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.
This article originally appeared on November 11, 2015
Remember those beloved Richard Scarry books from when you were a kid?
Like a lot of people, I grew up reading them. And now, I read them to my kids.
If that doesn't ring a bell, perhaps this character from the "Busytown" series will. Classic!
Scarry was an incredibly prolific children's author and illustrator. He created over 250 books during his career. His books were loved across the world — over 100 million were sold in many languages.
But here's something you may not have known about these classics: They've been slowly changing over the years.
Don't panic! They've been changing in a good way.
Scarry started publishing books in the 1950s, when times were, well, a little different. So some of the details were quietly updated.
Alan Taylor, a senior editor for the photo section of The Atlantic, noticed differences back in 2005 and decided to photograph them. From his Flickr album:
"The 1963 edition is my own, bought for me in the late 60's when I was a toddler, and read to tatters. The 1991 edition belongs to my kids today. I was so familiar with the older one that I immediately started noticing a few differences, and so have catalogued 14 of the more interesting differences here in this collection."
Taylor found 14 pages with differences between the original and updated versions.
Here are eight changes that reflect some of the progress society has made:
1. First up: The cover got a makeover. It might seem subtle at first glance, but look closely.
Images via Alan Taylor/Flickr, used with permission.
The original has a woman (bunny) in the kitchen, while the updated cover has both a man and a woman (still bunnies) in the kitchen. Also: The "policeman" bear changed to a woman, and the label changed to "police officer." The word "mailman" became "letter carrier," and a female farmer was added. Oh, and we went from a cat-mom pushing the stroller to cat-dad! Progress!
(The bunny brushing its teeth in the house was changed from a boy to a girl, but I'm not gonna read into that because hopefully all bunny-kids brush their teeth, right? I mean, for the sake of their little bunny teefs!)
2. Men can be flight attendants and women can be pilots. And, you know, they don't have to be hot.
While the gender of each role remained the same in the newer version (which is, unfortunately, pretty legit, given the glaring lack of female pilots in real life), the stereotyping was eliminated by making the "handsome pilot" more of an everyday "pilot" (raccoon?) and by turning the "pretty stewardess" into a regular flight attendant.
3. Christmas isn't the only holiday people celebrate.
Shhhh: Don't tell the Starbucks Christmas cup haters this, but there are a lot more winter holidays than just Christmas. The newer version of the book included a menorah in the blank space to recognize those who celebrate Hanukkah.
4. Mommy Bears are no longer expected to have breakfast prepared for Daddy Bears...
...and the subtle change from "called to breakfast" to "goes to the kitchen to eat his breakfast" reflects that.
(Side note: Do Daddy Bears realllllly want to be treated like Kid Bears by being called to a meal, where they must promptly appear? I'm thinking not.)
5. Because guess what?! Dads can cook, too! (Even Dad Bunnies.)
And Richard Scarry's book was updated to reflect the late-20th-century realization that everyone belongs in the kitchen!
6. Helping professions aren't just for men.
The updated version recognized that fact by changing "policeman" to "police officer" and "fireman" to "fire fighter." The ever-important job of cowboy was eliminated ( sigh ... how many career hopes and dreams were squashed?), replaced with a gardener and a scientist, both of which are filled by female characters. Three cheers for women in STEM! Also: The milkman was replaced by a taxi driver, but I'm pretty sure that was had to do with the fact that milkman (or woman) isn't a growing occupation any longer.
7. Regular people need rescuing, too.
The newer version did away with the "beautiful screaming lady" (sigh... how many career hopes and dreams ... oh, wait — none) and replaced her with a regular "cat in danger." The "jumping gentleman" label was removed altogether, and the "fireman" became a "fire fighter" again.
8. "I" is for "ice cream" — and not stereotypical depictions of Native Americans.
We're still waiting for our football teams to get with the times, but the folks behind the Richard Scarry book update eliminated the "Indian" character that was wearing stereotypical clothing.
Yay, progress! And before you shrug and say "It's just a book," listen to this:
Florida State University recently led "the most comprehensive study of 20th century children's books ever undertaken in the United States." As you can surely guess, they found a gender bias toward male lead characters, even in books about animals — books like those by Richard Scarry.
Janice McCabe, the assistant professor of sociology who led the study, wrote:
"The widespread pattern of underrepresentation of females that we find supports the belief that female characters are less important and interesting than male characters. This may contribute to a sense of unimportance among girls and privilege among boys. The gender inequalities we found may be particularly powerful because they are reinforced by patterns of male-dominated characters in many other aspects of children's media, including cartoons, G-rated films, video games and even coloring books."
It's kind of cool to think these changes were made at least two and a half decades ago! That's something.
And we need changes to keep happening! Kids should be able to read books with same-sex couples and characters who have disabilities, for example, because those are everyday occurrences and books are a great intro to the world for kids.
Anyone else up for modernizing other classic kids' books so we can feel good about sharing them with our kids?
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.
Imagine rummaging through secondhand finds in your local thrift store, only to find that some items include a bonus feline at no extra charge.
Montequlla the orange tabby had somehow not gotten the memo that he and his family were moving. As they dropped off furniture, including a big recliner chair, to the Denver Arc Thrift Store on New Year’s Eve, they had no idea that poor little Montequlla was tucked away inside.
Luckily, the staff began to notice the chair meowing.
Though the family had already left, the store called Denver Animal Protection to make a report.
Jenna Humphreys, the DAP officer who responded to the call, told the Denver Channel:
"Sure enough, there's a recliner out front, and there's a little orange tabby stuck inside. Very friendly, couldn't get out. They said that they had noticed the meowing shortly after somebody had dropped it off."
Officer Humphreys scanned Montequlla’s microchip and tried to call his owners, to no avail. According to the Denver Animal Shelter, the microchip had not been updated.
A friendly reminder to keep your microchips updated, pet owners!
Meanwhile, Montequlla’s family were back home, frantically searching for their beloved pet. When they eventually realized he might have accidentally become a furniture stowaway, they immediately called the thrift store.
The stress of moving can often cause cats to hide. They are notoriously averse to change and try their best to escape the chaos in favor of something familiar. Fortunately there are ways to help soothe your anxious kitty into the unknown.
While we’re on the subject, recliners can pose a huge risk to cats. There are several horror stories out there, and I won’t punish our readers by going into detail. But suffice it to say, you should always check underneath a chair to avoid serious injury.
But this story does have a happy ending, as Montequlla is very much unharmed and back safely in the arms of his owners, who are “relieved” to be reunited with their furry adventurer, according to Humphreys.
Judging from the look on his face in this photo, this cat will not forget his trip anytime soon.
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On Tuesday, Upworthy reported that actor Peter Dinklage was unhappy with Disney’s decision to move forward with a live-action version of “Snow White and the Seven Drawfs” starring Rachel Zegler.
Dinklage praised Disney’s inclusive casting of the “West Side Story” actress, whose mother is of Colombian descent, but pointed out that, at the same time, the company was making a film that promotes damaging stereotypes about people with dwarfism.
"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast.
"Well, you know, it's really progressive to cast a—literally no offense to anybody, but I was a little taken aback by, they were very proud to cast a Latino actress as Snow White," Dinklage said, "but you're still telling the story of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.' Take a step back and look at what you're doing there.”
"It makes no sense to me, because you're progressive in one way and then you're still making that fucking backward story of seven dwarfs living in a cave. What the fuck are you doing, man?" Dinklage added. However, he could get on board if Disney made some drastic changes to the fairy tale.
"If you tell the story of 'Snow White' with the most fucked-up, cool, progressive spin on it—let's do it!" he said.
Dinklage is one of the most high-profile dwarfs in the world, so when he speaks out about matters facing the dwarfism community, his words carry a lot of weight. They clearly caught the attention of Disney, which responded with a statement on Tuesday.
“To avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film, we are taking a different approach with these seven characters and have been consulting with members of the dwarfism community. We look forward to sharing more as the film heads into production after a lengthy development period,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that the film will have cultural consultants and that the updated “dwarf” characters will be “CG/animated.” Disney has employed cultural consultants in the past on films such as “Coco” and “Mulan” to avoid promoting any harmful stereotypes. It's a tough lesson that the company has had to learn. Some of Disney’s most classic films now come with a disclaimer notifying people that they contain outdated depictions of certain groups.
The story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is a sensitive topic for the dwarfism community. Although it’s a cartoon, it’s often a child’s first exposure to dwarfs, or "little people" as they are sometimes called, and it promotes some of the worst stereotypes attached to them.
Throughout film history, dwarfs have been depicted as magical, communal people, villains or characters to be laughed at. Only recently has Hollywood has begun telling stories where little people are portrayed as fully developed humans. Dinklage has been a wonderful example of someone with dwarfism playing characters that are about more than simply being short-statured.
Historically, bigots have used “Snow White” as a cudgel against little people by comparing them to the characters in the story and by playing cruel jokes such as shouting “Hi-ho” at them in public. So it’s important for Disney to get the characterization of Snow White’s short-statured friends right or risk giving more fodder to those who wish to victimize them.
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