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Megan Leavey

Less than a month after the birth of his first daughter, U.S. Air Force Sgt. Adam Wylie was shipped back overseas.

It was 2012, and Wylie was sent on a two-year tour of duty to Osan Air Base in South Korea while his wife stayed in the States to raise their newborn, Chloe.

Most service members are aware they could be separated from their family for a time. But that doesn't make it easier when it actually happens — especially not when the assignment comes at such a crucial time.


Fortunately, Wylie made a friend in South Korea who helped to ease the transition: a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois named Emra.

Wiley and Emra in South Korea. Image via WCPO-9/YouTube.

"Emra was one of the first individuals I came into contact with," Wylie told Cincinnati.com.

She was assigned to help Wylie on patrol duty around the base. But he relied on her for more than just tactical support during the arduous 12-hour shifts they shared together. "I see Emra as a person," he said. "(We have) a deep emotional bond that can’t be touched."

"She was also the one I looked to for emotional support with my family being so far away."

Wylie and Emra grew closer and closer as they staked out listening posts to fend off enemy incursions from the North. They were also responsible for conducting security sweeps for important U.S. officials.

Image via WCPO-9/YouTube.

One of Wylie's fondest memories of their time together was during a visit from Vice President Joe Biden.

After sniffing around the motorcade, Emra leaped into the front seat of Biden's vehicle and couldn't stop hitting the car horn. "Some of the agents were a little upset," he recalled with a laugh. "But at the same time they knew, it's still an animal; they're going to do whatever they want."

Then after two years, Wylie was transferred back to the U.S.

The bright side was that he was reunited with his family. But it also unfortunately meant leaving Emra behind in South Korea.

This was standard protocol and something Wiley had expected; as a service dog, Emra's duty was to the base and not to one person. But that didn't make the separation any easier. "She was one of the longest working relationships I had," Wiley said.

His family had the chance to meet his canine companion during a visit to South Korea, and they were able to see firsthand how strong the bond was between Wylie and Emra. They were able to watch the pair train together, and they even got to play with her and feed her when she wasn't working.

Sgt. Wylie in 2017. Image via WCPO-9/YouTube.

Three years passed, and both Emra and Wylie were ready to retire from the service.

After 12 years with the Air Force, Wylie was looking forward to leaving active duty behind to pursue a new career as a K-9 handler and security specialist for the U.S. State Department.

As for Emra, she was getting up there in dog years. While she continued working hard to keep the Osan Air Base secure, she was also struggling with early signs of arthritis. Soon enough, it was time for her to retire from the service.

Image via WCPO-9/YouTube.

But thanks to American Humane, Emra and Wylie will live out their twilight years together.

As part of their partnership with Crown Media Family Networks, American Humane helps to cover the costs and efforts required to bring retired service dogs back to the U.S. and place them in new homes. And that's exactly what they did for Emra and Sgt. Wylie.

The two shared a heartfelt reunion in April 2017 near the Wylie family's home outside of Cincinnati. At first, Wylie was concerned that Emra wouldn't recognize him — after all, they'd been separated for three years at that point, which was longer than the two they'd been together.

His fears subsided as soon as they saw each other. "She looked right at me, nuzzled into my neck, and licked my face. She had not forgotten the long shifts together posted out in the middle of nowhere or the endless hours training together."

Image via WCPO-9/YouTube.

"Our reunification was more than just two battle buddies catching up on 'old times,'" Wylie said, choking back tears. "A part of my family was brought back to me."

After nearly a decade of service, Emra will spend the rest of her life frolicking in the woods of the Wylie family farm; she certainly deserves it. She already has a new playmate in the form of Wylie's father's Jack Russell terrier, and she only has to answer to 4-year-old Chloe.

The first command that Chloe gave to welcome Emra home? "I'm going to play with her."

We've all heard the saying that dogs are man's best friend. But they can be more than that: They can be family, too.

Wylie is hardly the only service member to experience this kind of primal connection with a military dog. There's something about the high stakes of duty that make the bond even more powerful. You can see it in the story of Cpl. Megan Leavey, who was inspired to enlist after the death of her human best friend and found a new companion in a dog named Sgt. Rex. Over the years, Megan and Rex saved each others' lives in many different ways.

That sense of loyalty and obligation transcends language. That's why Emra still recognized Wylie after three years apart. It wasn't just his face or scent she remembered — it's a shared understanding that's thicker than blood, the kind that only family can provide.

lop;For another moving story about a member of the military and their K-9 partner, watch Megan Leavey, in theaters everywhere June 9. View the trailer here.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

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Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

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AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Here at Upworthy, we cherish our loved ones and although Valentine's is not all about gifts, if you are looking to buy a special gift for a special someone, then you came to the right place! We have curated a list of our personal favorites from our store, Upworthy Market, where you can feel good about your shopping because every dollar you spend directly supports local artisans who craft their own products. In this gift guide, you'll find all products have special thought, hand-made with love and they are all under $30 to help you stay within a budget.


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