This inspiring story is one part luck, one part fierce — yet smiling — determination.
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.
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.
Not that it should matter, of course. But we're talking about people living in a society obsessed with personal appearance. It's going to matter to a lot of people, and if they get the wrong impression of their face, some people will go to all sorts of lengths to change it. That's why understanding a bit about how focal lengths on cameras can impact what we see in photographs is vital.
Writer Evey Winters shared some of that education in a post on Facebook. She writes about this topic through a trans and dysmorphia lens, but it applies to everyone.
Winters points out that if someone is thinking of doing surgery to change their bodies, they should seek sources outside of themselves and a cellphone camera.
"I have dysmorphia and recognize that in myself," she wrote, "but even if I didn’t, there’s not a selfie I’ve ever taken that would accurately help me make choices about my face. Mirrors are slightly better only for their minimal distortions."
"If you want the best chance at getting good feedback pre-op about what you might want to change," she added, "I’d recommend a skilled photographer take a series of photos of you at different focal lengths and even then none of these will be entirely accurate as none of these employ humans binocular vision and filtering."
Winters shared a collage of photos of the same girl's face at different focal lengths to show the significant difference it makes. "Notice how in different photos this child’s eyes may appear to be slightly hooded," she wrote. "The nose appears enlarged disproportionately. Hairline seems to shift with every snap. So does jaw shape, face shape, and even the width and size of the ears."
The difference between each of these photos is significant, but the difference between the first and the last is stunning. Cellphone selfie cameras usually have an even smaller focal length than the 40 mm shown here (Winters points out that the iPhone 13 Pro Max selfie camera has the equivalent of a 23 mm focal length), so they distort facial features even more. It also depends on how far away from the camera you are—the closer you are, the more distortion you'll see. Lighting matters, too, but even the best lighting can't cancel out what the focal length is doing.
Vox shared a video specifically about the "big nose" phenomenon with selfies, showing how drastic the distortion can be.
As a parent of two teens and a young adult, I find these photos to be fantastic tools for teaching my kids not to put too much stock in what they see in a selfie. Far too many people are increasingly seeking out plastic surgery to change a nose or a forehead or a jawline that doesn't even really exist. Imagine looking in a funhouse mirror and thinking you need to do something to change how you look. Selfie cameras are basically mini funhouse mirrors. Smartphones and apps are getting better at making filters that adjust for those distortions, but none of us should be relying on selfies of any kind to see what we really look like, much less taking major measures to alter our appearance based on what we see in them.
Even if you have some physical feature you simply can't accept and want to change, make sure you get a skilled photographer to give you the most accurate picture of what it actually looks like. As Winters concluded at the end of her post: "Make sure you’re not reshaping your body for a you that only exists in selfie cams."
Thank you for the reminder, Ms. Winters.
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.
Dan Fischer understands grief. He also has some idea of how to cope with it—and how to help others through it as well.
Fischer has experienced tremendous loss in the past few years, losing both his father and his best friend. As a surfer, he's a believer in what he calls "the transformative power of the ocean." Originally from Montreal, Canada, Fischer has found healing riding the waves off Newport, Rhode Island, where he's lived for the past seven years.
Now he wants to share that healing power of the waves with others.
"After one of those faithful sessions, where I had written my dad's name on my board," he tells Upworthy, "I decided to throw out an open invitation on TikTok to others who were struggling with loss." On January 4, he shared a TikTok video inviting people to share the name of a loved one who has passed and said he would write their name on his board and take them out into the ocean.
"It felt right and I wanted to help," he says. "I knew how healing surfing had been for me, and I wanted the opportunity to share that with others in hopes of inserting some positivity into their lives."
Comment a loved one who you’d like me to include. #love #memories #dreams #surfing #oceanlover #saltlife
People started sharing the names and stories of lost loved ones in the comments, and Fischer started writing down names. A dozen soon turned to 100, which turned to 500, which turned to more than 1,000.
In just over a week, the one TikTok blossomed into a full-fledged movement Fischer has dubbed the One Last Wave Project.
"Something we always say out there is, 'one last wave,'" Fischer says. "There's always one last wave to catch and I wanted to give that to others. There have been so many stories shared about loved ones who always wanted to learn to surf, or how the ocean was their happy place and unfortunately, their families weren't able to get them there in time. I committed to ensuring that they got out there for that one last wave."
Sunset with your loved onespic.twitter.com/JWosk1pzi7— One Last Wave Project (@One Last Wave Project) 1642122161
Fischer gets emotional sharing what the project means to him.
"I've spent many nights sitting out there alone at sunset, connecting with the beauty of nature to heal," he says. "Now, I have thousands of loved ones joining me…it's truly hard to explain just how truly moving that is for me. I just hope to help in some small way."
Right now, the project is just a one-man show, with Fischer spending hours a day connecting with people in the comments and writing down names. He knows he's going to need help collecting names and stories as the list grows, and he's already looking into getting more longboards to accommodate more names.
"It is important to me that every single person's story is told," he says. "I would love to see it expanded where surfers from around the world can join in the movement and take loved ones out into the ocean from wherever they are."
Fischer says people keep asking if it's too late to get their loved one's name on his board, and he wants people to know it's never too late. He's in this for the long haul.
Answering some of your questions about the project! It\u2019s never too late for One Last Wave pic.twitter.com/0dJsC786gc— One Last Wave Project (@One Last Wave Project) 1642373411
One Last Wave Project isn't Fischer's first project impacting people's lives in creative ways. He works as an MBA admissions consultant, but he also founded Step Up for the Cure, a charity fundraiser for cancer research. He credits his mother's influence for his impulse to use whatever he has to give back to others in a meaningful way.
"When I founded Step Up for the Cure, I was trying to create a symbolic struggle—we ran marathon distances up stairs for 24 hours straight—to align those involved with those facing such harsh adversity," he says. "One Last Wave has a bit of a different vision. While surfing, trying to harness the sheer power of the ocean for a few fleeting moments in order to ride the open face of a wave is extremely challenging; however, this movement is more about the peace and healing that results when you do, letting go, immersing yourself in the sea.
"Surfing is one of my great passions," he continues. "It has changed my life, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to be sharing that love with others in a way that provides hope and healing."
Paula I would be honored to take Oliver out with me and show him the joy of surfing he was hoping to find. Sending my love and I hope this helps in some way— One Last Wave Project (@One Last Wave Project) 1642372920
Fischer says he never imagined his project would resonate so deeply with so many people, but he's grateful that it has.
"I am deeply affected by every single story shared," he said. "Heartbreaking doesn't even begin to describe it, but when I connect with these people, we are bonded, and the board feels very much like a beacon of hope that their loved ones are set free to enjoy and shine once again. It's a way for them to be forever memorialized in a place they loved.
"I can't tell you how many times I've cried reading the stories, writing the names, and feeling them etched on the board as I paddle through the waves," he says.
Many of the commenters are parents sharing the names of children they've lost. Some of them loved the ocean, and some of them loved it but never got to see it. One commenter recently asked for her own name to be put on the board, as she's in hospice and the ocean has always been her peaceful place.
The simple act of reaching out, connecting with others, making an offering of what you have and bringing some measure of comfort to people who are in mourning is such a beautiful thing.
Fischer is working on getting the One Last Wave website up so that he can direct people to one central place if they want to add a loved one or find out how to help, but in the meantime, you can find him on these social media pages:
This article originally appeared on 11.30.16
As a university student in the 1970s, he found the talk of economics and statistics completely mind-numbing. So instead, he says, he roamed the streets of his hometown of Peterborough, England, with a camera in hand, snapping pictures of the people he met and listening to their stories. To him, it was a far better way to understand the world.
All photos by Chris Porsz/REX/Shutterstock.
He always looked for the most eccentric people he could find, anyone who stood out from the crowd. Sometimes he'd snap a single picture of that person and walk away. Other times he'd have lengthy conversations with these strangers.
But eventually, life moved on and so did he. He fell out of love with photography. "Those pictures collected dust for 25 years," he says.
And remarkably, people started recognizing much younger versions of themselves in his shots. "There was this lightbulb moment," he says of the first time someone wrote to him about one of his photos.
Eventually, he became curious about the people he'd photographed all those years ago, and he decided he'd try to find some of them. It wouldn't be easy — the photos were taken a long time ago, and Porsz didn't have names or contact information for many of the people in them.
But he did find some of them, sometimes in extraordinary ways. "Some were absolute million-to-one coincidences," he says.
Like the time he went out on a call (he's a parademic these days) at 3 a.m., and the man he was there to treat recognized him as the photographer who'd snapped his picture all those years ago. On another call, he asked a local shopkeeper if he recognized any of the subjects in the photos. He did.
Once Porsz began posting about the project online — he calls it "Reunions" — it became easier and easier to reconnect with his former subjects.
In all, Porsz has collected over 130 before-and-afters in his new book.
He's personally heard from people all over the world who've been inspired by his project and want to try to recreate it themselves. But beyond that, he just hopes it brings a little warmth and happiness to the people who see it.
"It's important for me for my photography to make people smile," he says. "Because there is so much sadness in the world."
And while the project is finished for now, don't count out the possibility of "Reunions Part 2" somewhere down the line.
"I'd love to meet these guys in 2046 when I'm 94 years old," Porsz says.