True
MDA Live Unlimited

One day, Justin Skeesuck asked his longtime friend Patrick Gray, "Do you want to go across 500 miles of northern Spain with me?"

He was talking about the Camino de Santiago — a pilgrimage hike which, on foot, usually takes about a month to complete.

Today, people of all different religious and cultural backgrounds make the journey for many different reasons, and it would be challenging for anyone.


It was especially challenging for Skeesuck, who doesn't have use of his arms or legs.

[rebelmouse-image 19531035 dam="1" original_size="600x299" caption="Justin with his wife Kristin. Image via MDA/YouTube." expand=1]Justin with his wife Kristin. Image via MDA/YouTube.

Skeesuck uses a wheelchair and has minimal upper arm and upper torso mobility due to multifocal acquired motor axonopathy (MAMA), a type of neuromuscular disorder that affects the body's motor functions.  

However, this wasn't always the case. Before the disorder began to take hold, he and Gray had a very physically active friendship.

As kids, they only lived a few miles apart and would often skateboard to each other's houses. But, once they reached college, Skeesuck's foot began to weaken, so they had to hang up their boards.

The progression of Skeesuck's disorder changed the dynamic of his friendship with Gray forever.

[rebelmouse-image 19531036 dam="1" original_size="1274x634" caption="Gray and Skeesuck. Image via MDA/YouTube." expand=1]Gray and Skeesuck. Image via MDA/YouTube.

The hardest adjustment came in January 2010, when Skeesuck lost the use of most of his upper body. That's when he and Gray went through a dark period where it was incredibly difficult to feel hopeful.

Then, slowly but surely, they began to adapt.

Since he can no longer dress himself, bathe himself, or feed himself, his loved ones — like Gray — stepped up to help him. While certainly challenging, it strengthened their bond in a big way.

[rebelmouse-image 19531037 dam="1" original_size="600x280" caption="Gray pushing Skeesuck in his wheelchair. Image via MDA/YouTube." expand=1]Gray pushing Skeesuck in his wheelchair. Image via MDA/YouTube.

"His willingness to invite me into the rawest and most difficult parts of life demonstrated a trust few people are given," writes Gray in an email.

Skeesuck and Gray's decision to hike the Camino was by far the greatest challenge the friends had undertaken.

[rebelmouse-image 19531038 dam="1" original_size="629x341" caption="The Camino de Santiago. Image via MDA/YouTube." expand=1]The Camino de Santiago. Image via MDA/YouTube.

Skeesuck found himself inextricably pulled to it, but he knew he couldn't make the pilgrimage without his best friend. And when he asked Gray if he'd come with him, he didn't hesitate. Gray simply replied, "Yeah, I'll push you."

What followed were two years of careful planning and 35 days of an adventure they would never forget.

The pilgrimage had never been done by someone in a wheelchair, so their strategy had to be planned down to the smallest detail. In the end, it took over 100 people helping out to make it feasible.

[rebelmouse-image 19531039 dam="1" original_size="700x341" caption="Skeesuck on the trail with his helping hands. Image via MDA/YouTube." expand=1]Skeesuck on the trail with his helping hands. Image via MDA/YouTube.

Gray trained for 12 months, six times a week, pushing himself to the limit. Three months before the journey, he was pushing Skeesuck on all types of terrain, working to increase his endurance up to 12 miles at a time.

Meanwhile, Skeesuck prepped in a different way. The trip was quite expensive, so he created a fundraising campaign to help get them there.

"The journey was made possible by countless individuals providing grassroots support," Skeesuck writes.

They went into it with no expectations. They came back with a newfound strength of those who live life without limits.

[rebelmouse-image 19531040 dam="1" original_size="700x338" caption="Skeesuck and Gray on the trail. Image via MDA/YouTube." expand=1]Skeesuck and Gray on the trail. Image via MDA/YouTube.

The journey was more challenging than they could've anticipated, often in ways that had nothing to do with physical efforts. Both friends missed their families immensely and faced many personal demons along the way. For one thing, it was hard for Skeesuck to watch Gray and fellow helpers push themselves beyond their physical limits.

In the end, however, it taught him that such an offering can be a gift for everyone involved, no matter who's doing the physical pushing.

"Being willing to let someone pick up something for us is just as much a gift for them as it is for us," Gray explains. "The flip side is obvious."

Their life-changing experience inspired Gray and Skeesuck to help push others to achieve more.

[rebelmouse-image 19531041 dam="1" original_size="1200x624" caption="Gray and Skeesuck. Photo via "I'll Push You."" expand=1]Gray and Skeesuck. Photo via "I'll Push You."

That's why they decided to share their story with the world in a new book and documentary film, both entitled "I’ll Push You." They also started Push Inc. to present the film, and they’ve partnered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), which helps fund neuromuscular disorder and disease research that can lead to more people having experiences like this.

The film will be presented in more than 500 theaters across the county in a special one-night-only release and feature information about MDA and the work the organization does to support families like Justin’s.

That and Push Inc. are part of their post-Camino emphasis on motivating individuals and organizations to strive for what they thought was impossible. For Skeesuck, that starts with asking yourself why you want to get there.

"If your why is strong enough that no matter what you face you will continue on, then it’s time to look at the how," Skeesuck writes.

Everyone needs help every now and again. When that time comes, you'll want to have people you trust at your back, pushing you forward.

Watch Skeesuck and Gray's whole story here:

This beautiful friendship shows just how much is possible when you have a support system.

Posted by Upworthy on Wednesday, September 20, 2017
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.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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.

Cellist Cremaine Booker's performance of Faure's "Pavane" is as impressive as it is beautiful.

Music might be the closest thing the world has to real magic. Music has the ability to transform any atmosphere in seconds, simply with the sounds of a few notes. It can be simple—one instrument playing single notes like raindrops—or a complex symphony of melodies and harmonies, swirling and crashing like waves from dozens of instruments. Certain rhythms can make us spontaneously dance and certain chord progressions can make us cry.

Music is an art, a science, a language and a decidedly human endeavor. People have made music throughout history, in every culture on every continent. Over time, people have perfected the crafting of instruments and passed along the knowledge of how to play them, so every time we see someone playing music, we're seeing the history of humanity culminated in their craft. It's truly an amazing thing.

The pandemic threw a wrench into seeing live musicians for a good chunk of time, and even now, live performances are limited. Thankfully, we have technology that makes it easier for musicians to collaborate and perform with one another virtually—and also makes it easier for people to create "group" performances all by themselves.

Keep Reading Show less

Upworthy is sharing this letter from Myra Sack on the anniversary of the passing of her daughter Havi Lev Goldstein. Loss affects everyone differently and nothing can prepare us for the loss of a young child. But as this letter beautifully demonstrates, grief is not something to be ignored or denied. We hope the honest words and feelings shared below can help you or someone you know who is processing grief of their own. The original letter begins below:


Dear Beauty,

Time is crawling to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the day you took your final breath on my chest in our bed. We had a dance party the night before. Your posse came over. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, closest friends, and your loving nanny Tia. We sat in the warm kitchen with music on and passed you from one set of arms to another. Everyone wanted one last dance with you. We didn’t mess around with only slow songs. You danced to Havana and Danza Kuduro, too. Somehow, you mustered the energy to sway and rock with each of us, despite not having had anything to eat or drink for six days. That night, January 19th, we laughed and cried and sang and danced. And we held each other. We let our snot and our tears rest on each other’s shoulders; we didn’t wipe any of them away. We ate ice cream after dinner, as we do every night. And on this night, we rubbed a little bit of fresh mint chocolate chip against your lips. Maybe you’d taste the sweetness.

Reggaeton and country music. Blueberry pancakes and ice cream. Deep, long sobs and outbursts of real, raw laughter. Conversations about what our relationships mean to each other and why we are on this earth.


Keep Reading Show less