Heroes

Her dad thought her clean energy idea was just a 'kid's project.' He was wrong.

Cassandra is fighting climate change, and she's bringing her whole town with her.

Her dad thought her clean energy idea was just a 'kid's project.' He was wrong.
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Unilever and the United Nations

When Cassandra was 10 years old, she decided to take on climate change ... and bring her whole town with her.

In fifth grade, she'd learned that if the world's addiction to fossil fuels continues, it's only a matter of time before her entire town would be underwater. (When you use carbon-emitting energy like we do, that can happen.)


“Our Ocean State of Rhode Island may become the Under Ocean State by 2100 if global warming is allowed to continue at the current rate," Cassandra, now 17, said in a speech a few years ago.

So she came up with a plan.

With help from friends, Cassandra launched Turn Grease Into Fuel, or TGIF.

Their strategy was pretty simple ... but also sort of ingenious.

You know all that wasted used cooking oil that restaurants just throw away? It can be used as biofuel — energy that contributes significantly less to global warming than fossil fuels.

TGIF began reaching out to local restaurants to see if they could use leftover cooking oil for the initiative, and — slowly but surely — the idea caught on. The City of Westerly, Rhode Island (Cassandra's hometown) decided to help out, too, setting up a grease recycling site where TGIF could do its work.

And here's where it gets really good: The biodiesel created by TGIF goes toward warming the homes of families in need. Because why not donate the energy to those who could use it most?

“We kind of thought, 'This is a kid's project,' you know," said Jason Lin, Cassandra's father. "'It will probably last a year or two the most.'"

Boy ... was he wrong.

To date, TGIF's efforts have helped warm the homes of about 400 families, but that's just the start.

Since its launch, TGIF has been incredibly successful both in terms of combating climate change and helping those in need. Through partnerships with 132 (!) restaurants, they've recycled enough cooking oil to offset 3 million pounds of CO2 emissions, according to the EPA's estimations.

That's the average annual carbon footprint of 88 people.

But TGIF's impact goes even further beyond greenhouse gas reductions and warming homes for those in need — the group is changing hearts and minds, too.

TGIF has "opened my eyes to see that something needs to change or else this beautiful world we live in might not be here anymore," said chef Joseph Tanton of Pleasant View Inn, a TGIF partner.

TGIF is proof that sometimes a small group of kids in a small town can make a huge difference.

And all they needed was some cooking oil and a little determination.

Watch TGIF's story below:

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken, and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-and-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term stupid isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he belives applies to everyone.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."