How a sisterly connection and passion for service led to the road trip of a lifetime.
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Sisters Lindsey and Lee Ellen Fulmer were hundreds of miles apart when they came up with the same idea at the exact same time.

Back in 2014, Lindsey was about to begin her internship for a missions ministry in Oklahoma when she started thinking about traveling across the country and volunteering at different nonprofits.

"I didn't mention it to anyone, and I kind of just put it on the back burner," says Lindsey.


Lindsey (left) and Lee Ellen Fulmer. All images via Project Wave, used with permission.

At the same time, Lee Ellen was wrapping up her degree in elementary education in their hometown in South Carolina. She, too, was thinking about traveling the states.

But Lee Ellen didn't want to drive around aimlessly.

"I wanted to put a meaningful purpose behind it," she explains. "I thought it'd be really cool if I could volunteer everywhere I went. ... But I'm kind of a shy and reserved person, so I was like, 'I can't do this alone.'"

Guess who she called?

"[Lindsey] was like, 'This is something I've been thinking about for weeks now! This is the answer!'" Lee Ellen remembers with a laugh.

That's when the Fulmer sisters began to lay the foundation for Project Wave — a mission to volunteer in all 50 states, one week in each.

Helping feed the hungry in Hawaii with Aloha Harvest.

To get started, Lindsey planned out the route so it was both weather- and sightseeing-friendly. From there, they reached out to potential host families who might be willing to take them in for a week.

They also started saving their own money and were fortunate enough to set aside money for food and other necessities (with a bit of help from family and friends through a GoFundMe page).

Once that was all set, they searched for nonprofits within a one-hour radius of where they were staying.

Beyond that, they also had two main criteria: First, they wanted to help people directly. And second, they wanted to help out smaller nonprofits that don't get as much mainstream attention.

Skating with the ladies of Skate Like a Girl in Seattle.

"They don't get as much publicity as larger nonprofits, and they struggle because of that," explains Lee Ellen. "We also wanted to learn as much as possible on this trip. With the smaller nonprofits, you have the opportunity to talk with founders and directors and different department heads and work more closely with them."

Making masterpieces with the OFFCenter Community Arts Project in Albuquerque.

It took almost two years of planning, but eventually, in July 2016, Lindsey and Lee Ellen made their way to Tennessee — the first stop of their 50-week trip.

As of this writing, they're in Wyoming — the 41st state on their itinerary.

Raising awareness for mental health with Red Barn Farms in Utah.

"Voluntourism" can get a bad rap, so the sisters made sure to check their egos at the door and really listen to what each nonprofit needs. Whether it's helping clean facilities or working directly with people, Lindsey and Lee Ellen were sponges when it came to learning about other people's missions.

"When you're helping people of different backgrounds in different regions, you have to go in with an open mind," says Lindsey. "We're going to help you do what you need done."

"We're going to come in and learn about what you're doing or what people are struggling with without any judgment. ... Whatever you need, we make it happen."

Ultimately, the Fulmer sisters are hoping to spread their passion for service to as many people as possible.

Granted, not everyone will be able to take a volunteer trip to all 50 states. And when it comes to giving back, many people feel that donating money over donating time is the way to go. What the Fulmers emphasize is that it's important to understand what works best for you and how you can maximize your own giving potential. They wanted to travel, so they combined that with their dream of helping as many people as possible.

"There are people who are artists or who are good with computers or who just like to work with their hands," says Lee Ellen. "There are opportunities for those people out there. They just have to find them. And so we wanted to bring light to that to show that everyone has the ability to help someone."

All hands in!

She continues, "Our simplest mission is to inspire people of all different talents to get out and use their talents to help their community."

"One of the things we've seen throughout this trip is that organizations, people in need, families, everyone — people are genuinely good at the core of themselves," adds Lindsey. "They want to help people. They just need an opportunity to do that."

Keep spreading that positive message, ladies!

The most amazing thing about Project Wave isn't the miles they racked up — it's the message they've spread along the way: Look in your hearts, find what it is you love, and use that special something to make an impact and pay it forward in your own little way.

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.

The Schmidt family's Halloween photoshoot has become an annual tradition.

Two of Patti Schmidt's three sons were already well into adulthood when her daughter Avery was born, and the third wasn't far behind them. Avery, now 5, has never had the pleasure of close-in-age sibling squabbles or gigglefests, since Larry, Patrick, and Gavin are 28, 26, and 22, respectively—but that doesn't mean they don't bond as a family.

According to People.com, Patti calls her sons home to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, every fall for a special Halloween photoshoot with Avery. And the results are nothing short of epic.

The Schmidt family started the tradition in 2017 with the boys dressing as the tinman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion from "The Wizard of Oz." Avery, just a toddler at the time, was dressed as Dorothy, complete with adorable little ruby slippers.

The following year, the boys were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, and Avery was (of course) Princess Leia.

In 2019, they did a "Game of Thrones" theme. ("My husband and I were binge-watching (Game of Thrones), and I thought the boys as dragons would be so funny," Schmidt told TODAY.)

In 2020, they went as Princess Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik from "The Princess Bride."

Patti shared a video montage of each year's costume shoot—with accompanying soundtracks—on Instagram and TikTok. Watch:

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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."