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 are completely left out of the dating picture."
This article originally appeared on 07.22.15
"So just recently I went out on a Match.com date, and it was fantastic," begins Dr. Danielle Sheypuk in her TEDx Talk.
If you've ever been on a bunch of Match.com dates, that opening line might make you do a double take. How does one get so lucky?!Not Dr. Sheypuck's actual date.
Not Dr. Sheypuck's actual date. Photo by Thinkstock.
But don't get too jealous. Things quickly went downhill two dates later, as most Match.com dates ultimately do. This time, however, the reason may not be something that you've ever experienced. Intrigued? I was too. So here's the story.Gorgeous!
Gorgeous! Photo from Dr. Sheypuk's Instagram account, used with permission.
On their third date over a romantic Italian dinner, Sheypuk noticed that he was sitting farther away from her than usual. And then, out of nowhere, he began to ask the following questions:
"I've been thinking, how are you gonna be a mother? How are you gonna do the duties that's gonna be required of you? And even as wife — how ... I'm not sure how this is gonna work."
Used to this line of inquiry, she had the perfect quippy reply: "Well that's simple: I'm just gonna hire someone like every other New Yorker."
But despite her witty answer, he'd already made up his mind. She never heard from him again.
"I tried to convince myself that this was like any other relationship, but deep down I knew the reality. Who wants to date someone in a wheelchair?"
Dr. Sheypuk knows that that single question is evidence of a really serious problem —not just on the dating scene, but in society in general.
Society has factored out an entire group of potential romantic partners: people with disabilities.
Photo courtesy of Danielle Sheypuk.
In her words:
"We are completely left out of the dating picture. Society, media included, seems to ignore the fact that we have the same emotional needs and desires as everyone else. Is this injustice born out of the concept of the poster child and his or her duty to induce pity to raise money?
Or maybe it's a conclusion drawn form mainstream porn where we have actors performing, like, gymnastic stunts with the stamina that none of us have of bucking broncos and jackrabbits."
Um, yes. So much yes. She continues:
"The silent message: The more in shape your body, the better the sex. The unspoken conclusion: If you have a disability, you are too sick to have sex.
The silent message: The more in shape your body, the better the sex. The unspoken conclusion: If you have a disability, you are too sick to have sex.
"Now let's look at the continuum in our society where sexual is measured. On the one hand, we have humans that are the ultimate sex appeal object. So on that end, we have Victoria Secret models, Playboy centerfolds, people like that.
On the complete opposite end, we have people with physical disabilities. And it seems like the more we deviate from this ultimate sex icon, the more desexualized we become, the more taboo the topic, and the more damaging the consequences.
Now, for most people there are quick fixes, right? We have Hair Club for Men, Botox, Spanx, butt implants. But for people with disabilities, there are no quick fixes. There is no magic pill."
"And we are hit hard."
Watch the rest of Dr. Sheypuk's talk to hear her important insights about what dating and relationships are like when a person has a disability — and how much of society is limiting itself.
She talks about a guy on Tinder who asked her if she was capable of having sex (her answer is funny), why people with disabilities can have sexual experiences that are even better than those of able-bodied folks, and more.
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 November 5, 2013
When I saw these incredible photos Angelo Merendino took of his wife, Jennifer, as she battled breast cancer, I felt that I shouldn't be seeing this snapshot of their intimate, private lives.
The photos humanize the face of cancer and capture the difficulty, fear, and pain that they experienced during the difficult time.
But as Angelo commented: "These photographs do not define us, but they are us."
Um ... where did all the seeds go?
This article originally appeared on August 14, 2016
Time travel back to 1905.
Back in 1905, a book called "The Apples of New York" was published by the New York State Department of Agriculture. It featured hundreds of apple varieties of all shapes, colors, and sizes, including Thomas Jefferson's personal favorite, the Esopus Spitzenburg.
That was 110 years ago, when commercial apple orchards were still pretty rare and when even in the biggest of those orchards, everything was done by hand.
1905, image of an apple orchard in Oregon
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But why is that apple book such a big deal? The book is significant because most of the apples listed in it have all but disappeared in the past century. DISAPPEARED. In fact, we used to have thousands of apple varieties, but most of those have largely vanished due to industrial agriculture. Now, many varieties are only found tucked away in agricultural research centers and preservationist orchards.
Fact: Today, the 15 most popular apple varieties account for 90% of all apple sales in the U.S. The most commonly sold apple? Red delicious.
2015 looks so different.
The fate of all those apple varieties is not uncommon. "In the last century, nearly 75% of our agricultural crops have disappeared. They're simply gone. Today, farmers primarily grow 12 crops. And of these, we mainly eat potatoes, rice, corn, and wheat."
So what gives? Why the huge shift? In part, the shift has a lot to do with seed regulation. Back in the day, farmers would save seeds from year to year and share them with friends and neighbors. But nowadays, most seed production is controlled by big companies — and those companies patent their seeds, prohibiting things like seed saving or sharing.
So what do we do now?
Not all hope is lost (yay!). It may be an uphill battle, but there are lots of small farmers working to preserve the freedom to freely share and use seeds. People store thousands of seeds from all around the world in buildings called seed banks, and trade with other farmers at seed swaps.
"They're preserving culture and biodiversity, one seed, one plant, and one person at a time." How 'bout them apples? (No, really, I bet those antique apples they're swappin' are ridiculously tasty.)