The “gay furries” tackling discrimination against trans people

Think of the word hacker and what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Some might imagine an introverted nerd hacking into a school hard drive or someone straight out of a Matrix convention. Others might hear the phrase “Okay, I’m in” ringing through their ears amidst a pile of late 2000s movie cliches. 

But did you think of furries?

For the uninitiated, furries are a subculture of people interested in anthropomorphic animal characters which often come in the form of fursonas: animal personas and even fursuits of the said fursonas. 

Furries as a community occupy an interesting niche in the realm of internet subculture, often serving as an open-minded and accepting place for people of all backgrounds, which brings us back to hacking. 

A group of self-described “gay furries,” called SiegeSec have taken to distributing sensitive material hacked from agencies in six US states, citing the legislative attacks on gender-affirming care as their motive.

The data released by the group includes South Carolina police files, a list of licensed therapists in Texas, and contact details for court officials in Nebraska.

The goal is to dissuade governmental bodies from attacking gender-affirming care, like in a cyber attack leveled at Texas, one of the leaders in gender-affirming care restrictions. 

“Texas happens to be one of the largest states banning gender-affirming care, and for that, we have made Texas our target,” SiegeSec said in a post. 

While Smiley News doesn’t endorse hacking, data leaking or any other illegal activities it does show the power that it can have in the right hands. 

Take, for instance, Edward Snowden, without whom most Americans would have been unaware of the ongoing surveillance of the general population by organizations like the NSA. Thanks to his leaks individuals became aware of just how far the US government was willing to go. 

Civil liberties groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union even warned that the surveillance went well beyond what Congress intended and what the US Constitution allows.

Leaking information in these ways is usually outside the law. But often it can benefit the public.

Next time you see a furry online think that they just might be taking on the US government.

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

GLAAD. GLAAD is a massive LGBTQ+ advocacy group that helps fight for queer people across the US. Consider donating

Lambda Legal. This organization helps fight in the courtroom for queer people. Find out more.

The Trevor Project. They focus on suicide prevention and mental health support for queer youth. Support them here

This article aligns with the UN SDG Gender Equality.


‘Art is a powerful tool’: an organization for creative activism

It’s hard to quantify the importance of art because the concept itself is an amorphous blob of human expression and culture. Everything from the Sistine Chapel to back alley graffiti has something to add to society at large. 

This is something that ArtServe, a community organization in South Florida hopes to foster. 

“Art is a powerful tool,” they write on their site. “It can uplift lives. Upend unjust systems. Transform perspectives and amplify voices that far too often go unheard. When properly leveraged, art is a catalyst for change on personal, communal and economic levels.”

ArtServe acts as a community hub for art and learning – made apparent by the juxtaposition of a quiet library down the corridor from a concert hall. The organization aims to support artists to learn, grow and explore their crafts. 

“What we help [artists] do is build their confidence and build their business,” Jason Hughes, ArtServe’s executive director, tells Smiley News. “A lot of artists are great at their art, but don’t know how to price their art, how to sell their art, how to market their art, how to use social media, how to present their art, and public relations is a big thing.”

The people running ArtServe call it an “art incubator,” or a place where aspiring artists can go to improve their craft with classes, studio spaces, and art exhibitions to show off their work. 

“We do four exhibitions a year. The artists that are part of those exhibitions stand by their art pieces, whatever the gallery, during the opening reception and talk to people to learn how to communicate and talk about their art,” Jason says. 

Even with all these resources, that’s still just scratching the surface of what ArtServe does. On top of all the work they do for art and artists in South Florida, they also support and preserve the queer community and history. While the organization isn’t explicitly an LGBTQ+ entity the building is home to the World AIDS Museum and the Stonewall Museum, both of which share queer history.

They also host panels, such as that organized for National Coming Out Day. These events serve as community forums to raise awareness about and tackle issues affecting the queer community.  

This work is incredibly important in Florida – a state that is actively trying to suppress LGBTQ+ education with bills like the so-called “Don’t Say Gay,” book bannings, and restrictions on gender-affirming care. 

ArtServe also works with The Our Fund Foundation, which supports LGBTQ+ philanthropy throughout South Florida. 

“I think with the Our Fund Foundation it just really, really kind of drives, I hope to the community that you’re safe here, we support you, we see you,” Jason says.

ArtServe, above all else just serves the community and helps people bring forth their best and most expressive selves. They’re one of the last art incubators in the US and they wear that on their proverbial sleeve. 

“People will say ‘I love ArtServe,’ and it’s interesting because they can’t say really why? It’s just that they just feel comfortable,” Jason says. “And that’s what we want.”

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

GLAAD. GLAAD is a massive LGBTQ+ advocacy group that helps fight for queer people across the US. Consider donating

Lambda Legal. This organization helps fight in the courtroom for queer people. Find out more.

The Trevor Project. They focus on suicide prevention and mental health support for queer youth. Support them here

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partners of the Goals.


‘Once you start helping you can’t walk away’ – Muddy Paws Crime is fighting pet theft

Inspired by the stories of bereft pet owners, one woman is on a mission to end pet theft.

Lisa Loops is the director of an independent TV production company – which isn’t exactly the sort of job you’d think would lead you to running an animal charity. But for Lisa, that’s exactly what happened.

“The situation was just getting out of hand really,” said Lisa Loops. “Every other social media post I saw was a stolen dog. So I had the idea of doing the Pet Theft Production.”

The idea behind the Pet Theft Production was to raise awareness of this relative epidemic of thefts. Though the production never got off the ground, hearing the stories of these owners, who were devastated without their beloved pet, opened her eyes to the reality of what is going on.

“I put a call out for stolen dog owners at the time … and was inundated. People were calling out for a production,” Lisa tells Smiley News. Lisa joined Karen Field, who was also helping owners, to talk with the police force together. From there, Karen and Lisa were able to reunite an owner with their beloved dog – and the word began to spread. Fast forward to now, and Lisa is the director of Muddy Paws Crime – a charity designed to raise awareness of pet theft and reunite animals with their owners.

“Because of that success, we started getting a lot of people coming to us with similar situations,” explains Lisa. “And the feedback from the public is that we’ve filled a gap that a lot of other groups don’t do. All lost and stolen groups are fantastic because they’re run by volunteers – but a lot won’t help when it’s [deemed] civil by the police because it takes so much time to try and get something together.”

“I think we’re the smallest team out there. We get no donations. We don’t ask for any donations. We spend hours upon hours out of care and love. Because once you start helping you can’t walk away – because there’s too many people that need help.”

One of pet theft’s biggest problems is that the law simply isn’t clear. Pet theft currently falls under the Theft Act 1968 – meaning pets, when stolen, are property, not living things. Many police departments see pet theft as a civil matter and not something they can get involved in – even when the pet is microchipped.

According to Gather Cover, a pet insurance site, there has been a 39% rise in pet thefts recorded by the Metropolitan Police in 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. 

That’s why people like Lisa and her team at Muddy Paws Crime are so important – they are in constant contact with pet owners and police and dog wardens, working as the go-between to try and reunite families with their furry friends. They follow leads, doing everything they can to track down real information about the missing animals.

On top of all the work they do, they are providing emotional support for these owners, who are grieving for their loved one.

“We have a small team. We have over 50 Facebook groups that we administer for stolen pets in the UK and we’ve opened up to Ireland as well, because Ireland doesn’t get enough help at all,” says Lisa. “With those groups also comes 50 odd group chats with owners, where we offer them emotional support.” 

Lisa and the rest of her team at Muddy Paws Crime are calling for change; better restrictions on online dog sales and breeding, better licenses for rescue centres, and firmer laws around pet theft. Without charities like Muddy Paws Crime, so many families would not have been reunited with their pets – it’s thanks to the tireless work people like Lisa, who even use their own money to pay fines.

“Muddy Paws Crime have been totally amazing with everything after my girl echo was stolen, I didn’t have a clue what to do or how to act. They offered me advice and guidance and was beside me through every thing.” said Shayla Pearman, in a review of Muddy Paw Crimes on Facebook. “PLEASE if you lose a dog reach out to Muddy Paws Crime. I can’t rate them high enough they brought our family together.”

Despite all the stress and sadness of missing pets, Muddy Paws Crime is ultimately a positive story – one about normal people, who simply want to make our world a better place. Because they are such a small team, they are always in need of help – in need of other people who care.

If you’re passionate about ending pet thefts and reuniting families with their beloved pets, get in contact with Lisa Loop, the Director of Muddy Paws Crime, through their Facebook page. 

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Born Free. This is a wildlife conservation charity that’s passionate about wild animal welfare and Compassionate Conservation. Find out more here.

Four Paws UK. This charity is an animal welfare organisation, working globally to help animals in need. Learn more here.

RSPCA. This is the leading animal welfare charity in the UK. They specialise in animal rescue & furthering the welfare cause for all animals. Find out more here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Life on Land.


Meet the Nepalese women leading their communities in climate change emergencies

Nepal is among the top 10 countries most affected by climate disasters. Nepalese people are on the frontline of the climate change crisis, losing their homes, farms, and sometimes their loved ones due to flooding, landslides, drought, and waterborne diseases, which are now a frequent occurrence. Most of these disasters occur during the monsoon season where increasingly severe and erratic rainfall gives rise to extreme weather events.

Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to the impact of these disasters. Living in temporary camps after an evacuation and relying on emergency relief leaves women at risk of violence and exploitation. Provisions for periods, pregnancy, or breastfeeding are all too easily forgotten when aid is distributed. Caring responsibilities often fall on women, which can intensify when they and their loved ones have experienced injury or trauma. In the longer term, when families lose their source of income, increased financial pressure in households often leads to an increase in violence against women and increased child marriage.

In October 2021, over 100 people died, thousands of homes were destroyed, and 10,000 hectares of paddy fields were damaged in floods caused by heavy rainfall in Bardiya District. This area of southwestern Nepal, located along the Karnali River, faces almost annual floods during the monsoon season, which have increased in recent years, in part, because of climate change.

Women in Nepal are at the frontline of disaster preparedness and response, which is key to making sure that women’s rights are protected, and their specific needs are met. Women often have strong local knowledge and, crucially, links with other people in the area, which makes them well-placed to lead preparations for increasingly frequent disasters. First responders are often women, who bring vital skills, resources, and experience in emergencies. They also play a pivotal role in the care and emotional rebuilding of communities in the aftermath of a crisis.

Together with women and girls in the Bardiya District, ActionAid Nepal has, for a decade, supported communities to prepare for, build resilience against and respond to flooding and other crises. These initiatives are led by grassroots youth and community groups who map risks, disseminate key information, make and distribute life jackets, and run drills for flood, fire, and earthquake evacuations. They support people to build income-generating businesses that are resilient to extreme weather, and access cash and seeds when their homes or farms are damaged. These groups include the Yuwar Bakheri youth hub, and 12 Community Disaster Management Committees, nine of which are chaired by women.

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Antila, 24, is a member of the Yuwar Bakheri youth hub, a grassroots group that has been taking the lead on community planning and preparation for climate-related emergencies such as flooding, fires, and earthquakes. They have been taking action through door-to-door information sharing, risk reduction, and mapping and evacuation drills. 

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Pramila, 19, attended the Yuwar Bakheri youth hub’s recent mock evacuation drill, she said, “This mock drill showed us how to respond to flooding. Through drama, we learned what measures to take during floods and how to help vulnerable groups of people, such as older people and children. It also taught us about using life jackets and how to use the siren to alert people.”

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The Yuwar Bakheri youth hub also develops lifesaving materials such as life jackets with rice bags and water bottles. These are distributed to families when flooding occurs. Pramila, a member of the hub, said young people are capable and courageous and are therefore key to disaster response. She said, “Young people can be helpful during disasters as they are often physically more energetic. For example, a young person who knows how to swim can help people during a flood by swimming.”

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Sita Chaudhary, 41, is standing beside a dam built in the Karnali River to protect farmland from flooding. Sita Chairs a Community Disaster Management Committee in the Bardiya District which teaches people how to prepare for and build resilience against flooding and other unpredictable climatic events. Sita believes women are best placed to safeguard their families and lead disaster preparations in their community. She said, “We can’t stop disasters such as floods from happening, but we can work together to protect our community.”

Sita practices raising the alarm using the red hand siren. She said, “In the past, it was really difficult to alert people to an incoming flood. People weren’t informed, so when an area suddenly flooded, it would be chaos, with people rushing to protect their children, their belongings, and their food supplies at the same time… Today, after we have been notified about flood risk, I call the village guard… I then go to ring the siren, even if it’s in the middle of the night, and the guard goes door to door to people’s homes to inform them.”

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Sita and the Community Disaster Management Committee meet to organize disaster response. Sita explains, “We have a task force that is responsible for the early warning system for flooding, another for first aid, a larger task force of seven people that is responsible for search and rescue, and a task force that focuses on protecting women’s health during disasters. These subgroups make it easier for us to organize our work.”

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Sita and the Community Disaster Management Committees use ActionAid funding to prepare for floods, she said, “ActionAid has supported places that are affected by flooding by building small bridges and pipelines – especially along the roads which have previously been submerged, making it difficult to travel. The charity also supported us by providing life jackets.”

Biruni, 45, is weighing her crop of potatoes using a scale. She is a freed bonded laborer and chair of Kamaiya Mahila Jagaran Samaj (KMJS), an organization working to resettle and support people who were previously bonded laborers, forced to work in order to repay a debt. Today, Biruni and other KMJS women are helping their communities to prepare for flooding. She said, “The yearly flood water used to wash mud over our houses. Our house was damaged every year. Our farm crops would also be damaged. Our rice crops would be lost. The floods would come as soon as we planted seeds. As floods often come twice or three times in a row, we never have enough food.”

Biruni is pictured farming her maize crop. She said, “We know we cannot stop any kind of disaster from coming, but we can lessen its impact…We have a siren that we sound to warn people about flooding. If we ring the siren once, it tells everyone a flood is coming. If we ring the siren a second time, it tells people that they must prepare for the flood, store their belongings somewhere safe and move to a safe place. If we ring it a third time, it tells people we must run as the flood has arrived.”

She believes women have a key role to play in disaster response, “When women are menstruating, another woman can understand her needs better. Women can understand the needs of pregnant women and new mothers and talk to them more openly. It is easier for women to raise their issues in front of other women than with men.”

Prasadi, 36, is meeting with other members of the Shree Sanskriti Women Farmers’ Cooperative. She and her family have witnessed many floods through the years and have experienced many life-threatening situations. “When we used to run from the water, the force of it would push us. We could not even help ourselves; some of us would climb into boats to get to safe places. There would be so many people, and the boats could not take everyone to a safer place. We ran to save ourselves even though the water swept us away.” 

She and her peers in the Cooperative have formed savings groups, where each member deposits into a savings pot, which is used to loan to women who need additional support when disaster strikes. 

Members of the Shree Sanskriti Women Farmers’ Cooperative have learned to apply new techniques to farming to lessen the impact the frequent floods have on their crops. Prasadi said, “We were taught to lift our barriers a little higher and to do tunnel farming. And if we are sowing seeds close to the flooding season, we need to plant them a little higher and bury them properly.”

Today, Prasadi believes her engagement with women in her community has made her stronger. The solidarity of women, she says, has helped her to speak her mind in the past few years. She said, “The training we have received has made farming easier and given us food security. Farming vegetables is now fruitful. We get good returns. We can earn enough on a day-to-day basis. We make a reasonable profit. There is good money flow.” 

ActionAid’s Arise Fund is the first ever global fund directly supporting women-led emergency response and preparedness work, like the work of Antila, Pramila, Sita, Biruni and Prasadi in Nepal. Find out more: Support ActionAid’s Arise Fund | ActionAid UK 


This charity helps young people into incredible careers

Let’s be honest – the most difficult part of being at school can often be considering your future career. 

For kids from minority backgrounds, this can be extra challenging. Even the most talented students struggle to access higher education or work, simply based on their background – and that’s where charities such as Career Ready UK come in.

Smiley News spoke to Eloise Skinner, author and Career Ready Youth Advisory Board member about some of the amazing things that Career Ready UK is doing to help young people from all backgrounds access a rewarding future.

“I’ve always been interested in social mobility: I came from a state school background, and felt a little out of place at university studying Law,” Eloise tells Smiley News. “I worked on the Access Team at Cambridge University to broaden access to students from a wide range of backgrounds and with a diversity of experience. After university, I worked with a few other charities focusing on similar issues, such as Young Women’s Trust.”

“I came across Career Ready when I was writing my second book (called ‘The Purpose Handbook’) – I wanted to dedicate the proceeds of that book to a charity, and Career Ready – the UK’s national social mobility charity – seemed like a great fit. Later, I joined their Youth Advisory Board, where I currently hold a position to input on strategy, alumni relations and much more!”

Eloise is many things – an author, existential therapist, teacher, model, and even the founder of two businesses, but still she finds time to work with Career Ready UK. This charity aims to challenge stereotypes, and to empower young people to help them create a rewarding life for themselves – something that is incredibly important.

“Social mobility (or inequality between different backgrounds) is still a huge problem for today’s young people. Research from The Social Mobility Commission showed that those from affluent backgrounds are 80% more likely to be in a professional job than their working class peers,” explains Eloise. 

Career Ready is an amazing charity that has already reached 200,000 young people, including supporting 30,000 on their Post-16 programme. Plus, they are able to help young people through their incredible network of 1,000 employer supporters and 3,500 volunteers who help young people in 400 schools and colleges across the UK.

In Eloise’s position on the Youth Advisory board, she is able to help steer the work of Career Ready and highlight the voices of those young people that are benefited by the charity. One of the best things about Career Ready is that they really do put their youth and young people first – so that their voices are heard, and they get a say in how their lives are shaped by charity.

And they’ve already seen incredible change thanks to the tireless work of people like Eloise, who give up their time to help shape the future of the next generation of teachers, lawyers, doctors, dentists, actors, journalists – and whatever else they could dream of.

Data from Career Ready shows that 98% of students that were previously on a Career Ready programme go on to positive future destinations – while 98% of teachers said that the Career Ready interactions enhanced previous learning for students.

“One way to support change is through experiences and opportunities that open up the world of work to young people,” says Eloise. “Workplace experiences, insights into the world of work, mentors and other supporters, and upskilling opportunities. These are all elements offered within the Career Ready programmes.”

To support Career Ready UK, you can head to this Just Giving link to make a one-off or ongoing donation, or follow Career Ready on socials (@careerreadyuk) to learn more about their work!

To learn more about Eloise Skinner and the incredible work she is doing, head to her website for more information.

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

The Fawcett Society. This is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. Support them here.

The Diversity Trust CIC. This Community Interest Company, established in 2012 in the UK, has a mission to ‘influence social change to create a fairer and safer society’. Learn more here.

Create. Create is the UK’s leading charity empowering lives, reducing isolation and enhancing wellbeing through the creative arts. Support them here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Quality Education.


An app supporting Ukrainian amputees

Across the world, people are following the situation in Ukraine with bated breath – and there’s no question that those on the front line in Ukraine have been fighting incredibly hard to defend their country.

But in war there are casualties – and many soldiers fighting in Ukraine, and civilians caught up in attacks, have lost limbs in this war. That’s where US-based company OneStep comes in, with their incredible partnership with the Protez Foundation.

OneStep is a healthcare technology app that came out of Tel Aviv, Israel, currently dealing in the United States. Incredibly, their app is capable of measuring your gait – that is, analysing how you walk.

This might not seem like it has the most groundbreaking implications – but when it comes to a number of health conditions, including for those who have lower limb prosthetics, the technology essentially offers a doctor’s practice in a smartphone.

OneStep has partnered up with the Protez Foundation – a non-profit organisation based in the US that provides prosthetics to those who have lost a limb.

“So when we started, we were thinking to fly to Ukraine and go and try to help wounded people who are running away from war zone,” explains Yakov, a Ukrainian ex-pat who is living in the US and working at the Protez Foundation.

Despite their desire to be on the ground, helping those wounded, Yakov and the team didn’t want to be a burden – that’s when they came up with the idea to bring those wounded people to them.

So far, the Protez Foundation has helped 64 patients – including two children and one adult civilian. Thanks to the collaboration with OneStep, 15 of those soldiers are back, fighting on the front line.

It’s worth noting that this is completely funded by donors – and that prosthetics can cost tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how large the prosthesis is. Donations to the Protez Foundation help rehabilitate those who are desperately in need, and couldn’t otherwise afford a prosthetic themselves – plus, it is helping to take pressure off an incredibly stressed medical system back in Ukraine.

“Yakov and I met in the clinic when we were working with some patients together and he saw the power of the technology that we brought forward,” explains Patrick Tarnowski, the Chief Commercial Officer for OneStep. “He put his arm around me, pulled me aside and said ‘Are you familiar with the Protez Foundation?’ I said ‘no, tell me about it.’ And when he got deeper into what they’re doing, and asked the question the answer was immediately yes.” 

While the OneStep technology is by no means restricted to those with prosthetics – in fact it has had incredible results for those who have had knee replacements, hip replacements and even back surgery – there is no doubt that it has had a hugely positive impact on those who have had limb amputations.

“First and foremost; it’s just the right thing to do. There are people in need,” says Patrick. “And we have a technology that can help not only those who have incurred an amputation but also the providers because the providers are also volunteering their time.”

OneStep’s technology helps to provide continuous care to those treated by the Protez Foundation even when they return to Ukraine. For patients who have received prosthetics, it is hugely important that their care continues long after they have their first prosthesis, to ensure that their injuries are healing correctly, that the adaptation fits comfortably, and to keep them from causing themselves further injury.

“I think that [with] this war going on, [the] system is very overwhelmed,” explains Yakov. “Sometimes they are waiting for three, four weeks to be able to get to see a prosthetist or doctor in Ukraine because it’s literally thousands and thousands [of dollars].”

The great thing about the OneStep app is that the patient can see the result of their gait analysis, as well as it being shared with their doctor and prosthetic team. According to Yakov, who works closely with those receiving treatment at the Protez Foundation, this can be a huge moral boost to many of the patients.

“[It] gives them a little win,” explains Yakov. “Yesterday, being a capable younger man who went to war to fight and suddenly ending up in a wheelchair, feeling like a burden for their family, country and themselves. Then they are up, they are walking, and they see [for] themselves how they are improving. And suddenly they see ‘oh, my gait changed five points!’ See that smile? [So] much more happens inside – there’s that positive emotion.”

This incredible partnership has so far helped a number of patients who have been injured in the war on Ukraine, including one young patient who clearly remains close to Yakov’s heart.

“[There was a] nine-year-old boy who [had a] rocket strike into their house and they were running to the shelter,” explains Yakov. “Dad was carrying the nine-year-old boy and 12-year-old brother was running next to them … a second rocket hit behind them and killed his father and brother. He lost his left hand that he was holding to his dad with … and we [were able to] restore that hand which is still holding to his dad.”

“This is our responsibility. So together we can make a difference and we can make a better world, better care for these people who shouldn’t be injured – who shouldn’t be suffering.”

To learn more about OneStep you can visit their website by following this link. To learn more about the Protez Foundation, or to donate, you can visit their website by following this link.

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Ukraine Charity. This charity supports underprivileged children and other charitable initiatives in Ukraine. Learn more here.

BritishUkrainian Aid. They support people suffering from the war and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine by aligning UK and Ukrainian efforts. Find out more.

Protez Foundation. This non-profit provides care for Ukrainians who have lost limbs and need prosthetics: from submitting an application through full rehabilitation. Support them here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


The homeless ‘care villages’ spreading across the US

The organization, LavaMae X, builds mobile shower units across the US for people sleeping rough to clean themselves in privacy and safety. Since Smiley News first covered the initiative, they have stepped up their efforts and are rapidly spreading to new states in an unprecedented collaboration with other groups.

Together with homeless charities from across the US, they are running pop-up care villages, mini-events for community organizations to pool their resources for people experiencing homelessness. They offer everything from mental health and medical services to the aforementioned mobile showers. 

The events unite providers from local communities to support and pamper guests with much-needed free showers, haircuts, massages, medical and dental care, legal advice, and employment assistance. They often give away free clothing and other essentials, accompanied by live music and free meals.

“I love PUCVs. They’re joyous. They create a venue where organizations that normally don’t come together can connect. They’re a moving experience for the service providers and volunteers. And they can produce lasting benefits for guests,” says LavaMaeX CEO Kris Kepler.

LavaMaeX’s own PUCVs in downtown Oakland in 2022 yielded more than 550 referrals to housing, mental health, and employment aid.

These PUCVs are expanding around the country as non-profits adopt the model to help more unhoused people in communities far and wide. 

Organizations hosting events include the BeHeard Movement, Aspire of Life, and BeTheChangeYYC.

Each organization is adapting the model to suit the needs of different communities. For example, BeHear, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, teamed up with local organizations and companies to host an event promoted by Tulsa officials.

City council members, local media, Starbucks, Walmart, food trucks, ministerial organizations, and a neighborhood association all gathered to offer food, music, laundry services, massages, showers, bike repairs, food stamps, and more.

The event brought together 580 guests, 67 partners, and 55 volunteers. Evan J. Dougoud, BeHeard’s founder says it was the first time all these community organizations and supportive city officials had come together in one place. 

“It was like a breath of fresh air, the energy,” he says.

For Aspire of Life, the event raised well-needed funds for mobile shower units in Omaha, Nebraska.

Elsewhere, BeTheChange, in Calgary, Canada, held an event that attracted over 600 people. 

Event co-coordinator Bill Zheng discovered LavaMaeX’s PUCV model on YouTube in August 2021 and accessed the toolkit. Later, he volunteered with BeTheChangeYYC, whose staff walk the streets of Calgary four nights a week with essentials for people experiencing homelessness to provide them with resources.

When one of these staff members brought up the idea of a grassroots collaboration, Zheng had a lightbulb moment. It was in that moment that Zheng, now a nursing student, came across the PUCV model.

The community collaboration event they hosted brought together people from all walks of life together, including the community’s indigenous population.

“The indigenous drumming was the glue of the whole event,” Zheng says. “People were laughing, dancing, singing and rapping, and everybody cheered our grassroots partner Sobercrew to keep on drumming!”

The event allowed many community organizations to gain exposure and community engagement. 

BeTheChangeYYC partnered with SafeLink Alberta, a local harm reduction agency, and secured two grants to fund the event. It welcomed a newcomer to the sector: A Chinese immigrant organization, ECSSEN Career School, which will attend, delivering services to people who don’t speak English and raising awareness for its new Chinese-language crisis hotline. Zheng, a former ECSSEN volunteer, is excited about deepening the school’s ties to the city’s greater social service community.

The events are creating a ripple effect, sparked by the original LavaMae model. Communities are given the know-how and support to implement these programs to help the people around them. 

“We’re working to change the way the world sees and serves people experiencing homelessness, and a genuinely fun event that forges new connections in tandem with offering real-time services accelerates that process,” Kepler says. 

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Beacon Food Forest. This is one of the largest food forests in the country. Find out more and support them here

American Forests. A conservation organization focused on preserving and protecting American forests. Support them here.

Cultural Survival. They are an indigenous-led nonprofit focused on empowering indigenous Americans and helping the planet. Find out more

This article aligns with the UN SDG No Poverty.


This network helps young people succeed in the creative arts

It’s no secret that it’s hard to break into the creative industries – hello Nepo Baby debate – but it’s definitely harder for some than for others. Individuals from marginalised communities, including ethnic minorities and those from low-income backgrounds, are going to find it a lot harder than many others to find a job in the creative world.

What most people need when they are struggling is a mentor – someone to listen, give advice, and connect them – and that’s exactly what the Creative Mentor Network provides.

The Creative Mentor Network was founded in 2014, based on the belief that “our industries should reflect the diversity of our society” – something we love and agree with wholeheartedly!

Today, the Creative Mentor Network mentors young people – partnering them with adults who are already working in the creative industry and can give advice. They run partnerships with companies to help them reach young creatives through their jobs board, to help diversify the creative industries.

Smiley News had the amazing opportunity to talk to one of the brilliant mentors from The Creative Mentor Network – Adam Oyejobi, who is a Producer at Biscuit Films. Adam worked one-on-one with a young person hoping to build a career in the creative industry.

Outreach Manager engaging with young people – credit: Matthew Kaltenborn, Barbican, 2023.

Initially, mentors are connected with a mentee by the team at Creative Mentor Network, to create the best match. 

“My mentee was interested in short films, and he wanted to do a producer’s masterclass of how to be a producer,” explains Adam. “I had just produced a short film … in the London Film Festival … that’s why they matched us.”

Mentor-mentee pairs meet at least eight times over a 16-week course, but Adam says he and his mentee met or talked online far more often than that, just because of how it worked naturally.

“It’s all about finding a balance,” explains Adam. “My mentee was studying and also working full time. Everyone has mentees of different ages and … it’s about finding the balance between what works for both you and your mentee.”

“We had a relationship where we could contact each other whenever. Even if it was [just] for 15 minutes, we’d have a conversation. It was just about [being] flexible with each other and making sure that he was getting [what] he needed to get out of the programme.”

Alumni mentee and mentor

Adam was initially uncertain about being a mentor, thinking he was too young and new to the creative industry himself. However, he discovered that he was more experienced than he realised.

“[The relationship was] super fulfilling. It made me realise I know more than I think I do. For someone that doesn’t know anything about what you do and has never been in that environment … I have five years experience to [give], but I wasn’t thinking of it that way because of my age,” says Adam. “It’s not [about having] a parent-child relationship. You’re supposed to offer more of a support system.”

“It’s about listening to that person’s needs and helping them find solutions and come up with a plan on how they can attack some of their goals and reach some of their targets. There’s more you can offer than you think.”

Showcase picture from Positive Influence with Sony Music

Creative Mentor Network trains each mentor, covering safeguarding issues and teaching mentors how best to work with their mentees. As Adam rightfully said, it isn’t about a parent-child relationship full of orders and instructions, it’s about giving advice and learning more about your mentee so you can give them the best help possible.

If you’re interested in becoming a mentor, or a mentee, with the Creative Mentor Network, you can get in touch through their website.

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

The Fawcett Society. This is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. Support them here.

The Diversity Trust CIC. This Community Interest Company, established in 2012 in the UK, has a mission to ‘influence social change to create a fairer and safer society’. Learn more here.

Equally Ours. This s a UK charity that brings together people and organisations working across equality, human rights and social justice to make a reality of these in everyone’s lives. Find out more here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Reduced Inequalities.


This charity has an important message about HIV

HIV has long had stigma attached. In the ’80s, when the illness was most prevalent, much of the population assumed something as innocuous as sharing a cup or touching someone with HIV could cause you to become infected.

In truth, HIV is an STI – meaning the only way to spread the infection is through anal, oral or vaginal sex, breast milk or through shared needles or other drug injection equipment. 

Unfortunately, the stigma of the ’80s that so devastated those with HIV – particularly in the LGBTQ+ community – is still rife, and many people simply don’t understand how HIV works or how it is treated.

“Public awareness about the virus hasn’t quite caught up with the medical advancements – of which there have been many over the years,” explains Damian John, a representative of Wandsworth Oasis, a charity that helps to raise money and awareness to help those living with HIV in South London. “The fact that people on effective treatment can’t pass it on is one of the key messages that we try and get across in our shops.”

“That being said, HIV still remains a really important health challenge and anyone is at risk of catching HIV if they’re having unprotected sex or using and sharing needles.”

Wandsworth Oasis supports the HIV community in myriad different ways, principally through their nine charity shops across London. Here, they sell all sorts of donated clothing, bric-a-brac and furniture – even taking donations from companies – like the donation given by SmileyⓇ, the sponsor of Smiley News. Plus, they even have free HIV testing in-store, if you time it right.

“All of our shops give away free condoms,” adds Damian. Condoms, and other forms of making sex safer like dental dams, are a really important way of helping to prevent the spread of HIV. “I think in five years, we’ve given away something like 50,000 free condoms just across nine shops in London.”

“In the cost of living crisis that we’re experiencing now, people have to choose whether to buy condoms or food. It’s great that we’re able to offer that service and provide them [for] free.”

Wandsworth Oasis also helps signpost people to places where they can get medical assistance – or PReP and PEP, to those in the know. For those who aren’t – here’s a quick explainer:

PReP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis – it’s a treatment you take before being exposed to HIV, to help prevent infection. PReP is recommended for those who have an HIV positive partner, might share needles, or who regularly have sex without using a condom.

PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis – a treatment you take when you think, or know, you have been exposed to HIV. Think of it like the morning after pill, but instead of helping to prevent pregnancy, it helps to prevent HIV.

Wandsworth Oasis has so many initiatives to support people – whether they have just been diagnosed with HIV, or whether they have been living with it for a long time. 

One of the initiatives they are most proud of is the Re:Assure Women’s Project that Wandsworth Oasis helps to fund, through the charity Positive East. Contrary to popular belief, HIV isn’t an illness that’s unique to the gay community, but something that can affect anyone of any sexuality.

The Re:Assure project is a specialist programme for HIV positive female refugees and asylum seekers and domestic violence survivors. The programme helps these women to overcome traumatic experiences, including trauma around their HIV status, using therapy.

“That’s our biggie that we’re really really proud of, because it’s really niche,” explains Damian. “It’s one of those things that you wouldn’t think is problem … [but] without us giving the funds to Positive East, they wouldn’t be able to signpost these women to the medical treatment that they need [for women] that will find themselves in a situation that they never dreamed of.”

HIV can make some of society’s most vulnerable people even more so. This means that reaching out to refugees diagnosed with HIV and helping them navigate the medical care needed to manage HIV, is incredibly important work.

If you want to support Wandsworth Oasis and any of the amazing initiatives that they fund, you can do so by dropping off a donation to any of their nine London stores, or by getting in contact on their website.

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Terrence Higgins Trust. The UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity that supports people living with HIV. Learn more here.

National Aids Trust. This is the UK’s HIV rights charity, working to stop HIV from standing in the way of health, dignity and equality, and to end new HIV transmissions. Support them here.

Wandsworth Oasis. This is a local charity raising money for people living with HIV, largely through its nine charity shops in and around the borough. Find out more here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


The woman on a mission to share untold history

The whitewashing of history in American schools is an ongoing issue. Whether it involves teaching about colonial figures such as Christopher Columbus, the existence of queer people or racial violence, American public schools rarely give pupils the full picture.

Today institutions around the US are beginning to ban books, exacerbating the problem. The American Library Association documented more than 2,500 attempted book bans in 2022 – the highest number since the ALA began tracking censorship data more than 20 years ago. 

This is something the educational organization, The Radical Agenda, is working to address.

“Our ‘radical agenda’ is the belief that all aspects of American history need to be included in education. Our mission is to let every child see that there are heroes in our country’s history who looked like them and loved like they do,” they state. 

“Knowledge inspires empathy. Empathy creates unity.”

It all started when Critical Race Theory (CRT) became a heated topic in school board meetings. At the time, The Radical Agenda founder Amanda Spencer was astounded that school staff were so vehemently against teaching about racial equality. As she watched people fighting to remove Black history from the US curriculum she decided to take action.

“I like puns, and I just kind of offhandedly mentioned, ‘Guys I’m gonna make a planner called the Radical Agenda and it’s just gonna have American history facts scattered throughout and that’s how I’m gonna help educate the world,” Amanda tells Smiley News. “I was just kind of laughing about it and then I sat back and thought, ‘Actually, that sounds like a really fun idea.’”

Today The Radical Agenda offers much more than the original planner Amanda created. The website has expanded to cover queer history, book reviews and the biographies of historical figures. 

Amanda is full of enthusiasm as she speaks about the project.

“I have just this whole list of things and people and ideas and notes on my phone of just all the different topics,” she says. “Part of the planner is every month I have a monthly learning moment and a short essay on a first thing or a topic or an event in history that needs more background.”

Right now, Amanda works as a nurse but plans to eventually make The Radical Agenda her full-time job.

“I would love to be able to work for myself just doing all this resource work,” Amanda says. “I want to be able to do some vlogs as I take my kids to Washington DC and Birmingham, Alabama, to see all of these places and these things, tell the history, bring it to life for people and make them excited to learn the things that have been hidden from them.”

All of this is so important to Amanda because the history was hidden from her as she grew up. She hopes to prevent that happening to anyone else, opening up access to resources and education.

“It’s a pattern in history and we need to look at these patterns and we need to see what’s going on inside of it so that we can make change,” she says.

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

GLAAD. GLAAD is a massive LGBTQ+ advocacy group that helps fight for queer people across the US. Consider donating

Lambda Legal. This organization helps fight in the courtroom for queer people. Find out more.

The Trevor Project. They focus on suicide prevention and mental health support for queer youth. Support them here

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partners of the Goals.