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Eagle Rare Life Award

Lon Hodge has a lot in common with his dog, Gander. They're both from Colorado. They share the same birthday. But it's how they differ that makes their relationship special.

Hodge is a veteran living with injuries that he sustained in the line of duty and a severe case of PTSD. Gander is a service dog who was specifically trained to assist people with such disabilities. And while all service animals are equipped with unique qualifications, from the moment Hodge met Gander, he felt there was something truly uncommon about his abilities.

"He’s just an extraordinary creature," says Hodge. "He misses nothing."


Gander the dog. All photos via Lon Hodge. Used with permission.

Gander seems to have a sixth sense about knowing exactly when and how someone needs his help. He’s done it with people who’ve been diagnosed with illnesses like diabetes and terminal cancer. He once came up to a Navy Seal who was dealing with panic attacks and offered support by leaning against him. The man broke down crying saying he'd recently lost his dog.

It's no surprise that his fans often remark, "Gander knows" when hearing about his encounters.

This almost uncanny ability to read people is also ultimately how Gander came to save his owner's life.

Hodge and his service dog, Gander.

Hodge served in the military medical corp from 1973 through 1981. He remained stateside, but sustained several injuries during his stint as an officer at a munitions plant. While not life-threatening, the experience contributed to inner emotional turmoil that began to seethe in the few years following his end of service.

Suddenly, a culmination of stressful life moments like starting a new job as director of a rehab hospital, and the death of his mother, resulted in the wheels coming off the cart, so to speak. Everything just came crashing to halt.

"I went from 60 to zero," recalls Hodge. "I couldn’t leave the house for several months."

At the same time, as a result of his ever present anxiety, his resting heart rate speed up to 120 beats per minute. His doctors prescribed him a number of medications, but they just put him in a fog.

He knew that he needed to find a better way to manage his symptoms. Then, as fate would have it, he happened to catch a TV special about the benefits of service dogs for veterans. So he reached out to Freedom Service Dogs, a Denver-based nonprofit that trains rescue dogs to work with veterans as well as other disabled people. Seven months later, he was matched with a soulful-eyed Labradoodle named Gander.

[rebelmouse-image 19347012 dam="1" original_size="881x881" caption="Lon and Gander were recognized as the 2018 Eagle Rare Life category winner for Survival." expand=1]Lon and Gander were recognized as the 2018 Eagle Rare Life category winner for Survival.

From the moment they met, Hodge knew it was the beginning of a beautiful, life-changing friendship.

However, even though they bonded almost instantly, their relationship wasn't without growing pains.

Not only was he now charged with taking care of someone besides himself, Gander forced Hodge to get out in the world and be with people — something he'd avoided doing for nearly a year.

"Gander's a really cute dog, so everyone wanted to interact with him," recalls Hodge. "I was like, 'Oh my god, what have I done to myself.”

Suddenly he was fielding all these questions from people about Gander, and in turn, about himself. Since a service dog is meant to stay by you at all times, it's really impossible to distance yourself from the reason why you have one. While this was initially quite difficult for Hodge, it forced him to regularly confront his social anxiety, and slowly but surely it began to dissipate.

Gander comforting Hodge.

His heart rate also dropped down to a normal 80 bpm, and the suicidal thoughts he'd been having shrank away.

"If I’m really anxious, he’ll put his feet up on my chest, or he’ll lick my hand, or he’s taught to lean against me, and if someone comes to me too quickly, he’ll stand up and get between us," explains Hodge.

While they're small actions, it's Gander's incredible intuitiveness about when to employ them that makes the difference.

It was impossible for Hodge to ignore the effect Gander has on just about everyone he meets. He wanted to find ways to share that magic with more people who truly needed it.

So Hodge created Facebook and Twitter accounts for Gander where he shares messages of awareness for PTSD, veteran suicide, and other invisible injuries. Unsurprisingly, the pages quickly gained massive followings.

Around the same time, Hodge and Gander also started traveling around the country, speaking on behalf of veterans at various conferences.

In 2014, Gander won the AKC Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence in the service dog category.

Since then, the pair have continued to spread awareness and hope to veterans. Hodge regularly calls for Planned Acts of Community Kindness (PACKs) on Ganders' Facebook page. These are just little things people can do to help out members who are struggling with something. For example, when Marine Corps Lance Corporal Dylan Bogue lost his dog, Hodge posted his request for help, and within a month, the two were reunited.

[facebook https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FGanderservicedog%2Fphotos%2Fa.592856377409779.1073741828.567184693310281%2F873791622649585%2F%3Ftype%3D3&width=500 expand=1]

This past year, they've also performed 365 Taps at cemeteries all over the country in honor of service men and women who died by suicide. At each ceremony, Hodge reads 22 names of veterans in order to call attention to the fact that 22 veterans take their lives everyday, and give loved ones a sense of closure.

Helping people in turn helps Hodge continue to recover from his own PTSD. But he knows that he couldn't have gotten here without his canine companion.

That said, he wants people to know that a service dog is a major commitment. He's not just a friend — he's a mental and physical health support system.

"This dog is medical equipment, this dog is your lifeline, this dog is everything," says Hodge.

If you think you might need one, do your research first to make sure you qualify. Hodge is also happy to answer questions about his experience with Gander.

Even though you can't see it, PTSD is a real illness, and requires treatment. Sometimes the best medicine just comes with four legs and fur.

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.

Ronny Tertnes' "liquid sculptures" are otherworldly.

Human beings have sculpted artwork out of all kinds of materials throughout history, from clay to concrete to bronze. Some sculpt with water in the form of ice, but what if you could create sculptures with small drops of liquid?

Norwegian artist Ronny Tertnes does just that. His "liquid sculptures" look like something from another planet or another dimension, while at the same time are entirely recognizable as water droplets.

I mean, check this out:


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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.

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.

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Kayla Sullivan nails the reality of toddler tantrums in her mock news report.

Anyone who's ever had a 2-year-old knows that they can be … a lot. Adorable for sure, but … a lot. Toddlers are just starting to figure out that they have their own free will, but they have zero idea how to wield it or use it for good. They want what they want, when they want it—except when they change their mind and absolutely do not want what they just wanted—and they don't really have the emotional maturity or verbal acuity to adequately express any of these things without crying, whining or screaming.

There's a reason they're so darn cute.

For parents, handling a 2-year-old's 2-year-oldness can be a challenge. You can't rationalize with them. You know they're not being little toddler terrors on purpose. You know that they're just learning and that it's a stage and a phase that won't last forever, but when you're in it? Phew.

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