These backpacks are making a world of difference to kids with autism.

A uniquely designed backpack is helping change lives.

Zach has been pretty rough on his backpacks, according to mom.

“I would probably say we’ve gone through three or four backpacks in the last three years," Krista Bau explained. Her son has autism, so wearing a backpack — and keeping it in good shape — hasn't always been the easiest throughout his time in school.

But Zach's new blue backpack has been a big help.


GIF via Nesel Packs/Kickstarter.

Zach is one kid who's benefitted from a Nesel Pack — a backpack uniquely designed to benefit kids who have autism.

The backpack, created by students at the University of Minnesota, has special features that make wearing it much more convenient and comfortable. And it's helping kids like Zach succeed in school.


Photo by Jerry Holt, Star Tribune.

Many kids on the autism spectrum have sensory input issues, which can make them feel overwhelmed by stimuli like light, sound, and touch. Wearing a weighted vest can provide a sense of calm for many of these kids, according to National Autism Resources. So the Nesel Pack has pockets where parents can easily store weights.

The backpack also comes with hip and hugging chest straps to give kids an extra sense of security and comfort, as well as clips for sensory tools.


Photo by Nesel Packs/Kickstarter, used with permission.

The Nesel Pack is designed with durability in mind too, with a bottom that's made out of ballistic fabric (what you'd find on bulletproof vests) and waterproof material that's often used in military and hunting bags. So keeping it in tip-top shape shouldn't be a problem.

Since the backpack's launch, the students in Minnesota have seen a remarkable response to their product.

Since they launched a Kickstarter on March 19, 2016, for parents and supporters to purchase the packs, the group has already exceeded their fundraising goal of $10,000 — in less than one week.

The whole concept of Nesel Packs came out of a class assignment for an entrepreneurship course. But it's turned into something so much more.

Photo by Nesel Packs/Kickstarter, used with permission.

Martha Pietruszewski, the team lead and CEO of Nesel Packs, said she knew the group was really on to something when she got en email from Australia regarding the product.

"I don't know anybody in Australia," she told Upworthy, noting the team started receiving orders before the Kickstarter even launched.

For the Kickstarter campaign, Nesel Packs partnered with Fraser — a Minnesota-based group that provides services to folks with autism — to help supply backpacks to the kids who could use them.

That partnership has been huge in making Nesel Packs a success, Pietruszewski said: "We were all just happy to have someone believe in us and believe that this product will change lives."


Photo by Nesel Packs/Kickstarter, used with permission.

For every $100 donation to the campaign, Fraser provides a backpack to a child in need. Any interested parent looking to purchase one for their child can buy one for $115.

The Nesel Pack team understands that may be a hefty price tag for many families, so they're working on getting it down.

"In order to get this bag into as many hands as possible, we would like to lower the cost," the Kickstarter reads. "We hope that this Kickstarter will be successful so that for our next production run, the bags will be produced at a lesser cost."

One of the coolest things about Nesel Packs? The benefits aren't just for kids with autism.

The design and accessibility of the backpack may also help kids with anxiety issues, ADHD, or dyslexia, Margaret Semrud-Clikeman of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Pediatrics told the Star Tribune.

“The child would know that it’s theirs," she explained. "It’s safe and I think that’s the most important thing, that things are safe.”

Although Nesel Packs reached its initial fundraising the goal, the team has set the bar higher.

"The more that we are funded, the more backpacks we are able to give to those in need," the page explains.

And that means more kids like Zach will feel ready to take on the day.

GIF via Nesel Packs/Kickstarter.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

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A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

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In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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