that Coleman visits in her outreach to women and their stylists about HIV and how to avoid it.
On this day she also turns her attention to one of the men in the shop, who’s taken his young son in for a trim. He tells her he doesn’t need to be on PrEP. Why not, she asks. His response: “Because I’m not gay.”
It’s an answer she’s heard before. For years — decades, really — sex education around these parts has been mostly limited to lectures on abstinence as the only way to prevent STDs, pregnancy and AIDS. And with that has come a myriad of misconceptions around how HIV is transmitted and who is most at risk.
“I can’t tell you how many times people come up to me and say that they’re not a certain type of person, so they don’t need to be on PrEP,” Coleman tells NationSwell. “It’s that level of education we’re dealing with.”
Her outreach efforts are sorely needed, especially in Louisiana, where the state’s two largest cities — New Orleans and Baton Rouge — have ranked in the top five of U.S. metro areas for new HIV transmissions for 10 years running. Some of the infection rates rival those in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Though Southern black men who have sex with other men continue to be the most vulnerable population, women make up a quarter of all HIV diagnoses in New Orleans. What’s more, black women living with the virus in the city outnumber their white female counterparts by nine to one.
As a result, CrescentCare and Coleman have turned their attention to the city’s beauty salons, where a lot of black women go to discuss everything from politics to their health issues and family life. The shops operate as de facto community health centers.
“In the black community, women go to their hairstylists for advice, and that’s where they’re also getting their education on health,” she says.

A health care center in New Orleans is making it easier for black women to get on the HIV preventative drug known as PrEP by meeting them where they often gather: at the beauty shop.

So multiple times a month, Coleman goes to a dozen different salons and sets up a table with fans, pins, condoms and lube, and talks to the barbers, stylists and their clients about the importance of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, known in the U.S. by the brand name Truvada.
She has her work cut out for her.
“We’ve had PrEP since 2012, and in certain populations, we’ve seen pretty good reductions, but nationally we are basically status quo. It’s as if PrEP didn’t exist,” says James Krellenstein, co-founder of the activist campaign PrEP4All. “This is a situation where a public health response will work. But there needs to be push to do it — just like we did with polio.


Truvada, available by prescription, has the ability to reduce the risk of HIV infections in at-risk people by more than 90 percent for those who take it daily. It’s been hailed as a miracle drug, but actually getting the pills can be prohibitive for many. Truvada is expensive; a year’s supply costs close to $20,000 without health insurance.
HIV already disproportionately affects poor communities across the South, and the price of the drug is keeping it out of reach of those who need it most. Consider that just 30 percent of PrEP users are Southerners despite the fact that the region makes up more than half of all HIV diagnoses in the U.S. And that’s a hard pill to swallow, especially in light of a recent study that confirmed HIV diagnoses are declining in states with the highest use of Truvada; the inverse is happening in states with the lowest use.
Though it was originally developed to treat people who already had HIV, Truvada is also incredibly effective at preventing the disease. A combination of the antiretroviral drugs emtricitabine and tenofovir, the pill works by forming a barrier around the cells targeted by HIV, which then stops the virus from replicating inside those cells. The medicine doesn’t stay in a person’s system for long, so taking it daily is crucial to its success. Since the drug was approved for preventative use, there have been only two known cases of HIV transmission in Truvada users.

                 “Now that HIV has moved south, your

                 risk is really about place. Simply living

                 in New Orleans, you’re at risk.” 

Initially, only a few thousand people took the drug, which is manufactured and sold by Gilead Sciences. That rate soon spiked, with a 523 percent increase in Truvada users between 2012 and 2015. The overwhelming majority of Truvada takers are male; women make up an estimated 7 percent of all users. As the pill’s popularity skyrocketed, so has its sticker price, jumping by 45 percent since it was introduced. That translates to nearly $2,000 for a 30-day supply (Gilead does offer coupons and waives up to $7,200 of copay costs per year).
The CDC has determined that those living below the nation’s poverty level, currently set at $25,100 for a family of four, have the same risk of contracting HIV as people in Ethiopia and Haiti. The issue is even more acute in New Orleans, where more than a quarter of residents live in poverty.
“If there is any example of the dysfunction in the American pharmaceutical system, it is this case,” Krellenstein told NPR in June. “We have the most effective tool for ending the HIV epidemic, and one reason we’re unable to scale up is because it costs so [much] unnecessarily.”
PrEP4All, the activist group Krellenstein co-founded, has been targeting Gilead’s pricing structure through its #BreakThePatent campaign to open up the U.S. market to generic pills. By its estimation, the company has inflated the cost of Truvada by a whopping 25,000 percent.


“HIV used to be a virus where your sexual tendencies or lifestyle was a determining factor of risk, but that’s just not the case anymore,” says says Julia Siren, a nurse practitioner at CrescentCare, which focuses on HIV care, particularly for New Orleans’ poor communities. “Now that HIV has moved south, your risk is really about place. Simply living in New Orleans, you’re at risk.”
And it’s not just geography and poverty that black residents are up against. Funding for marketing PrEP to women has lagged behind that of campaigns for men. The CDC’s grants for AIDS organizations limits funding to address only the most at-risk populations: black men, intravenous drug users and men who have sex with other men. In addition, primary care providers such as OB-GYNs often don’t even know about the drug.
Women here believe that PrEP is designed solely for men, because that’s what the majority of the marketing says. Radio ads and TV spots and billboards on buses — nearly all show “pictures of males using PrEP,” says Veronica McGee, director of Brotherhood Inc., an AIDS nonprofit that focuses on getting members of New Orleans’ black communities tested and aware of their status. “All of our funding streams are male-specific. There are no funding streams for major PrEP programs or interventions geared toward women.”
“We have so many people who think they just can’t get HIV,” Coleman says from her office at CrescentCare, which is just up the block from the Wize Guy salon. “People still think that the only people getting the virus are gay men. They just don’t see it as an issue to be educated on.”
There is one bright spot in CrescentCare’s mission to inform women of their HIV risks. The organization uses geofencing when marketing PrEP to Facebook users who are clients of the same salons Coleman visits. They’ve found that women, especially, are clicking on ads more often and visiting CrescentCare for services. In the first 10 months of 2018, CrescentCare’s social media advertising has translated into more than 3,000 people seeking out their services in the real world.
“Even if we get one person on PrEP, it makes a huge difference,” says Coleman. “That’s one more person protected, and that’s one more dead end for this epidemic.”

This is the first installment in NationSwell’s multimedia series “Positive in the South,” which explores the HIV crisis in the Southern U.S., and profiles the people and organizations working to alleviate it.

In Atlanta, Affordable Housing Boosts School Performance, Tenant Health

Among the rolling hills and dense pine canopies east of Atlanta’s I-285 bypass, down the street from a halal meat market, two Buddhist temples and Good Times Country Cookin’, sits the Willow Branch Apartment Homes. The complex is tucked behind a flapping “Welcome” flag, which is emblematic of Clarkston, a small but famously global suburb that has been coined “Ellis Island South” and “the most diverse square mile in America.”
Built in 1971, Willow Branch looks like any other aging metro-Atlanta apartment building and dozens around Clarkston, save for its unique mansard roofs. But after school one warm afternoon in February, what used to be the pool house transforms into another thing that sets Willow Branch apart: a banner-bedecked classroom where a circle of refugee children, representing more than 30 ethnicities, sit squirming and giggling. The kids, all of whom are residents, play a clapping game, each contributing another word to a growing sentence they pass around the room like a hot potato: “Valentine’s. Day. Is. About. Moms. And. Dogs.” The last word sparks hysterical laughter.
“A lot of them, their parents don’t speak English and can’t help with their [school] work,” says Allie Reeser, the program director of the nonprofit Star-C, which runs the afterschool program at Willow Branch. “Socially, it’s a great place for kids to go.” Nearby, 8-year-old Elizabeth Mawi, who emigrated with eight siblings from Burma, concurs in a mousey voice: “It’s good, because we can share, and we help people.”
Held for four hours each weekday afternoon, the Star-C afterschool program is one part of a dynamic model — piloted here at the 186-unit Willow Branch, where the residents’ average income of $18,750 is well below the U.S. poverty line — that’s showing how affordable housing can boost performance in local schools, increase resident health and even quell crime.

For young Willow Branch residents, many of whom are not native English speakers, afterschool enrichment programs are an essential tool to succeed in school.

Alongside its fundraising arm, 3Star Communities, Star-C was founded by Marjy Stagmeier, 55, a successful manager of commercial and residential real estate around Atlanta. Her model, supporters say, is basically a three-way win for residents and investors in blighted apartment complexes in that it boosts social and environmental aspects for tenants and generates greater profits for landlords. Stagmeier’s research has uncovered no other program in the U.S. that combines wraparound services of housing, education, and medical care in the same way, though Yesler Terrace Apartments (operated by the Seattle Housing Authority) and Eden Housing (a California nonprofit housing developer and property manager) have similar components.
“If I had 10 more Marjy-run properties in Clarkston, there’s no doubt that our crime rate would drop even more, test scores would go up even more, and our community health and connections … would increase,” says Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry. “She’s creating a long-term, sustainable paradigm in multifamily housing that will pay dividends to our community for years to come.”
And Willow Branch’s successes, Stagmeier says, could be only the beginning in metro Atlanta — where recent studies show a deficit of more than 80,000 affordable housing units — and beyond. 


Philanthropy wasn’t always in Stagmeier’s heart — entrepreneurship was.
She grew up just two miles from Willow Branch in Stone Mountain, the middle of three daughters whose parents were serial entrepreneurs investing in everything from pig farms to electrical- and mechanical-supply companies (all three girls would eventually own businesses). After studying accounting at Georgia State University and passing the state’s CPA exam, she worked in banking and real estate for a decade, socking away her money and publishing a revered book in 1994, “Real Estate Asset Management: Executive Strategies in Profit Making.” Managing a portfolio of $500 million by the mid-1990s, she teamed with a German investor and started her own company to buy and manage workforce housing, including Willow Branch in 1996.  
Complexes with early versions of the afterschool program and stable rents stayed roughly 95 percent occupied, eliminating costly turnover and transiency, which drags down student performance. (What’s more, parents who knew where their children were after the final school bell could work longer hours, earning more rent money). A blighted apartment community in the northwestern suburb of Marietta provided Stagmeier’s “a-ha!” moment, she says, as she began to see how a single complex can drastically impact the schools it feeds.

Entrepreneur Marjy Stagmeier developed a unique model that combines housing, education and healthcare to revitalize struggling communities.

By 2014, Stagmeier had sold her other properties to focus on honing the Star-C model at Willow Branch. In order for the program to work, she says, the purchasing price of any new complex has to be less than $40,000 per unit, which allows rents to stay affordable and thus turnover low. (At Willow Branch, tenants pay an average of $615 a month.) She channels $3,000 monthly into the Star-C program, which employs three full-time people, with fundraising covering the rest of costs. Word has spread, and volunteers from throughout the region, primarily church groups and students, log nearly 8,000 hours at the complex each year.
Now, Star-C’s academic results are a particular source of pride, for both Stagmeier and the parents of the 300 kids under age 10 who call Willow Branch home.
As recently as 2013, neighboring Indian Creek Elementary School was the second worst-performing school in Georgia. Following a partnership with Star-C, the elementary has been named a “Platinum Performer” — the highest classification awarded by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement — three years running. Nearly 90 percent of students passed the Georgia Milestones assessment test last year and have average GPAs of 3.25.
“That’s impressive,” says Stagmeier, “considering English is new to most of these kids.”
In addition to the free education component, Star-C has partnered with a nearby health clinic to offer residents dentistry, primary care and OB-GYN services at $50 to $70 per visit. If residents are still unable to pay, the nonprofit will cover their visits out of its fundraising proceeds.
Another healthy facet of life at Willow Branch: a community gardening program, which costs residents just $20 a year (this covers the cost of deer-netting). In 40 tidy gardens that consume about an acre, Hispanic tenants grow peppers, Asian residents cultivate roselle hibiscus, and religiously significant marigolds are popular with just about everyone. Along with the recently erected fences that keep out the neighborhood’s gang members, the gardening initiative gives residents reason to be outside and has all but eliminated crime, Stagmeier says.
Statistics that paint an accurate picture of crime in the immediate area are tough to come by, as residents often don’t call police because of language barriers and mistrust. But hundreds of people — including what Stagmeier describes as “harsh gangs,” which twice attacked a security officer, periodically flashed guns on the property, and stole from residents — formerly cut through Willow Branch to access a commercial district. “That’s all gone away since we put up the fence and started the gardens,” says Stagmeier. “Grandma in her garden won’t put up with that type of behavior.”
Savings on food, healthcare and rent have had cumulative, positive effects. Of the 39 families who moved out of Willow Branch last year, 16 were able to buy their first homes.
“That’s going from poverty to mobility,” Stagmeier says. “That’s what we do here.”
Marjy Stagmeier (left, in purple) with a group of Willow Branch residents.


As of this writing, Stagmeier was under contract with her second property for the Star-C model, a 244-unit community called Summerdale Commons just south of downtown Atlanta. It’s among the city’s top 10 worst complexes for crime, and it’s next door to another low-performing elementary school, she says.
Through the course of 170 meetings with everyone from homeless people to Atlanta’s mayor, Stagmeier has grown determined to work within Atlanta city limits, where government is supportive of her efforts and an inclusionary zoning ordinance was adopted in January to boost workforce housing. It’s also where Stagmeier lives in tony Ansley Park with her husband, John.
“We’re buying the roughest properties that have the highest crime that the neighbors are sick of,” she says. “Luckily, we’ve got the city behind us.”
Beyond Summerdale Commons, Stagmeier is eyeing three or four other properties. She’s also starting to recruit younger partners, in hopes of breathing more life into the nonprofits and, eventually, bringing her successes to a national level.
“I think her model will catch on the more that elected officials and compassionate investor groups learn about it,” says Terry, the Clarkston mayor.
Back at Willow Branch, a group of teens from the philanthropy club at Atlanta’s Benjamin Franklin Academy arrives one afternoon. They’ve collected four boxes of books representing a variety of cultures.
The high schoolers are eager to read to the kids. But first, Stagmeier has a question. “Do you know what’s going on here?”
Blank faces.  
“Do you want me to tell you what’s going on here?” she asks. “What the goal is?”  
She launches into a primer, pointing to the community garden and the filled-in pool, which now serves as a mini soccer arena. And she mentions the part about families buying their own homes, essentially graduating toward their American dream.         
“That’s incredible,” says sophomore Zach Arais. “I had no idea about the level of this project. I mean, it’s really impressive.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly said Yesler Apartments in Seattle is operated by Catholic Community Services, not the Seattle Housing Authority. We regret the error.

Not Your Grandma’s Golden Years

Florida condos, group bus trips and endless games of Solitaire may be a thing of retirement past. The typical American Millennial is unlikely to mirror the retirement of their grandparents — or even their parents. According to analysis in the publication Science, developed countries have seen an increase in longevity, more than two years every decade. A person born in 1998 is likely to live to 95, assuming she has reasonable access to education and healthcare. This means that your golden years might be almost as long as your professional life. Spending 35 years lounging by the pool or playing mahjong is unlikely to appeal to Millennials, who seem to prefer transience to routine.
When Social Security was first established in 1935, life expectancy was around 61. For those trying to fit in education, a family and a job to support that family, there wasn’t ample time for leisure and other activities. It’s no wonder then that Americans defaulted to a three-stage plan that focused on those three things. Adding an upward of 40 years to a lifespan frees things up bit to make life more fulfilling, and in turn, provides the opportunity for a “multi-stage life.” Coined by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, authors of “The 100-Year Life,” the concept outlines the shifting of our life trajectory from being progressive and defined by three stages to one that’s non-linear and filled with diverse careers, breaks and adaptations.
“The current trends of this three-stage life cannot work for someone with potential to reach 100 [years of age],” says Scott, professor of economics at London Business School. “Instead, a multi-stage life will be made up of many different stages each with different aims — perhaps one aimed at making money, another with a better work/life balance or a third focused on self-expression. Each stage will require a reboot to prepare a new identity and skills for the stage ahead.”

Millennials are leading the way by redesigning their 20s as a distinct age stage. The focus: Spend your second decade determining your values, your strengths and priorities — a time to hold off on early commitments and explore ample possibilities.
A recent Merrill Edge Report shows that 42 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds designate working their dream job as a personal milestone. Thirty-seven percent make traveling the world one of their top priorities. And almost two-thirds of Millennials are saving to live out their desired lifestyle now, as opposed to 55 percent of Gen Xers and baby boomers who put money aside for retirement. Call it FOMO retirement planning: Younger generations are no longer looking at their adult life as a predetermined, linear path. Instead, they’re taking a hop-on-hop-off trolley approach by nurturing personal goals. Read on to see how you can catch a ride for this multi-stage life.

Embrace Transitions

The multi-stage life counts on being adaptable in all areas: career, relationships, family and beyond. “Flexibility requires that we set aside what has already happened so that we can be open to what arises next,” says Henry Emmons, holistic psychiatrist and co-author of “Staying Sharp.”
Curiosity is an important driver in creating this flexibility. It challenges us beyond what we already know, which results in a bit of (good) stress that resolves when the related task is complete. Think about trying an exotic food. Inquisitiveness makes you wonder what it tastes like, followed by tension before you experience the unknown flavor, until your brain registers the entire experience as new taste. “As far as the brain is concerned, curiosity pushes us to keep going and thus, creates new neuropathways,” Emmons says. “It’s the best things we can do for ourselves, especially as we age and become set in our ways.”
Identity is often shaped by a particular job. When you’re not limited to a single career, however, you’re open to experiencing various roles. “You need to think about your identity in a different way,” says Scott. Reinforcing the idea that a gap year is no longer limited to college graduates, and instead, an acceptable (planned) exploratory period every few decades, is bound to reboot any inertia along the way.

Invest in New Skills

If you don’t disrupt the three-stage life, you’re likely to feel bored or frustrated during your centenarian life. “The human psyche needs to keep growing and learning,” says Emmons. “The antidote is to keep yourself engaged and try new things to create a sense of momentum that gets you out of a repetitive pattern.”
In order to stay current, one should be ready to adapt — and often. Unknown opportunities will arise a decade from now, so it’s vital to reskill every three to five years. Virtually every job today requires at least some computer skills, and those at the helm have a clear advantage. New technologies, like robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), will further disrupt the playing field. The International Federation of Robotics forecasts that the number of industrial robots will increase by 13 percent each year between now and 2019. According to the McKinsey Global Institute’s June 2017 report, “Artificial intelligence tools have the promise to change our lives as fundamentally as personal computers did a generation ago.” Because almost a quarter of firms that have adopted AI expect to grow their workforce, not reduce it, individuals need to acquire skills that work with, not compete, against machines.
This approach challenges the collegiate “learn then earn” model that can’t keep up with fast-paced job market. A “nanodegree” may be the answer to get ahead in this new digital frontier. Udacity, an online education hub, has pioneered the concept of offering tech-savvy courses — including Robotics and Self-Driving Car Engineer — that further one’s career without costing much time or money. These courses aren’t just useful for a Silicon Valley wannabes; the financial, media, retail, education and healthcare sectors, as well as the travel industry, are all integrating various degrees of AI into their frameworks.
While automation is the asset du jour, robots alone can’t monopolize the workforce. A perk of being human is that mental plasticity drives innovation and creativity. Take this success story: A computer science whiz was able to break into the L.A. fashion industry because her coding background allowed her to develop programs for printing patterns on different textiles. “She had the visions of a fashion designer, but also understood the mechanisms to bring her visions into reality,” says Valerie Streif, senior advisor with Mentat, a San Francisco-based organization for job seekers. “You’re able to jump fields as long as you’re willing to take on new challenges.”
It’s crucial to develop transferable soft skills such as leadership and communication — something the smartest robot cannot match. “Emotional intelligence is the most desirable soft skill of all,” says Streif. “The ability to read people sets you apart as a leader.”

Strive for a productive life

Planning for a multi-stage life is more than lining up your finances (more on that later). Family, friends, health, mental well-being and knowledge are the building blocks of an enjoyable long life. Aside from providing a nurturing day-to-day experience, these intangible assets are crucial during transition periods that often need extra support.
On the home front, actually coordinating and switching roles — a theory coined by Nobel prize-winning economist Gary Becker back in 1981— allows each partner to further develop different life stages while still maintaining the much-needed income stream. Domestic partnership roles based on traditional patriarchy simply can’t benefit both parties, not in the long-run anyway.

Much like financial investments, intangible assets like friendships need diversification and consistent attention to grow. (After all, you can’t bank on college to set you up with friends for the next 80 years). This is where volunteering, civil service or caregiving come in. Non-homogenous relationships make you less prone to stereotypes, prejudice and ageism — boosting your reputation as a people-person, a characteristic that carries enormous value in every day interactions and the workforce.
A productive life also means prioritizing a healthy mind and body. The healthier you are in your youth, the fewer chronic conditions should pop up later on. Conversely, an unhealthy lifestyle doesn’t just wreak havoc physically; it can drain savings due to the already volatile state of healthcare. If practicing meditation seems too advanced, develop good sleep patterns. “It’s the single most protective thing for the body and the brain,” says Emmons. Sleep is like going into a repair shop to tweak all those micro injuries that happen during the day. “Deep sleep allows the brain to cleanse itself and opens up channels that are closed during the day,” he adds.

Revamp your financials

According to a report, seven out of 10 of non-retired Americans plan to work as long as possible during retirement. Of those, 38 percent plan to remain employed because they like to work, and 35 percent said they plan to have a job because they need the money; 27 percent said both. When you consider that a third of Millennials believe Social Security won’t be available to them, retirement savings must take priority. “Everyone, especially Millennials, should get in the habit of saving 15 percent of their income for retirement,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at “Ideally through tax-advantaged retirement accounts such a workplace 401(k) and an IRA. Establish this habit early on and it will stick with you as earnings grow.”
In fact, you might need to stash as much as 25 percent of your income — a challenging task if student loans and travel eat up a saving than previous generations.
While Millennials are better at saving than previous generations, the Great Recession has made many question the security of investment plans. The fear is not warranted, says McBride. “Who cares what the market does next year, or the year after. You’re making contributions. If the market goes down, you get better price on your next contribution. The stock market is the only place, when it goes on sale, people run the other way.”
But what about paying off student loans? A fair question given the fact that 70 percent of college graduates are left with $38,000 in debt, on average. While a looming loan can be psychologically burdensome, making consistent payments towards your loan for 10, or even 25 years if you’re furthering your education, is often the right plan, particularly if you’re also paying a mortgage or other debt. Contributing to a 401(k), particularly if your employer offers dollar-for-dollar matching, is another smart alternative to paying off student loans right away.

Restructure time

“We don’t yet know what exactly works over 100 years, and it will be a long while until we do,” says Scott. That’s why it’s a good idea to ignore the clock a bit. Your 20s are becoming increasingly accepted as a time to be liberated and to transform your interests into more permanent sectors of your life, such as different careers or lifestyles. Think of your 30s as the test-drive decade for all those self-discoveries made during the previous decade. Perhaps your 40s is a time to make tweaks or shift gears. Once you’re in your 50s, ponder whether your older self will approve of how you’re setting up your life for the next stages. “Unlike past generations, it’s important to keep giving yourself options throughout all ages,” says Scott. “You find out what you like by both doing it and by rejecting what you don’t.”
The advantage of looking at life as a non-linear progression frees you up to make choices that may otherwise feel risky when you’re bound by the expectations of the three-stage life. Millennials are on the right track by delaying marriage and children in order to make time for self-discovery, find well-fitting careers and partners and enhance their community.
Going forward, each person has the opportunity to create a unique path. But to do so, we have to become age-agnostic. Repeat the following: Age does not equal stage. In other words, there are no rules when you can be a college student or a spouse, or hold a certain job. Overthinking whether you fit into a mold can be detrimental in the long run. “Worry and fear lock us in and create a sense of stagnation,” says Emmons.
This post is paid for by AARP.

It’s Completely Okay to Say You Want to Grow Old

The day my mom was diagnosed with cancer at age 62, she turned to my dad in tears and said, “I’m not going to get to be the grandma.”
Many women today don’t want to be called that. They think it makes them sound “old.” When I hear this, a little part of me feels like yelling, “Do you know what a privilege it is to grow old?”
Aging — and one day, being able to live to 100 — should be celebrated. To me, “Grandma” is the name of an older person who’s reached the ultimate milestone. It’s something to be grateful for, not hide from. Forget your vanity! Be proud that you made it to a phase of life that many people never got to experience.
My husband lost his father at 13. I lost my mother at 30. Sometimes I worry that we won’t be around to see our young sons grow up. Becoming a grandmother and supporting my children when they become parents has become an ultimate goal.
Late in the summer of 2015, my mother (who’d never smoked) learned she had stage 4 lung cancer. Her oncologist was hopeful he could treat her. Yet hours after their visit, my mother couldn’t catch her breath, despite being on oxygen. My father rushed her to the hospital, where she was admitted to the ICU. My sister and I arrived less than an hour before my mother was put on a ventilator. She had no idea what was happening, and we didn’t either. We couldn’t imagine that her fight with cancer could be ending before it had even begun.
For the next two weeks, we were at my mother’s side, day and night. She remained on the ventilator, unconscious. Then one night, the doctor took us aside and told us there was no longer hope. Eighteen hours after my mother was taken off the ventilator, she passed away.
This was the most horrific month of my life. Just a few weeks earlier, my mother had been at a friend’s wedding, hosting her sister for a visit, celebrating my son’s first birthday…
Even now, it’s hard to believe that she’s gone.

When I was a child, my mother worked from home and was there every afternoon when I came home from school. If I close my eyes, I can picture her standing behind our kitchen counter, doling out an obscene amount of food, eager to hear everything about my day. (She had a lot of opinions.)
Even after I became an adult, my mother would do things for me before I’d even thought to do them myself. If I mentioned to her that I was sick, there’d be a knock at my door with soup from Second Avenue Deli.
Life without her has been an adjustment in so many ways. I miss her wit and wisdom. I miss our daily calls, texts and emails. And from a practical perspective, life has become more challenging.
There’s no substitute to a grandparent when you’re raising a small child. In my first year as a working mom, my husband and I rarely had a tiff, thanks to my mom swooping in when we were both stressed and sleep-deprived to watch our son, bring us a meal, tidy up our living room, send us on a date night or take some responsibility off our plate. (“I thought the baby could use some more pajamas. Here you go!”)
It’s hard to describe the value of a grandmother kvelling over your “perfect, beautiful, gorgeous, brilliant, elite, premium, beyond adorable” babies (to use her words). It’s the confidence boost every parent needs, and one that I hope to provide to my own kids — and even to their kids — if I reach 100.
If I were to live to that age, my fantasy is that I’d be in great health and living with my husband somewhere beautiful — perhaps a lovely little apartment in Chelsea or … Provence! — reading books, drinking wine, looking out at a beautiful view and seeing our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who just happened to have moved there.
I’d be grateful to hold them, share whatever wisdom I have and help them understand our family’s history and values. (Here’s to hoping I’ll also get to see our first female president elected!)
If I live to be 100, I will have lived almost 40 years longer than my mother did. Hearing my son say “Mama” is one of the most beautiful things in the world. I’m pretty sure being called “Grandma” is just as wonderful.

Julia Edelstein is a writer and editor specializing in health journalism. She is currently the senior health editor at Parents Magazine. She lives in New York City with her husband and their two young sons.
This post is paid for by AARP.

Turn and Face the Change

I’m fascinated by lifespan: how we’ve spent the time that’s already behind us; how we’re using our present time; what’s going to happen to the time allotted us in the future. That said, I’m all for a life that’s well lived rather than one that’s long. Instead of being mediocre for 150 years, I’d prefer to be brilliant for 70.
I do think time gives us more opportunities to change, and the longer you live, the more you get. I was the typical angry adolescent, but at my recent high school reunion, my old classmates kept saying they’d never seen me smile and laugh so much. And although I grew up in a family where I was taught to never talk about my feelings, becoming a parent in my 20s changed me. I learned to open up and express myself. Now, every day, I tell my 8-year-old son that I love him and how proud I am of him.
So long as we continue to learn and grow, time also gives us the opportunity for reinvention. At just 33 years old, I’m already on my third career as a writer and director. I’m also a personal trainer. (Previously, I worked as a fighter and a forklift driver.)
Twice in my life – once after my marriage fell apart and the second, after a long-term relationship ended – I found myself in a deep depression. I used alcohol and painkillers. I considered suicide. For a while, I was even homeless, carrying around two duffel bags of belongings and sleeping on the F train in New York City, where I live. The only thing more exhausting than an existence like that is hiding it from people. It was like swallowing razorblades.
What pulled me out of those dark times was an intense feeling that my life wasn’t done yet. I vividly remember thinking, This isn’t my time.

Going through difficult periods made me capable of putting other problems in perspective. What I value in friendships and romantic partnerships is much different now. Instead of needing to be validated by someone else, I crave emotional support and good communication. That’s what we all yearn for when things go poorly.
But for me, all those benefits of time still don’t outweigh the realities of growing older.
Men in my family usually don’t live long past 65 — if they even make it to that age at all. We have a history of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Dementia is part of my family tree as well.
In 2014, my grandmother — who raised me – was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Over the years, my family missed the early signs. But once we recognized them, she seemed to deteriorate overnight. One night, Nana was cooking us dinner. The next, I was carrying her to the bathroom because she couldn’t remember where it was.
My entire family, including my ex-wife, became Nana’s caregivers around the clock. We did her shopping, read to her and kept her company. She became paranoid and angry, unable to do all the things she used to do: cook, take tai chi classes, even watch TV. We couldn’t even suggest going to a doctor without her flying off the handle. As she deteriorated, the circle of people who helped her got a lot smaller.
I spent a lot of nights crying. When my grandmother passed away last year, she was only 82 years old.
When I say I don’t want to live to be 100, that’s an opinion based out of fear – a fear that my quality of life will decline greatly after a certain point. I want to live the best life I can for as long as I can, but the possibility of becoming a burden on my loved ones makes me hesitant to accept the notion of a long life.
A cure for dementia would definitely change my outlook on the prospect of living to 100. But who knows if and when that will happen? Back in the 80s, didn’t we think we’d be living like the Jetsons by now?
My absolute biggest fear about aging is losing every memory I’ve ever had and becoming a shell of the self that I know and that everyone around me loves. I want my son to look at me and always see me.
With the family history of health conditions that I have, it’s hard to imagine myself at 100. I can’t help but worry that living that long would keep my son from living the life he’s dreamed of for himself.

Jared Glenn is a film and music video director based in New York City. He is also an aspiring writer and a personal trainer in lower Manhattan, as well as a devoted father.
This post is paid for by AARP.

What We’ll Teach in the Future Hasn’t Been Invented Yet

The question isn’t if a “100-year life” is coming, but how soon? It’s inevitable. I’m excited to think about living on this earth longer and having more opportunities to make a positive impact.
As co-founder of a business that offers training for in-demand skills, I think a lot about lifelong learning. The world is transforming so rapidly that jobs continually disappear and new ones appear. It used to be that traditional education was this thing you received in your youth. “College-educated” was an adjective you applied to yourself, and either you were or you weren’t.
But now, the skills you need throughout your life change. Those you need when you’re 25 years old look very different when you’re 35, 45, 55 or older. Your education should evolve throughout your entire life. To stay relevant, you need to adapt — always. The idea of a “100-year life” multiplies that reality even further.
Those who are living to be 100 years old – assuming that they’re productive and healthy – will no longer retire in their 60s. Instead, they’ll have opportunities to witness more economic shifts and discover more opportunities for lifelong learning.
The idea that you have one profession throughout your lifetime will go away. Instead, people will have a kaleidoscope of careers. Think of it: “In my 20s, I was a digital marketer, in my 30s, a programmer, in my 40s, I was flying cars… ”
Your learning and career should go hand in hand, not “first you get educated, then you have a career.”

If you’re living to 100 – or more – it’s hard to predict what you might be doing in your later years. My company, General Assembly, is teaching certain programming language that’s popular now, in 2017. What we’ll be teaching in the future likely hasn’t been invented yet.
Still, as a society, we’ll need to ensure that we’re doing what humans are fundamentally best at. To me, that means focusing on areas of creativity. To be human is to create. For a 100-year life, I hope that means creating as much as possible, be it art, music, community or a new business.
Despite all the technological advances we have to look forward to, I don’t see them competing with raw human creativity anytime soon. Or with the potential for deep relationships. As people get older, they need more care — something that can’t be done with a robot, app or website.
The idea of living to 100 is exciting to me. I’m alive during some of the most quickly evolving times in history, and I’d be able to experience more of that.
But I do have fears about where the world is headed. I worry about climate change, the geopolitical climate and the potential for war, strife and famine. How will humans living longer further tax the planet? How will it impact our economy? How much of this “extra” time will we spend in ill health?
At 100, would I simply be another person taking from the world? That doesn’t feel morally just to me. I feel it’s a privilege to be alive, healthy and conscious, pursuing my passion. With that gratitude comes a big sense of responsibility for leaving the planet a better place than I found it.
If I’m able to live to that age, I’d want to still be doing something positive and meaningful. The idea of retiring in the traditional sense doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t ever want to stop creating and working. I also want to relax and enjoy life as much as possible; that’s the additional piece of the puzzle. But it would be unfortunate if we’re only able to extend our lives, not the years that we’re active and healthy. I want to be able to travel, volunteer and have deep relationships.
Not that we should throw all that stuff to the end of our lives. Cultural consciousness is already moving away from that idea now. In my work, I interact with people in their 50s and 60s who are taking classes, learning new skills and starting their own businesses. They’re not saying, “I’m too old to go back to school.” They’re not stuck in a job because they feel it’s too late to change. They don’t feel like they’re past their prime, which is inspiring to me.
And who knows? Maybe five years from now, they’ll try something else new.
We all have the ability to plug in and become relevant, no matter what stage of life we’re in. We also have the opportunity to be as present as possible. If I get to live longer, I don’t want to value time any less. To me, there’s no point in taking 80 years of existence and simply spreading it out to 100.
The more we can educate, uplift and empower each other, the better chance we have of not just living to be 100 years old, but saving the world.

Matthew Brimer is an creative instigator, social entrepreneur and community builder. He is the co-founder of General Assembly, a 21st century educational institution with campuses and clients around the world, and the co-founder of Daybreaker, a global community and lifestyle brand producing conscious morning dance experiences across the globe. He is also an advisor and angel investor in a handful of early-stage startups.
This post is paid for by AARP.

The Rx for Better Birth Control

Back in 2015, word was going around on social media claiming that Colorado — a state that battled high unwanted pregnancy rates for years — had reduced those numbers drastically by changing the way women accessed birth control.
The rumor was right.
Unwanted pregnancies among Colorado women ages 15 to 19 years old have dropped by 54 percent over the past seven years, thanks in large part to the state providing access to intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and long-lasting birth control. The move enabled another progressive bill aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancies to win universal support between Republicans and Democrats.
“I think that if I’m being really honest, we were pretty surprised at the robust bipartisan support we got on this,” says Sarah Taylor-Nanista, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which oversees clinics in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. “We anticipated it to be a lot more controversial than it was, and it was really heartening to see it go through the way that it did.”
The bill, which was signed into law in June 2017 by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, allows women to receive a 12-month prescription of birth control pills or patch at no-cost after an initial, one-time, three-month prescription. The bill also required the state to cover three-month vaginal rings, which also prevent pregnancy.
note from the state’s independent governing research body, the Colorado Legislative Council Staff, found that the change in the law would result in “minimal” impacts to the fiscal budget, although it could affect insurance premiums paid by the state, assuaging conservative fears that an exorbitant amount of state funding being funneled towards contraception.
“Sometimes it’s a long ways to the pharmacy,” says Sen. Don Coram, who sponsored the Senate bill and lobbied other Republican senators to view the bill through an economic lens. “The fact is that if you want to end a cycle of poverty, you prevent unplanned pregnancy.”
The bill passed the state Senate with bipartisan support, 22-11.
Coram, a self-proclaimed “redneck Republican,” extolled the social benefits of contraceptive accessibility, something usually heard from more progressive leaders.
“It’s just a common sense thing. I’m from rural Colorado where 70 percent of my district is federally owned land. I don’t have a Walgreens around the block,” he tells NationSwell. “And the fact is, birth control only works when you take it.”

Purple support

Polls conducted in 2014 by Planned Parenthood showed contraception is a nonpartisan issue nationwide — something Colorado legislators were able to use in their advantage. According to Colorado state Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill in the House, a bit of manipulative planning was required to get bilateral support.
“I’ll tell you one thing I did when [testimonies] were heard in the Senate: I asked Planned Parenthood to stay home,” Landgraf tells NationSwell. “As soon as they come to the House, people start thinking about Planned Parenthood and all the negative connotations that it has for some Republicans. Not as if their testimony wasn’t helpful, but if it leads one mind’s astray from the actual problem, there’s no value in it.”
Landgraf says that the bill was a “good bill for women and for men,” but preconceived notions about the organization needed to be erased. In their efforts to replace the ACA, Republicans on the national stage have argued for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, but swing states and districts overwhelmingly support Planned Parenthood’s mission of providing access to contraceptives.
That’s because increased accessibility is especially good for women in rural areas, says Erika Hanson, a legal fellow at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).
“These types of laws disproportionately affects women in rural areas, because as with many for services in rural areas, it is very difficult for women to access healthcare,” Hanson tells NationSwell, adding that the NWLC offers a hotline specifically to provide assistance to women who have a hard time accessing contraception. “We hear from thousands of women who are having troubles getting coverage or getting access to birth control and often it is as simple as they can’t find an in-network provider that’s close enough to them. Or they’re getting the runaround from their insurance company about what pharmacy to go to, which may not be close.”
After some initial pushback from Republicans in 2015, the success of Colorado’s IUD program — including a savings of $111 million in birth-related Medicaid costs by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — was enough to convince members of both parties in the state legislature that it deserved to be expanded.

Time bound coverage?

Washington’s tug-of-war over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has caused states to be wary of future legislation changing the existing contraception mandate, which requires insurers to cover all forms of contraception (though only from one manufacturer). That aspect of the bill has been widely praised among women for eliminating costs associated with getting birth control.
In 2015, during a heated partisan debate on whether privately-held companies should be forced to offer birth control coverage, 49 congress members signed a letter urging the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell, to provide a roadmap to insurers for 12-month contraceptive coverage for women across the nation.
No federal guidelines were issued as a result of the letter.
In response, several other states have also expanded coverage beyond federal regulations.
Traditional blue states, such as Oregon and California, have also made oral contraceptives and patches available for year-long prescriptions, a move that reduces unwanted pregnancy by 30 percent. That same study, conducted by the University of California San Francisco’s Bixby Center, reports that extended contraception coverage also lowers the number of abortions by 40 percent.
California also made it a requirement that insurance plans pay for all forms and all brands of birth control. Research shows that lack of brand choice causes two-fifths of women to go without birth control.
But women in states with expanded coverage are at-risk of losing it if their employer disagrees with the use of contraceptives for religious reasons. President Trump is expected to eliminate an Obama-era rule requiring employers to provide birth control through employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The new rule, which mirrors an earlier draft and is expected to be written any day now, would allow employers to omit birth control coverage from health insurance plans completely, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Democrats say 50 million women in the U.S. will be forced to pay for birth control out of pocket.
But the win for contraceptive rights in Colorado is not lost on Planned Parenthood’s Taylor-Nanista, who wants to continue the momentum of bipartisanship within the state and hopefully the rest of the nation, especially in a time where female contraception coverage is at stake.
“Many of our activists and patients are feeling really concerned and hopeless,” she says. “But I think this bill is a great example of what we can do when we think strategically.”