A man built a garden in Harlem and the children in the neighborhood bloomed

Tony Hillery was living the high life, running a limousine company and wearing Prada suits, when the financial crisis of 2008 hit. He lost his business and lines of credit and felt like he was too old to start over.

He kept reading about underfunded schools with no art, gym, or music—a sharp contrast to the private schools his kids had attended. So one day, he decided to take the subway to Harlem to see what he could do.

"I couldn't have been more arrogant," Hillery told Humans of New York. "I walked through the doors of the first elementary school I could find, asked for the principal, and said: 'I'm here to try to break the cycle of poverty.' She assigned me to the lunchroom, and that's where I started volunteering five days a week."

Hillery talked to the kids at lunch and they gravitated toward him. They called him "Mr. Tony" and treated him like Santa Claus. Their goofiness reminded him of his own kids.

"So when I learned that almost half of them were living in homeless shelters, that shit drove me crazy," he said. "It tore me up. I was looking for some way to help—anything."


He spotted an abandoned community garden across the street—the kids called it the 'haunted garden'—and decided to clean it up. He got the paperwork processed through the Parks Department and spent six weeks hauling out all the junk. He had no idea what he was going to do with the space other than clean it up.

"Then one morning a little girl tugged on my shoulder. A tiny little thing with glasses so big," he said. "Her name was Nevaeh. 'Heaven' spelled backwards. And she said: 'Mr. Tony, why don't we plant something?'"


Hillery didn't know anything about gardening, but a Google search showed him that it was hard to mess up growing herbs. So he got a dump truck of organic soil, some clearance herbs at Home Depot, and invited Nevaeh's kindergarten class to come and plant the first seedlings.

"There wasn't much structure in the beginning," he said. "A lot of times I'd just sit around with the kids and look at clouds. But over time the garden became a sort of outdoor science classroom. All of us were learning together. If something died, we'd just try a new spot. We learned about worms, and ladybugs, and praying mantises. Then we learned about food systems. I couldn't help but notice the diets of these kids: all sugar and processed food. Some of them couldn't name a single vegetable. But how could you blame them? There are 55 fast food restaurants in this community, but not a single supermarket."

Hillery and the kids started growing vegetables, and a handful of kids got really involved and invested in the garden, including Nevaeh. She came to everything Hillery planned—camps, nature walks—and though she was quiet and reserved at first, she started taking ownership of the garden.

"Those became her plants, not mine," he said. "Whenever volunteers came to help with composting-- Nevaeh would take the lead. And if you were doing it wrong, she'd grab that rake right out of your hands." That was 10 years ago. Since then, Hillery has expanded from one garden to 12 urban farms throughout Harlem and created an entire youth-oriented growing organization called Harlem Grown. Kids throughout the community help plant and tend the crops, learning science and agricultural lessons with hands-on experience. Since it started, Harlem Grown has given 6,000 pounds of organic produce to the community for free. Even Nevaeh's mom has gotten involved, serving as the Agricultural Director of the farms.

But Hillery explained to Humans of New York that the point of Harlem Grown is not just to grow food, but to grow healthy children.

"When you sit in this garden on a summer day—you hear things. There are fourteen homeless shelters within a four-block radius. So when it's hot outside, and the windows are open, you can hear the stress of poverty. Sometimes mothers will yell at these kids like they're grown men. They'll call them names. They'll tell them: 'you can't,' and 'you won't.' And after awhile the kids start to believe it.

When they first come into this garden— they're so freakin' happy. Especially the really young ones. But at the end of the day, they'll say: 'I'm going home.' And home means shelter. It's an epidemic, man. 115,000 kids in this city are living in shelters. It's a freakin' epidemic. But it's invisible. You'd never know these kids are homeless, because they're so happy.

But something happens around 9, 10, 11. I see it all the time. Those eyes dim, man. It's just life. There's too much stress around here. And they grow up fast. They lose that light. I just want to slow it down, that's all. I want them to have a safe place where they can just be them. That's all any of us want, right? To slow it all down so we can find out who we are?"

Hillery said he arrogantly went to Harlem thinking he had the answers, that he was going to fix kids. But in the past ten years, he's learned that they didn't need to be fixed or to become like him—they needed to stay like their young and happy selves. He was 52 pounds heavier and depressed before Harlem Grown, living a life that was all about things and money. The kids have taught him he was doing it all wrong.

And Neveah? She's sixteen now and an honor roll student.

"Recently she had a C in math," Hillery told Humans of New York, "so I said: 'Let's find you a private tutor, I'll pay for it.' But she wouldn't let me. She grabbed the rake out of my hand. She said: 'No Mr. Tony, I got this myself.' And she got a 93 on that final.

She was the tiniest little thing when I met her. With glasses so big. But even back then she had everything she needed. It just required a little protection. And a little time. She just needed some space to grow."

Well done, Mr. Tony, tending to the hearts and minds of the children of Harlem and helping them bloom.

Hear more from Hillery about Harlem Grown here:

Harlem Grown www.youtube.com

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.

What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

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.

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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.

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.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel.

A stranger knocked on the door of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday morning shortly before Shabbat service. It was 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, so Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, 46, made him a cup of tea. The rabbi and Malik Faisal Akram, 44, a British national, spoke for a few moments and then the rabbi went on to perform his regular 10 a.m. Shabbat prayers for his congregation.

When the rabbi turned his back to face Jerusalem, he heard a click come from the stranger. "And it turned out, that it was his gun," Cytron-Walker told CBS News.

Akram began screaming and a congregant, Jeffrey Cohen, the vice president of the synagogue's board of trustees, quickly pulled out his phone and dialed 911. A livestream broadcasting the prayer ceremony to congregants participating from home caught some of what Akram was shouting. "I'm gunned up. I'm ammo-ed up," he told someone he called nephew. "Guess what, I will die."

The FBI got word of the 911 call and quickly set up a perimeter around the synagogue. Akram took four people hostage, including the rabbi.

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The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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