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Dignity Health

In February 2018, a South Los Angeles community gathered to celebrate some local heroes: teenage agriculturists.

The event was the grand opening of a brand new, state-of-the-art greenhouse on the John C. Fremont High School campus.

This greenhouse is custom designed and optimized with the latest technology for plant growth and education. The vents are computerized. The blinds open and close by themselves, depending on the brightness of the sun.


This facility might sound like something you'd find in Beverly Hills. But it's in South L.A., which has the highest rates of poverty and lowest rates of health in Los Angeles County.

In other words, the place is unlike anything this area has seen before.

The community garden at Fremont High School. All images courtesy of UMMA Community Clinic.

That's why city officials, community organizations, and local residents came together for the grand opening. It symbolized the growth of a neighborhood that was severely lacking green spaces and is now being transformed through healthy food and community.

The greenhouse is the newest addition to Fremont Wellness Center and Garden, which opened in 2012 on an unused lot at the high school. The whole project includes a community clinic, community garden, and small park, and the neighborhood youth are spearheading its mission.

When it comes to resources, South L.A. students and their low-income neighborhoods are overlooked far too often — but not with Fremont Wellness Center and Garden.

It began as a vision for safe and open green spaces as well as quality health services for students and the surrounding neighborhood.

So the Fremont Wellness Center and Garden's creators started the Gardening Apprenticeship Program — or GAP — which teaches students about gardening, environmental science, and food justice.

GAP currently only works with 14 students at a time. But with the addition of the greenhouse, students can participate in a Regional Occupational Program (ROP) as well. About 60 students can take part in ROP, making an even greater impact on youth in the community.

The new greenhouse at Fremont Wellness Center and Garden.

For inner-city youth who would ordinarily have to travel to wealthier neighborhoods for safe, green spaces, this opens up exciting new possibilities.

They learn about the social issues affecting communities like theirs and how they are amplified by a lack of access to fresh food. They also learn how to grow their own organic food, which helps improve their community's health and wellness.

"They learn more about agriculture and learn more about the field and get the professional experience to hopefully, one day, go into this field," says Keshia Sexton, director of organizing at the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust.

And exciting events, like the greenhouse grand opening, allow the students to showcase their hard work for the community.

"It was definitely a student program and a student celebration for this new state-of-the-art resource that's now on Fremont campus," Sexton says of the grand opening ceremony. Presentations included a Fremont High School drill team performance and speakers from L.A. Unified School District, with photographers present to capture it all.

Ribbon-cutting at the greenhouse grand opening ceremony.

The program has been transformative for the youth involved, and one special speaker, Tiani, a GAP student, demonstrated that transformation.

"[She] spoke about how the program impacted her and made her a stronger advocate and gave her the confidence she needs to really succeed," Sexton recalls.

And she is not the only participating student to feel this way. The students' experiences and knowledge provided a crucial perspective on food equity. Their recommendations helped shape the future of their communities as well as offering expertise gained through education and lived experience with fresh foods.

"It's a healing space, and it's a space for folks to enjoy nature," Sexton says. "But it's also a learning space and a civic engagement space, where people are getting activated in being part of the solution for addressing the food inequity."

Fremont High School students at the new greenhouse.

This program helps empower young people to be part of the solution, advocate for their communities' needs, and get healthy food growing in underserved neighborhoods that really need it. And their impact is already significant.

Their South L.A. neighbors now have new resources for healthier living within walking distance.

For example, the community clinic offers medical care for all ages at low to no cost, which will likely help improve overall health of the local population. The clinic is also hosting a free, biweekly farmers market open to the community. Healthy eating plays a critical role in preventative health care; nutritious foods can help prevent things like diabetes and high cholesterol.

The UMMA Community Clinic farmers market.

It's no wonder these students are so proud to show off their work. This is an incredible model that could inspire resources for healthy living in urban areas throughout the country.

In South L.A., Fremont High School students now get to enjoy the fruits of their hard work. They're not only eating fresh food that they've grown themselves, but they're also realizing the impact that they can make on their community.

When imagining what it means to have green spaces in urban areas, most people might imagine a park or garden. But with a model like this, green spaces can be hubs of wellness, community, and education.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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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.

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If you need a respite or distraction from all that, we've got you covered. If immersing yourself in cute animal videos and feel-good stories of human awesomeness is wrong, who wants to be right? Nobody, that's who.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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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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