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How stuffed animals are making organ donation a little more accessible.

Second Life Toys is breaking down the stigma surrounding organ donation.

How stuffed animals are making organ donation a little more accessible.

Do you know a stuffed sheep or giraffe that could desperately use a leg up?

A new program is giving stuffed toys another chance to bring joy and love to someone special. Old toys are repaired and given new parts using donor limbs from well-loved toys that are no longer played with. This unique up-cycling is all done by mail and gives these special animals a new lease on life while teaching kids about a really important topic.


Photos by Second Life Toys, used with permission.

Second Life Toys explains organ transplants to kids using adorable, fluffy stuffed animals.

Japanese designers Akira Suzuki and Togo Kida, the founders of Second Life Toys, have fond memories of repairing their own torn or broken toys as kids, using parts from other stuffed animals — much like how organ transplants help save people.


"What we tried was more than fixing a toy that was broken, it was actually trying to fix something in an even better way. " Togo wrote in an email. "This, we thought, might be a good way to convey organ transplant in a positive way."

The hope is that by teaching children the benefits of organ donation, they can start to break down the barriers that surround transplants, especially in Japan, by playing up the positive results.

First, the process begins with a torn or broken stuffed animal.

In this case, Mr. Giraffe might be in need of some help with his front left leg.

If so, the giraffe's owner can mail him to Second Life Toys.

Then a donor toy — perhaps a toy that, while loved, doesn't get played with much anymore — will give a limb to the original toy.

Here, an arm from a stuffed monkey is used to replace the giraffe's "broken" leg.

Finally, the repaired toy is sent back to its owner.

Mr. Giraffe is on the mend!


And then children are asked to reflect on how the transplant improved their stuffed animal's life.

Once their stuffed animal is out of recovery, the toy's child caretaker also gets to send a thank-you note to the donors.

It's a full-circle experience that introduces the concept of organ donation in an accessible and relatable way.

Hopefully, this makes the idea of organ transplants less scary to children, helping to reduce the stigma that surrounds the concept as they grow older.

GIF from Second Life Toys.

This is an especially important program in Japan, where organ donors are in short supply.

In fact, less than 2% of people on Japan's organ donor waiting list will find a match. Of the roughly 14,000 people on the waiting list annually, that means fewer than 300 will receive transplants.

Japan ranks far behind the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to organ donation, too. Here's how Japan's numbers compare to the U.S.:

Data source: Japan Times

This is a problem nearly 50 years in the making.

In 1968, Dr. Juro Wada performed Japan's first heart transplant. The heart donor was, in Wada's mind, brain-dead, though this was still a murky topic back in the '60s.

The surgery was highly controversial, and as a result, "brain-dead" organ donations were halted for more than 30 years.

Plus, religious beliefs and apprehension around the topic of organ donation have scared away potential donors.

It's hard to talk about organ donation without talking about death, a topic many people, especially those in good health, just don't want to think about. And when they do, religious beliefs suggest bodies should be intact and cremated after death.

Today, Japanese citizens in need of a transplant have gone as far as leaving the country in hopes of receiving one elsewhere, since chances are slim in their home country.

So far, the response to the Second Life Toys program has been overwhelmingly positive.

Akira and Togo are hearing from people around the world who want to donate their toys and be a part of the project. It's not just children either — adults want their toys fixed as loving tributes for family members on the transplant list.

While it remains to be seen what effect Second Life Toys will have on Japan's organ donation crisis, the project is a creative step in the right direction. "The response we are getting so far is phenomenal," Togo said.

While the U.S. is comparatively better off in regards to organ donation, people die every day waiting for a transplant.

But there's a really simple way you can help change that, too.

Register as an organ donor! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a super-simple breakdown of how you can go about getting signed up (it varies slightly from state to state). You can also consider joining the bone marrow registry. Bone marrow is a living donation that helps people with blood cancers.

Whether it's talking about donation, sharing well-loved toys, or giving the gift of life, we can all do our part.

To learn more about Second Life Toys, visit their website or watch their introductory video 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.

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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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."