This first-grader needed a special kind of help. So her teacher gave her the gift of life.

“You could never tell this little girl has three tubes in her."

Natasha Fuller is just 8 years old, but her grandmother, Chris Burleton, told the Fond du Lac Reporter that she doesn't let her medical condition faze her. “She is happy and sassy, and she just wants to lead a normal life, and do things like go swimming.”

Natasha was born with a rare abdominal muscle condition called Eagle-Barrett Syndrome, or "prune belly syndrome." Among other things, this means that her eight years of life so far have been plagued by urinary tract complications. She lives with her grandparents in Oakfield, Wisconsin — some 400 miles away from her parents and twin sister in Oklahoma — where it's easier to see the doctor, including thrice-weekly trips to the hospital for kidney dialysis.


GIF via WISN 12 News/YouTube.

But in the fall of 2015, doctors said if she didn't get a transplant, Natasha would die.

She had been waiting years to get a new kidney. But every time her name came up on the transplant list, she was already dealing with other kidney infections that would make the surgery impossible. So each time, she was bumped back to the bottom of the list.

GIF via WISN 12 News/YouTube.

That's when her first-grade teacher, Jodi Schmidt, was inspired to do something radical.

Jodi had only known Natasha since the start of the school year, and though she clearly cared about the girl, she couldn't quite articulate where the idea came from. All she knew was she was suddenly so overwhelmed that she had to pull the car over and call her husband.

"I told him, 'Rich, I want to give a student one of my kidneys,'" she told USA Today.

Jodi went through all the proper tests to make sure that she was a donor match for Natasha before she even shared her plan with anyone else. She checked with her principal, Becky Doyle, to see if she could take off the 8 weeks of recovery time, and confirmed with the hospital that her kidney would be used for Natasha and no one else.

GIF via WISN 12 News/YouTube.

Then she called Natasha's grandmother in for a special conference at the school.

Natasha's grandmother assumed that she was going in to speak about her granddaughter's grades or to address some concerns about her failing health, according to USA Today. Instead, she was greeted with a gift.

"We gave her a gift box, and under the tissue paper was a card with the words: 'It's a match,'" she explained.

GIF via WISN 12 News/YouTube.

"I have had some really good days in my life, and that was probably one of the best," Jodi said after seeing the family's reaction. "I think that life takes us on very different paths, and I now have no doubt I was brought to Oakfield for a reason."

GIF via WISN 12 News/YouTube.

Teachers make amazing sacrifices for students every day — and Jodi's gift to Natasha is simply one of the most extraordinary.

In the meantime, you can warm your own heart with the full donor revelation video below — and let's all hope that Natasha and Jodi both have a speedy recovery after their surgeries in April!

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather
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While most 10-year-olds are playing Minecraft, riding bikes, or watching YouTube videos, Justin Sather is intent on saving the planet. And it all started with a frog blanket when he was a baby.

"He carried it everywhere," Justin's mom tells us. "He had frog everything, even a frog-themed birthday party."

In kindergarten, Justin learned that frogs are an indicator species – animals, plants, or microorganisms used to monitor drastic changes in our environment. With nearly one-third of frog species on the verge of extinction due to pollution, pesticides, contaminated water, and habitat destruction, Justin realized that his little amphibian friends had something important to say.

"The frogs are telling us the planet needs our help," says Justin.

While it was his love of frogs that led him to understand how important the species are to our ecosystem, it wasn't until he read the children's book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada that Justin-the-activist was born.

Inspired by the book and with his mother's help, he set out on a mission to raise funds for frog habitats by selling toy frogs in his Los Angeles neighborhood. But it was his frog art which incorporated scientific facts that caught people's attention. Justin's message spread from neighbor to neighbor and through social media; so much so that he was able to raise $2,000 for the non-profit Save The Frogs.

And while many kids might have their 8th birthday party at a laser tag center or a waterslide park, Justin invited his friends to the Ballona wetlands ecological preserve to pick invasive weeds and discuss the harms of plastic pollution.

Justin's determination to save the frogs and help the planet got a massive boost when he met legendary conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather

At one of her Roots and Shoots youth initiative events, Dr. Goodall was so impressed with Justin's enthusiasm for helping frogs, she challenged the young activist to take it one step further and focus on plastic pollution as well. Justin accepted her challenge and soon after was featured in an issue of Bravery Magazine dedicated to Jane Goodall.

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Image courtesy Julian Shapiro-Barnum

Like many other people, the COVID-19 pandemic had Julian Shapiro-Barnum feeling low.

The 22-year-old comedian and actor had spent his senior year at Boston University entirely online, and after moving back home to New York, he felt constricted to his apartment.

"Being stuck in that place was really challenging," Shapiro-Barnum said -- but instead of basking in his sorrow, he decided to take his problems to the streets to get feedback from the experts. In this case, kids.


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Courtesy of Capital One
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Marim Albajari was a high school senior living in New York City during the onset of the pandemic. Suddenly, the prospect of starting college directly after graduation no longer seemed like a sure thing.

Due to a lack of resources to help her navigate the college application process, she was almost a victim of the "summer melt"—a term used to describe students who cancel plans to attend college before classes begin.

The "melt" is a common problem disproportionately affecting students from low-income families—many high-school graduates who have been accepted to college and plan to enroll are quickly knocked off-course if they do not obtain sufficient financial aid, miss administrative deadlines, or most importantly, lack support from family and friends.

The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the problem, as high school graduates who immediately went on to college in Fall 2020 declined by nearly 7% when compared to the previous year, for obvious reasons. Even without a pandemic, finding the right information about things like course load, financial aid, and housing can be time-consuming and overwhelming for students without a guide.

That's where Oli comes in.

A free AI chatbot service, nicknamed "Oli", is offered by The Common Application (Common App). In 2018, the Reach Higher Initiative merged with Common App and partnered with AdmitHub to develop the AI chatbot that would eventually become Oli. The group then joined forces with the College Advising Corps to offer counseling services to get more first-generation, low-income, and diverse students enrolled in college.

Now a freshman at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Albajari can attest to the value of Oli's help.

Courtesy of Common App

With the help of $1.4 million in grant funding from the Capital One Foundation, nearly 675,000 high school students applying to colleges through Common App have gained access to information on admissions and scholarship opportunities.

"The Capital One Foundation saw the need and stepped up to help by moving as quickly as possible to maximize the number of people that could be helped," says Eric Waldo, executive director of the Reach Higher Initiative at Common App. "Our colleagues at The Foundation have gone over the top to connect us with resources across their organization and are continuing to help us achieve our mission to assist as many students as possible through its continued support to the Class of 2021 and beyond."The result? Resources provided by Oli have saved students nearly 18,000 hours that traditionally would've been spent consulting with an advisor.

"Oli was my guardian angel," Albajari said. "As a first-generation college student, I didn't have the privilege to get the help I needed at home on my college journey. Even though Oli may be a robot, I felt like someone had my back."

The result? Resources provided by Oli have saved students nearly 18,000 hours that traditionally would've been spent consulting with an advisor.

"Oli was my guardian angel," Albajari said. "As a first-generation college student, I didn't have the privilege to get the help I needed at home on my college journey. Even though Oli may be a robot, I felt like someone had my back."

"It is imperative that all graduating high school students be equipped with the tools necessary to avoid delaying their dreams of attending college," says Andy Navarrete, Head of External Affairs at Capital One. "The playing field of opportunity in higher education has never been level, and the COVID-19 pandemic only made that fact more clear. We're committed to continuing our efforts to support equitable access and persistence for aspiring college students of all backgrounds."

That support from The Foundation comes alongside an initial $200 million, multi-year commitment from Capital One to advance socioeconomic mobility through the Capital One Impact Initiative.

In addition to exclusively funding the initial launch of the AI chatbot for Class of 2020 students, Capital One is continuing to expand this resource by contributing both financially and through pro bono support from its tech associates. Since the chatbot's inception, nine associates from Capital One have volunteered 500 hours of pro bono service to optimize the chatbot's ability to help prospective college students.

"As a first-generation college student, I remember having a lot of the same questions that students interacting with the chatbot were seeking answers to," says Elizabeth Souza, a Capital One associate who helped support the development of this chatbot. "Volunteering to support the development of this chatbot has been a tremendous opportunity to ensure equitable access to technology and resources for all."

Courtesy of Capital One

Those efforts in turn helped first-generation college student Jennifer Sanchez, a California native now finishing her freshman year at the University of La Verne. With the help of resources provided by the AI chatbot, Sanchez earned a scholarship, received a grant to help offset the cost of housing and was connected with councilors at each university she received admission to best decide which school would be the best fit for her.

"I was considering not even going to college because of how the pandemic financially impacted my family, but that chatbot gave me access to financial and educational resources that I would've never known existed without it," Sanchez said. "I think of that Oli like a friend. It supported me on my journey, like a friend would, every step of the way."

A little encouragement and access to the right information can take us places we never imagined.