Jamie Paul has seen trouble.

"When you're young, you don't think about the better way, you think about the quick way. And the quick way landed me places I didn't want to be," he said.


Jamie Paul spent more than 10 years in prison. After his release, he found himself in the catch-22 of wanting a legitimate job but unable to get hired. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

Paul tried earning a living the "quick way." That was after his mother passed away, and he was faced with the burden of supporting his family in Baltimore. But it didn't work. By 2011, Paul had already done three stints in prison — a total of 10 years behind bars.

When he was finally released for the third time, Paul tried hard to go legit. He knew he was a hard worker — a competent worker. Prior to his sentence, he said, he was working and selling drugs at the same time. But like many people with a felony record, he felt trapped — few people would hire him because of his record, which Paul felt was deeply unfair.

"It's not the record that makes the person,” Paul said. "It's the person that makes the person."

But who would give somebody like him another shot? What kind of employer would be willing to trust an ex-con?

In a new series called “Humanity for the Win,” Upworthy visited Second Chance's headquarters with a video camera in November 2015 to find out who was willing to give Paul and dozens of others like him a shot.


Second Chance Inc. is nonprofit deconstruction business in Baltimore. They tear down old houses, save what can be reused, and are employing over 100 people looking for a fresh start after prison in the process.

The work at Second Chance — salvaging old houses — might be the perfect metaphor for the ways the business changes its workers’ lives.

Inside the bright, efficiently run warehouse staffed by dozens of employees getting back on their feet, you’ll find an eclectic collection of every imaginable category of home furnishing, from chandeliers to pianos to a giant, free-standing home bar the size of a gazebo. Working smoothly among the mantelpieces and fixtures, roughly 70% of the workers in Second Chance's deconstruction unit are ex-convicts — and this work is providing a rare path to a new life in this tough part of Baltimore.

“It’s easy to say, ‘They’re lazy, go get a job,’ but go get a job where? Doing what?”
— Ericka Alton

Ericka Alton is a community organizer in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore. She's seen everything in this community — including the direct link between economic pressures, lack of opportunity, and crime here.

"People are selling drugs and participating in illegal activity not by choice, but as a means to survive," Alton said.

Poverty and inequality are major challenges in Baltimore — crime and chronic imprisonment are often the result. But what’s the way out?

While Maryland currently sits atop the list of America's richest states, Baltimore remains one of the country's poorest cities. A 2015 CNN report found that almost a quarter of the city's population lives below the poverty line — and black residents suffer a disproportionate share of economic hardship.

The median household income of whites in Baltimore is nearly double that of black residents. As of 2013, 37% of young black Baltimorean men were unemployed, compared to just 10% of young white men.

That cycle produces increasingly tragic results. Baltimore saw a pronounced spike in homicides in 2015, while violent crime remained virtually flat in most major American cities. It was the deadliest year per capita in Baltimore’s history. According to Alton, many of her current and prospective clients are faced with a stark choice: sell drugs and expose themselves to violence and imprisonment, or remain unemployed.

"It’s easy to say, 'They’re lazy, go get a job,' but go get a job where? Doing what?" Alton said.

There aren’t nearly enough job opportunities available, like the ones offered by Second Chance, to help ex-cons transition into a productive life. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

Second Chance was the brainchild of Mark Foster, who came up with the idea when he realized how difficult it was to find materials for an old house he was rebuilding. Perhaps, he thought, there was a way to reclaim perfectly good, historically interesting architectural elements — the floors, fireplaces, light fixtures, and furniture that typically get junked when old homes are destroyed — and offer marginalized people a path back to society by hiring them to help scout and collect those materials.

"The biggest stereotype is that because we have been convicted that we can't be trustworthy or dependable workers, which is not true."
— Jamie Paul

The organization accepts donations of individual pieces (and sets) of furniture, as well as old doors, bathroom fixtures, and even vehicles from the general public. Entire houses are also on Second Chance's wish list (and donating one allows the giver to receive a tax deduction instead of a large bill for a teardown service).

When Upworthy met up with the Second Chance crew, a deconstruction team was busy tearing down a house in Arlington, Virginia.

"The good thing about salvage is: It's unique. It's old-school. It's fun. It's things that people tend to just brush off."

That’s what Antonio Johnson, a sales manager at Second Chance, said during our visit.

Among the haul were two toilets, a lamp fixture, an air conditioner, a refrigerator, and a dishwasher. The team ripped up dozens of floorboards and struck an old fireplace mantel, loaded it onto the truck, then shipped it back to the warehouse, where it was put on sale for $175.

Sales manager Antonio Johnson with the fireplace mantel unloaded from the Arlington house. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

Johnson, like much of Second Chance's workforce, spent time in prison. He started as a warehouse worker and has been promoted several times during his tenure at Second Chance. Johnson’s doing well — but his ability to succeed has been something that people with a record rarely get a chance to prove.

Photo by Francois Nascimbeni/Getty Images.

Jamie Paul, who’s newer to Second Chance, believes his convictions made it harder for him to get hired. According to the data, he's not wrong.

A National Institute of Justice study found that 60-75% of former prisoners were unable to find work within a year of release.

"The biggest stereotype is that because we have been convicted that we can't be trustworthy or dependable workers, which is not true," he said.

But also, former convicts who try to work again after years in prison often find their skills outdated or obsolete.

"Keeping up, especially for people who have been away from technology for perhaps several decades, is really a challenge," said Scott Decker, a foundation professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University.

A Second Chance deconstruction crew member marks a batch of floorboards with a date and location. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

Decker has interviewed 600 current and former gang members around the country and found a shocking gap in their skills upon release and the current job market.

"I interviewed a woman in her mid-30s in L.A. who had been in prison for 14 or 15 years," Decker said. "She didn’t know how to use word processing, she’d never sent an email, and she said: 'Mister, how am I supposed to apply for a job? I don’t even know how to use a computer. I have no idea how to do a resume other than to get a typewriter.'"

The catch-22: When former prisoners find themselves jobless, they often go on to commit more crimes.

A 2012 study of former Indiana inmates found that unemployment was one of the three factors that correlated most closely with whether a released felon would re-offend.

A job at Second Chance allows an ex-offender a way out of that cycle.

"It has helped me tremendously — financially, not being stressed, or thinking things that I know I shouldn't do, but I might need to do because I have a wife, a son, a baby on the way," Paul said.

A Second Chance crew unloads salvaged items from the Arlington house. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

After a 16- to 20-week training that aims to provide those who enter the program with concrete, transferrable skills, prospective employees are guaranteed a job. Some are able to leverage the training into jobs elsewhere, and the rest — along with those who prefer to stay — are hired by the organization.

"We have a guy who talks about just being proud of being able to go home and having his kid see him in his work clothes," said Pete Theodore, one of the permanent Second Chance management staff.

Most deconstruction workers stay with the company for about a year, he said. After that, the hope is that Second Chance employees can use their new skills and certifications to launch new careers.

"In some senses, I feel like a drop in the bucket compared to the need," Theodore said. "But when you look at a real life, and a real person, and a real story of change and hope, it makes it all worth it."

Second Chance is based in Baltimore but hopes to expand to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia in the coming years. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

But the path forward is not always simple or straightforward.

A month after Upworthy visited Second Chance, Paul was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault.


"We are accustomed to some setbacks on the road to wholeness — especially given the population we serve," Theodore said.


But Paul remains on the job. Theodore said he was "saddened" by the news, and that Second Chance remains committed to assisting Paul in his career and skill development.

Jaime Paul recently faced a new criminal charge, but the team at Second Chance remains committed to working with him to build a better future. Photo by Jess Blank/Upworthy.

"In the long run, this is just a stepping stone to get you out into this world," Johnson said.


Of all the skills gained at Second Chance, confidence is perhaps the most important.


Although his recent arrest may make the road forward bumpier, Paul still hopes to own and operate his own contracting company one day.


"If you can tear something down,” he said, “you should know how to put it back up,"

Watch the video of Upworthy's visit to Second Chance below:


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