drunk drivers, you choose, melissa macguinness

Mother speaks out about drunk driving.

This article originally appeared on September 13, 2019


Losing a child is a pain that many of us simply cannot comprehend. Given how much mothers and fathers love their sons and daughters, we can only begin to imagine how much pain they would feel when something terrible happens to their children. But for Melissa Hayes-McGuinness, a mom from Australia, the pain is even greater.

Her son, Jordan, died in a car crash in December 2012 at the age of 18. As did five other people who were unfortunate enough to cross Jordan when he was drink and drug driving at high speeds down a Gold Coast highway following a Christmas party. The five victims were sitting in a broken-down car waiting for help when Jordan collided with them at speeds of up to 87 miles per hour.

The sheer force of the crash caused the parked car to burst into flames. The only survivor was the 16-year-old driver of the parked car, who had to climb over his friends to escape the burning vehicle and suffered from severe burns and a head injury that still affects his memory to this day.

Among those killed in the parked car were a 20 and 23-year-old, their 15-month-old girl was orphaned. The other victims were 16, 17, and 18.


SOURCE: YOU CHOOSE / MELISSA MCGUINNESS

As you can imagine, Melissa has to deal with unimaginable grief on a daily basis. Not only for her son, but for those he killed, and those they left behind. But thankfully, Melissa has found a way to channel that grief positively. Every year, she travels across Australia speaking to teenagers about road safety. As part of her talks, she reads an incredibly powerful speech which she calls "Jordan's confession."

Her speech reads, in part:

"I would give anything that night to have just hit a tree and not left this horrendous legacy," Melissa begins. "Those kids didn't deserve what happened to them. In truth, I guess I did."

"I screwed up and paid the ultimate price. What I did was unforgivable," McGuinness continues, speaking on behalf of her son and addressing the orphaned girl, "I'm the reason you'll never see your mummy and daddy [again]."

Throughout the speech, Melissa shows photos of her son, including on his last day of school. Then, the photos changed to a news clip of the accident, showing blue flashing lights and twisted metal.

"Jordan was smart. Jordan was funny. Jordan was a great person, but none of that means anything now. None of it," McGuinness continues to tell the teenagers sitting in silence before her, many of whom are usually crying at this point.

"That's because he defined himself by his choices that night. He shaped a terrible and permanent legacy for himself, his family and his victims' families because he chose to drink, smoke [marijuana] and speed down that highway."

"And everything he did before that just pales in comparison."

"As much as there are hundreds of reasons to be proud of Jordan... he died in shame," his mother tells them, "This is how he's going to be remembered. There's no getting around that.

"My husband and I did not raise him to think that drink or drug driving was acceptable behavior, yet I stand up here as the mother of a kid responsible for the death of four kids from drinking and drug driving."

"Think of all the good stuff that you've done. Think of all the effort you've put into your life. Think of all the effort people who have loved you put into your life. And imagine all of that being wiped out by one stupid choice. Because that's the brutal reality of what happens."

"I still love Jordan profoundly, I miss him terribly... but this can't be sugarcoated. He defined himself permanently by his actions that night.

"There are accidents and there are choices. Jordan didn't have an accident that night. That's what happened to his victims. Jordan made a choice."

SOURCE: YOU CHOOSE / MELISSA MCGUINNESS

Melissa affectionately calls the teenagers she's talking to, particularly boys, "dirtbags." Why? Because they often think they're "ten foot tall and bullet-proof."

Following the death of her son and his victims, Melissa started the You Choose - Youth Road Safety campaign. It teaches young drivers about the devastating, life-long consequences of being reckless behind the wheel.

Melissa knew that most teenagers won't learn anything through a lecture, so instead, she channels her own grief by telling her own story.

"I'm not lecturing them about right or wrong, I'm demonstrating through actual lived experience what it's like to be on the receiving-end of what I was," Melissa told Yahoo News.

"I show them a clip from Jordan's memorial ceremony and I ask them to imagine while they're watching it what it might be like if their family was in the same predicament that my family's [going through]."

"But pretty much just taking them on this entire grief journey from where it started—as the excited teenager about to start his life to the horrible accident through one stupid choice one night. Then what it looked like for everybody else involved."

"The thing with... Jordan is he's relatable because he's just like any other kid there that's sitting in that auditorium... and I'm also relatable as the mum."

"[Through Jordan they're shown] this great kid that made this one stupid choice that could be any of those kids. Any of them."

Melissa says her talks are so powerful because she's the "perpetrator's mother."

The guilt of her son's actions have weighed so heavily on Melissa that she often felt like she "didn't have a right to grieve her son".

"Those kids were innocent kids, they were doing nothing wrong and my son behaved 100 percent irresponsibly and was completely responsible for their deaths."

SOURCE: YOU CHOOSE / MELISSA MCGUINNESS

Each time Melissa talks to a group of kids, it gets a little easier for her. It gets easier to watch footage from the crash, and somehow, it gets easier to watch footage of Jordan's then 10-year-old sister breaking down at the memorial service.

But one thing doesn't change. The reaction from the kids she's speaking to. Melissa says that no matter the type of school or the age of the kids, with very little encouragement, the kids always swarm her with hugs at the end of her speech. In most instances, she says, the instigator is usually the "biggest dirtbag in the room"

"I have a remarkable story to tell. It's the worst story. And I feel really compelled to share that with teenage kids," she told 9now.

"This is what is left behind: Here is the mum that has to attend your funeral, has to pick up the pieces. That car can become your own coffin."

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.

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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.

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Red Méthot, a Canadian photographer and student, decided to capture the resilience of many of these kids for a school photography project.

He's the father of two prematurely born kids himself, so the topic is important to him.

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