He was young and homeless. The Ali Forney Center gave him⁠—and other LGBTQ youth⁠—hope.
Capital One
True
Capital One

In 2015, Skye Adrian became homeless. 19-years-old, gay and a recent New York City immigrant, he had no one to count on for support.

Skye AdrianCapital One

Until four years ago, Skye lived on the Caribbean island nation of Jamaica, which began to feel less and less safe for him due to the anti-LGBTQ laws that govern the country. Being a gay man in Jamaica is criminalized and can carry a jail sentence. For Skye, that was no way to live.

"I was tired of trying to be who I wasn't," he says. "I was tired of trying to change myself. I was tired of having to always watch my back just because of how I am—how I walk, how I talk, how I dress."

So Skye moved to New York City. He'd expected to live with family, but that quickly became a challenging situation. When he found himself homeless, he didn't want to go to a shelter because of the stigmas and stereotypes associated with living in one. Skye tried couch-surfing with a friend, but that arrangement became impossible quickly.

"Maybe a week or two of staying with my friend, he texted me that if I don't have sex with him or his friend, then I wouldn't be able to stay there," Skye says.

Unfortunately, this type of exploitation isn't uncommon. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, LGBTQ homeless youth are more likely than their straight counterparts to be forced to exchange sex for a place to sleep. More than 58% of homeless LGBTQ youth have been sexually victimized.

Skye knew he had to get out of his situation, but his worries about a shelter weren't unfounded. Many homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ have been mistreated at traditional homeless shelters—especially if those shelters are primarily geared towards adults.

Skye needed help, and the Ali Forney Center (AFC) was there for him.

The Ali Forney CenterCapital One

AFC is a different type of shelter system. Founded in 2002 in memory of a homeless gender non-conforming youth who sought justice for his peers, AFC was created to keep LGBTQ kids on the street safe, give them the tools they needed to thrive, and provide medical, psychological, and case management services. It's now the largest organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless LGBTQ youth.

"The idea was to open a shelter that was LGBTQ supportive," says Alex Roque, AFC's Director of Development. "We opened in the basement of a church with six cots. Our first night, we had 20 young people waiting for those six beds, and within a very short period of time, it became 100 young people waiting for those six beds. Within about six months we'd seen about 1,000 young people trying to get into those six beds."

Today, AFC has 19 locations throughout New York City. It helps more than 1,400 teens a year, and operates a drop-in shelter that's open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year that serves as a point of entry for any LGBTQ youth looking for support. For teens that don't have a safe place to sleep, the center isn't just a beacon—it's a lifesaver.

"LGBTQ young people are eight times more likely to be homeless than non-LGBTQ young people," Roque says. "Once homeless, LGBTQ youth are also eight times more likely to experience violence in the streets. They are also more likely to experience substance abuse and HIV infection as well as suicidal ideation."

When Skye came in for an intake interview at AFC, his fears lessened.

The Ali Forney CenterCapital One

From his first moments at AFC in Harlem, he knew he would be taken care of. He was immediately put at ease by AFC's commitment to justice for LGBTQ youth, and the services he was offered quickly made him feel safer than he had felt in a long time. "It was a beautiful experience," he says.

During his first visit, Skye was connected to a case manager who assessed his needs. His case manager also worked with Skye to help him find housing, legal aid, and work. There was also a medical clinic on-site, so Skye knew exactly where he could go if he needed to see a doctor or speak to a counselor about his mental health.

When Skye needed support concerning his rights as an immigrant, AFC had a representative from the Urban Justice Center come in to help. And through his involvement with AFC's Learning, Employment, Advancement, and Placement program (LEAP), Skye gained valuable job and networking skills, all while being paid for his participation.

"One of the major issues for an immigrant is a consistent or steady source of income," Skye says. "That's not necessarily a reality for most immigrants. The center made that a reality for me."

AFC's partnership with Capital One is helping create that reality for more and more of its clients.

An event at The Ali Forney CenterCapital One

LEAP is made possible through AFC's work with several state agencies and Capital One's Future Edge initiative, which bridges the gaps between underserved communities and technology—helping people master the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century economy. The LEAP program, Alex Roque says, is perhaps AFC's most concrete response to homelessness.

He adds: "A lot of the work that we do is stabilizing, helping to heal, addressing trauma, addressing substance abuse; but no other program that we offer is really focusing directly on building skills towards [helping clients gain] the independence they would like for themselves."

Capital One provides financial support for LEAP and their associates volunteer directly with AFC clients. "The Capital One partnership specifically supports the financial literacy, financial mobility, financial engagement and financial development of our young people," Roque says.

"The program includes helping our young people understand what opening a bank account means, helping young people understand what budgeting means, and what establishing credit means and why it's important."

These are things that a parent or other caregiver might teach a child. For the clients who may not have any connection to their parents or the community they left behind, AFC takes on that responsibility.

"It goes beyond a company or a corporate identity, it's representing humanity in a very human way," Roque says. "Volunteers from all walks of life connect with our young people, talk to our young people, are part of their lives, and don't want anything from them except to help them succeed."

For Skye, the support he received has been life-changing. Now 23, he's devoting his career to ensuring that future generations of LGBTQ youth don't have to fight for help the way that he did.

Skye Adrian and Alex RoqueCapital One

Today, Skye is a policy consultant with New York City's Youth Action Board, a position he was appointed to based on the advocacy work he began at AFC. This position has allowed him to speak about his experience as a homeless youth, fight for the rights of his peers, and work on creating policies that will alleviate the strife that homeless youth face.

This year, Skye has also started his training in aircraft operations. It's something he says would never have been possible if he hadn't worked with AFC.

As he looks toward his future, he's committed to making the world a safer place for all LGBTQ youth, especially those who are experiencing homelessness.

"Homelessness doesn't define someone's capability," Skye says.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

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.

Your weekly roundup of internet sunshine.

Hey everyone! Hope you're staying safe and healthy, and if you're not, at least you know you're not alone. I mean, omicron? Phew. Pandemics certainly know how to keep us on our toes.

If you need a respite or distraction from all that, we've got you covered. If immersing yourself in cute animal videos and feel-good stories of human awesomeness is wrong, who wants to be right? Nobody, that's who.

We all need a break from the less pleasant parts of life, and cheering ourselves up with simple, happy things is a tried and true way to push those endorphins and lift our mood for a bit.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

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.

The scarf, a simple accessory that some find an essential fashion piece. Both fashionable and function with the warmth they provide, scarves can be a valuable gift for any occasion or person. Here, we've selected our best selling scarves from our store. At Upworthy Market, when you purchase a product, you directly support the artisans who craft their own products, so with every purchase, you're doing good. These scarves are not only unique, but they are hand-made by local artisans and all under $30.

1. Fair Trade Woven Dark Gray Alpaca Blend Scarf

Celinda Jaco selects a cozy blend of Andean alpaca for this handsome men's scarf. Classic in style, it features fine stripes of white and black woven through the dark grey textile. Hand-tied fringe completes a distinguished design.

cdn11.bigcommerce.com

Keep Reading Show less

"What Do You Know About The Female Body?" from Jimmy Kimmel

When Jimmy Kimmel takes to the street, you know you’re in for a good laugh at just how little we actually know about, well, seemingly anything. That goes for anatomy too. In this case, female anatomy.

In a segment called “What Do You Know About The Female Body?” men try—and hilariously fail—to answer even the most basic questions, like “does a female have one uterus, or two?” much to the amazement of some of their female partners.

Here are some of the very best bits of nonwisdom:

Keep Reading Show less