'Darth Vader Girl' is the most heartwarming hospital story you'll see today.

A long 12 years ago, in a Los Angeles far, far away ... Noah Bella Michaelis was born with a congenital heart defect.

She was diagnosed with a combination of heterotaxy syndrome, dextrocardia, and a single-ventricle defect — meaning, among other things, that her heart formed on the opposite side of her body.

She's also a huge fan of "Star Wars," although the verdict's still out on whether that's a congenital condition or something that developed over time.


Noah with her parents, who are totally dressed as Han Solo and Princess Leia.

In her short life so far, Noah has already undergone four open-heart surgeries, and numerous lengthy hospital stays.

In "Star Wars" terms, that's kind of like battling your best friend on the lava planet of Mustafar, but with less dramatic posturing and more endless bouts of hospital-induced boredom interspersed with moments of fear and relief.

Noah passes her recovery time in the hospital with homework, marathons of Minecraft and Settlers of Catan, and working with her parents on her lemonade stand and backyard festival fundraisers that have helped to raise more than $60,000 so far for the Hopeful Hearts Foundation.

GIF from "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith."

But after too much time spent in hospitals, even a resilient kid like Noah needs an extra-special pick-me-up.

Fortunately, there are organizations like the For the Win Project that offer fantastical surprises and superheroic opportunities for kids like Noah who are stuck in the children's ward for weeks or months at a time.

When a nurse asked Noah who her favorite superhero was — not-so-inconspicuously-inquiring because of an upcoming kind of special visit — Noah offered a rather unconventional answer: Darth Vader.

Yep. Noah's favorite superhero is ... this guy:

GIF from "Star Wars IV: A New Hope."

OK, so maybe the Jedi-turned-Dark-Lord-of-the-Sith isn't exactly the first role model that comes to mind.

For most of us, the iconic image of Darth Vader emerging from the smoke for his first on-screen appearance is, erm, well, not something we usually associate with "happy thoughts."

When you think about it, though, Noah's affinity for Vader makes a lot of sense.

"I always found Darth Vader to be such a strong character," Noah says. "I'm short for my age, and I liked that he was really tall and so it made me feel tall."

Granted, Noah probably doesn't relate to the immaculate-Force-conception or the Tusken Raider attacks or the terrible tinny dialogue about sand, but still.

Like Noah, Vader has lived through plenty of physical hardships. He endured immense physical pain and had to rely on technology to save his failing body, just like she has, and he still managed to become the second-most-powerful person in the galaxy.

And, oh yeah, let's not forget that time he redeemed himself by overthrowing the Emperor and restoring balance to The Force. That was cool too.

"Being Darth Vader kind of helped me step away from being in the hospital," Noah says.

For The Win Project arranged a special "Star Wars"-themed celebration for Noah at her favorite restaurant , complete with stormtroopers and a "Darth Noah" photoshoot. They even surprised her with messages from some special celebrity guests, which made her smile brighter than the twin suns of Vader's home planet of Tatooine. Somehow. It's even more delightful than it sounds.

Sure, the photoshoot and celebrity messages aren't a cure. But for one day, Darth Noah got to revel in the stoic, black-caped confidence of her hero.

And sometimes that's all you need to keep going.

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
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With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

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Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

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Racist jokes are one of the more frustrating manifestations of racism. Jokes in general are meant to be a shared experience, a connection over a mutual sense of humor, a rush of feel-good chemicals that bond us to those around us through laughter.

So when you mix jokes with racism, the result is that racism becomes something light and fun, as opposed to the horrendous bane that it really is.

The harm done with racist humor isn't just the emotional hurt they can cause. When a group of white people shares jokes at the expense of a marginalized or oppressed racial group, the power of white supremacy is actually reinforced—not only because of the "punching down" nature of such humor, but because of the group dynamics that work in favor of maintaining the status quo.

British author and motivational speaker Paul Scanlon shared a story about interrupting a racist joke at a table of white people at an event in the U.S, and the lessons he drew from it illustrate this idea beautifully. Watch:

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With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

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