The 9 teachers who just received awards from the White House were all in the U.S. illegally.

Jaime Ballesteros first realized just how much his immigration status mattered when he started looking at colleges.

He didn't have a Social Security number — and without that, he wouldn't be able to apply for schools alongside his peers, who were considering colleges like Harvard and Yale.

He knew what was wrong. Born in the Philippines, Jaime came to the U.S. with his parents and older brother when he was 11 years old. His father had a temporary work visa tied to his job as an accountant, which allowed him to bring his wife and children with him.



Jaime at roughly age 6 in Bacolod City, where his family lived in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Jaime Ballesteros.

Then the recession hit. Jaime's father lost his job in 2007, which meant their visas would expire.

His family went from living the American Dream to immigration fugitives in the course of a year.

The timing couldn't have been worse, either. Jaime was looking at colleges and didn't know how to handle questions about citizenship and legal residency. He turned to one of the few people he thought he could trust, Ms. Solberg, his English teacher.

“She was the first person I came out to as an undocumented person," he told Upworthy. “I was very afraid of putting my family in harm's way."

During his time at Drew University, in December 2011. Photo courtesy of Jaime Ballesteros.

She helped him apply to college, a decision that set him on the path for success. The biggest impediment was money — as an undocumented immigrant, he wasn't eligible for federal financial aid and loans. But after struggling through several applications, he connected with an admissions counselor at Drew University, a liberal arts college in New Jersey. The school was able to offer enough in scholarships to cover his tuition.

He also got a boost from a new immigration policy rolled out in 2012, during his junior year at Drew. The Obama administration announced a program that would allow young undocumented immigrants like him to live and work in the U.S. legally. He applied and was approved.

But he never forgot the support he received from Ms. Solberg.

When Jaime graduated college, he joined Teach for America. Now he's a high school chemistry teacher in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

At the Ánimo College Preparatory Academy, where he teaches chemistry. Photo courtesy of Jaime Ballesteros.

On the first day of class, he told his students — many of them immigrants, as well — that he was undocumented. “I want them to be comfortable approaching me," he said.

Stories like Jaime's are becoming more and more common.

The program that gave Jaime a pathway to become a teacher — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — has allowed more than 664,000 people to work legally in the U.S.

Teachers make up a portion of those newly employed young people, a fact recognized by the White House last week when it handed out Champions of Change awards to nine young teachers, all of whom have work authorization through DACA.

The nine teachers awarded Champions of Change awards by the White House. Photo courtesy of The White House.

The awards typically go to innovative American workers across the spectrum. This time around, all of the recipients were people who either overstayed a visa or entered the country illegally.

Now they're able to live in the U.S. without fear of imminent deportation.

Congrats to Jaime and the eight other educators honored by the White House this week:

1. Kasfia Islam, who moved from Bangladesh to a small town in Texas with her parents at age 6.

Photo courtesy of Kasfia Islam.

As a pre-kindergarten teacher, she said she's careful to watch for students who are learning English and might not understand.

[The students] want to communicate so badly with you, but they don't have the means to do it, so it can be frustrating for them," she said.

2. Marissa Molina, who came to the U.S. from the Mexican state of Chihuahua when she was 9 years old.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Molina.

After years of hiding her immigration status, Molina feels validated to be able to accept an award from the White House and speak publicly about her situation — for herself and others like her.

“I feel really overwhelmed with emotion," she said about the award. "For many years, I was made to believe that people like me didn't belong in these spaces."

3. Luis Juarez Trevino, whose family brought him to Texas as a child, seeking a better life.

Photo courtesy of Luis Juarez Trevino.

As an immigrant student without much money, Trevino saw college and a professional career as a long shot. “The odds were against me," he said in an email.

“Teachers truly took the time to motivate me, care for my wellbeing, and push me outside of my comfort zone."

4. David Liendo Uriona, who came to the U.S. from Bolivia for a karate tournament and never returned.

Photo courtesy of David Liendo Uriona.

Uriona didn't think college would be an option for him, since he had been living in the U.S. without legal status since he was 14.

“When I was in high school, I felt dejected as result of my lack of documentation," he said. “I know from firsthand experience that there are many students that felt like me in high school, and teaching them that their dreams can come true is one of my biggest motivations."

5. Maria Dominguez, who came to the U.S. when she was 9, after her father — who was living in Texas as a legal resident — passed away in a car accident.

Photo courtesy of Maria Dominguez.

Dominguez said her mother didn't intend to keep the family in Texas after her father's death, but that Austin soon became their home and they joined the estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants in the state.

“The Champions of Change Award is allowing me to represent my community, a community that has a voice and a face but that chooses to live in the shadows because they are afraid to share their stories," she told Upworthy.

6. Yara Hidalgo, whose family brought her to California as a 1-year-old from Nayarit, a state in Western Mexico.

Photo courtesy of Yara Hidalgo.

Hidalgo knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher, but her experience as an undocumented high schooler — fearing deportation and unsure of her future — steeled her resolve.

"I believe that through education we can promote and be catalysts of progressive change," she said. "Some of our systems are broken and we need to fix them."

7. Rosario Quiroz Villarreal, whose mother brought her from the border state of Coahuila, Mexico, to Oakland, California, at age 7 so they could reunite with her father.

Photo courtesy of Rosario Quiroz Villarreal.

Throughout her life, educators supported her following her professional dreams. She wants to pay that back by guiding others in the same way.

“Growing up undocumented was challenging, given the times I've been rejected because of the lack of a Social Security number," she said. “This validates years of efforts and tells me my work matters."

8. Dinorah Flores Perez, who was 5 years old when her parents brought her from Mexico to the U.S.

Photo courtesy of The White House.

Flores Perez said she "detested" school as a child and chose her profession to make things better for other students.

"I remember feeling invisible, afraid, and insecure in my academic abilities," she said. "I seek to be a different teacher and see my students' limitations as a catapult to change their realities."

These teachers are just a few examples of how much a work permit matters to someone who is in the country without legal status but wants to contribute to their community.

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.

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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."