Little caring gestures can be a really big help. Just ask this busy mom of 3.
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Hallmark

Olivia’s son Otto was barely 2 years old when she realized he was different. His eventual diagnosis — severe autism — was a surprising relief.

Olivia Cytrynowicz. Image via Hallmark/YouTube.

Growing up with an autistic brother, Olivia was already familiar with the spectrum, as well as how it affects the lives of people on it and those who care about them.


Her young son would have challenges expressing himself verbally; he'd have learning difficulties and complicated emotions. She knew that in the same way her son saw the world a little bit differently, she and her family would need to do the same. On top of her job at Hallmark and her already busy life, she and her family had to create space for understanding Otto's special needs while ensuring that those of their other two children — and their own — would be met.

If that sounds like a pretty tough balancing act, it is. It's also not out of the ordinary for parents of kids with special needs.

Fortunately, Olivia and her family have a caring community to help them along. Three years after Otto’s diagnosis, they're all thriving.

Olivia and her family on vacation in Colorado. Image via Olivia Cytrynowicz, used with permission.

“You’ve probably heard the expression, 'It takes a village.' ... We live that every day with our family," says Olivia.

"Our neighbors know that if they see Otto running down the street, he shouldn’t be and where to return him," she adds. "They will come over with a meal when it’s been a really rough week. They’ll take my other kids out for pizza or for a sleepover, just to give them kind of a sense of normalcy or just to give us a break. It’s those really specific acts of kindness that resonate with us every time, really.”

When large gatherings happen, their friends make sure Otto's special needs are accommodated. For example, they’ll make sure the barbecue doesn’t have open flames, or they’ll create a special quiet place where Otto can find peace if he’s overstimulated. For parents like Olivia, who base their decisions on which events to attend on how their children could potentially react to them, these small kindnesses make a huge difference.

Having a community to lean on is a huge asset. But when support from others isn’t enough, Olivia has learned to take time for herself, too.

“Especially as women, we’re warrior moms or constantly advocating ... and that’s where we spend a lot of time getting our affirmation,” she says. “But that really can get exhaustive. I mean, I’ve been on this path for five years now, and it’s taken me close to that amount of time to realize that that’s not where I’m going to recharge. I’m going to be a better mom, I’m going to be a better wife, I’m going to be a better employee if I get out of the house for a little bit.”

Olivia and Otto share a special moment at home. Image via Olivia Cytrynowicz, used with permission.

At the moment, Olivia recharges with the help of exercise classes that she takes five times a week. She credits the experience with changing her life and helping her find control, especially when the rest of her day is chaotic and unpredictable.

“I make it count because I know that as soon as I leave that gym that I’m going home to a bunch of stuff that I can’t control. How many pushups I can do in an hour?  That’s something I can control.”

In her nine years as a parent, Olivia has learned a lot about care. She's seen how even tiny amounts of it can change lives, even her own.

"There are so many ways to show someone that you care," she says. "It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, it doesn’t have to be something that you purchase or just the right words at the right time. It’s just being there and being genuine and letting that person know that they matter to you."

Listen to Olivia speak about how caring gestures have changed her life in this short video:

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather
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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.

While most 10-year-olds are playing Minecraft, riding bikes, or watching YouTube videos, Justin Sather is intent on saving the planet. And it all started with a frog blanket when he was a baby.

"He carried it everywhere," Justin's mom tells us. "He had frog everything, even a frog-themed birthday party."

In kindergarten, Justin learned that frogs are an indicator species – animals, plants, or microorganisms used to monitor drastic changes in our environment. With nearly one-third of frog species on the verge of extinction due to pollution, pesticides, contaminated water, and habitat destruction, Justin realized that his little amphibian friends had something important to say.

"The frogs are telling us the planet needs our help," says Justin.

While it was his love of frogs that led him to understand how important the species are to our ecosystem, it wasn't until he read the children's book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada that Justin-the-activist was born.

Inspired by the book and with his mother's help, he set out on a mission to raise funds for frog habitats by selling toy frogs in his Los Angeles neighborhood. But it was his frog art which incorporated scientific facts that caught people's attention. Justin's message spread from neighbor to neighbor and through social media; so much so that he was able to raise $2,000 for the non-profit Save The Frogs.

And while many kids might have their 8th birthday party at a laser tag center or a waterslide park, Justin invited his friends to the Ballona wetlands ecological preserve to pick invasive weeds and discuss the harms of plastic pollution.

Justin's determination to save the frogs and help the planet got a massive boost when he met legendary conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather

At one of her Roots and Shoots youth initiative events, Dr. Goodall was so impressed with Justin's enthusiasm for helping frogs, she challenged the young activist to take it one step further and focus on plastic pollution as well. Justin accepted her challenge and soon after was featured in an issue of Bravery Magazine dedicated to Jane Goodall.

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