"A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." — Christopher Reeve
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.
We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.
I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.
Not that it should matter, of course. But we're talking about people living in a society obsessed with personal appearance. It's going to matter to a lot of people, and if they get the wrong impression of their face, some people will go to all sorts of lengths to change it. That's why understanding a bit about how focal lengths on cameras can impact what we see in photographs is vital.
Writer Evey Winters shared some of that education in a post on Facebook. She writes about this topic through a trans and dysmorphia lens, but it applies to everyone.
Winters points out that if someone is thinking of doing surgery to change their bodies, they should seek sources outside of themselves and a cellphone camera.
"I have dysmorphia and recognize that in myself," she wrote, "but even if I didn’t, there’s not a selfie I’ve ever taken that would accurately help me make choices about my face. Mirrors are slightly better only for their minimal distortions."
"If you want the best chance at getting good feedback pre-op about what you might want to change," she added, "I’d recommend a skilled photographer take a series of photos of you at different focal lengths and even then none of these will be entirely accurate as none of these employ humans binocular vision and filtering."
Winters shared a collage of photos of the same girl's face at different focal lengths to show the significant difference it makes. "Notice how in different photos this child’s eyes may appear to be slightly hooded," she wrote. "The nose appears enlarged disproportionately. Hairline seems to shift with every snap. So does jaw shape, face shape, and even the width and size of the ears."
The difference between each of these photos is significant, but the difference between the first and the last is stunning. Cellphone selfie cameras usually have an even smaller focal length than the 40 mm shown here (Winters points out that the iPhone 13 Pro Max selfie camera has the equivalent of a 23 mm focal length), so they distort facial features even more. It also depends on how far away from the camera you are—the closer you are, the more distortion you'll see. Lighting matters, too, but even the best lighting can't cancel out what the focal length is doing.
Vox shared a video specifically about the "big nose" phenomenon with selfies, showing how drastic the distortion can be.
As a parent of two teens and a young adult, I find these photos to be fantastic tools for teaching my kids not to put too much stock in what they see in a selfie. Far too many people are increasingly seeking out plastic surgery to change a nose or a forehead or a jawline that doesn't even really exist. Imagine looking in a funhouse mirror and thinking you need to do something to change how you look. Selfie cameras are basically mini funhouse mirrors. Smartphones and apps are getting better at making filters that adjust for those distortions, but none of us should be relying on selfies of any kind to see what we really look like, much less taking major measures to alter our appearance based on what we see in them.
Even if you have some physical feature you simply can't accept and want to change, make sure you get a skilled photographer to give you the most accurate picture of what it actually looks like. As Winters concluded at the end of her post: "Make sure you’re not reshaping your body for a you that only exists in selfie cams."
Thank you for the reminder, Ms. Winters.
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.
2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.
James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.
Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be
3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.
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.
4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.
Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.
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.
This article originally appeared on 11.30.16
He had just learned it at school, her son explained as they sat around the dinner table one night. It was the idea that "an object at rest will remain at rest until acted on by an external force."
"It struck me that it sounded an awful lot like him and his video games," she joked.
"Newton's First Law of Parenting: A child at rest will remain at rest ... until you need your iPad back."
And just like that, she started creating "The Science of Parenthood," a series that names and identifies hilarious, universal parenting struggles. She put in a quick call to her friend Jessica Ziegler, a visual and graphics expert, and together the two set out to bring the project to life.
Here are some of their discoveries:
Norine said almost every parent who sees the cartoons has a similar reaction: a quiet moment of recognition, followed by a huge laugh as they recognize their own families in the illustrations.
But is there more to it than just getting a few chuckles? You bet, Norine and Jessica said.
"Even, at the worst possible moments, you're standing there, your child has just vomited all over you, or you've opened up the diaper and your kid is sitting waist deep in liquid ****. Even at that moment, it's not really that bad," Norine said. "You will be able to laugh at this at some point."
"It gets better. You're not alone in this parenting thing."
This article originally appeared on 11.30.16
As a university student in the 1970s, he found the talk of economics and statistics completely mind-numbing. So instead, he says, he roamed the streets of his hometown of Peterborough, England, with a camera in hand, snapping pictures of the people he met and listening to their stories. To him, it was a far better way to understand the world.
All photos by Chris Porsz/REX/Shutterstock.
He always looked for the most eccentric people he could find, anyone who stood out from the crowd. Sometimes he'd snap a single picture of that person and walk away. Other times he'd have lengthy conversations with these strangers.
But eventually, life moved on and so did he. He fell out of love with photography. "Those pictures collected dust for 25 years," he says.
And remarkably, people started recognizing much younger versions of themselves in his shots. "There was this lightbulb moment," he says of the first time someone wrote to him about one of his photos.
Eventually, he became curious about the people he'd photographed all those years ago, and he decided he'd try to find some of them. It wouldn't be easy — the photos were taken a long time ago, and Porsz didn't have names or contact information for many of the people in them.
But he did find some of them, sometimes in extraordinary ways. "Some were absolute million-to-one coincidences," he says.
Like the time he went out on a call (he's a parademic these days) at 3 a.m., and the man he was there to treat recognized him as the photographer who'd snapped his picture all those years ago. On another call, he asked a local shopkeeper if he recognized any of the subjects in the photos. He did.
Once Porsz began posting about the project online — he calls it "Reunions" — it became easier and easier to reconnect with his former subjects.
In all, Porsz has collected over 130 before-and-afters in his new book.
He's personally heard from people all over the world who've been inspired by his project and want to try to recreate it themselves. But beyond that, he just hopes it brings a little warmth and happiness to the people who see it.
"It's important for me for my photography to make people smile," he says. "Because there is so much sadness in the world."
And while the project is finished for now, don't count out the possibility of "Reunions Part 2" somewhere down the line.
"I'd love to meet these guys in 2046 when I'm 94 years old," Porsz says.