Warrick Dunn knows how to keep his head down and keep moving. For 12 years, his career depended on it.

The former running back was a first round pick for the NFL in 1997, and was later named Rookie of the Year. His professional career spanned more than a decade, with three stints in the Pro Bowl and countless other awards and accolades. In his final year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he became the sixth NFL player ever to rush more than 10,000 yards.

For most athletes, that kind of resume would be enough. But for Warrick Dunn, it's just one small fraction of the story that reveals his real endurance.


Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

Dunn's mother, Betty Smothers, was murdered when he was 18 years old — leaving him as the legal guardian of his six younger siblings.

Smothers was a Baton Rouge police officer, as well as a single mother. She was off-duty and working an evening security shift — something she often did to provide for her family — when she was shot and killed by bank robbers.

"She gave me the best 18 years of my life. She was my best friend. She taught me everything about life. I lost a lot when I lost her," Dunn told USA Today in 2005.

With help from his grandmother, Dunn was able to split his time between his family and his burgeoning education and football career at Florida State University. "I was able to provide them with everything that a parent would be able to provide them with. It’s what my mom would’ve wanted," he said in a charity blog post. "I didn’t live my life for myself; I lived my life for them. I really did try to give them everything possible to give them a normal life."

Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images.

But to him, his mother's legacy was bigger than his own kin. Which is why he founded Warrick Dunn Charities in 1997.

According to the website, "Warrick Dunn Charities was created from the belief that a better future starts with hope. We are dedicated to strengthening and transforming communities through combating poverty, hunger and improving the quality of life for families and children."

Their slogan? "Improving lives. Instilling hope. Inspiring communities." 

One way that Dunn's organization achieves this is through Betty's Hope, which offers grief resources and education for children. The other is Home for the Holidays, which eases the financial burden of homeownership for economically-disadvantaged single-parent families — helping others to realize the property-owning dreams that Dunn's mother always wanted but never lived to achieve.

Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images.

As of December 2015, Home for the Holidays has provided homes for 147 families, with a goal to reach 150 by this spring.

What does that mean, exactly? It means that Dunn's organization covers the down payment on the house and also supplies families with fresh linens and a fully-stocked pantry, along with some electronics, such as a television or computer. As Dunn told The Daily Snark, "They only have to bring their clothes."

Other well-known athletes might revel in the spotlight, using their charitable actions to boost their own brand. But Dunn is content to let his actions speak for themselves.

This probably doesn't come as much of a surprise considering how seamlessly he stepped into a caretaking role at such a young point in his life.

Even at the height of his NFL career, Dunn was humble and frugal with his earnings. "I try to tell the family, 'Let's buy out of necessity,'" he said in a 2000 interview with the St. Petersburg Times. "Now, sometimes it's good to get things you don't need to be rewarded, but let's not go overboard."

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images.

That's not to say that Dunn is entirely selfless — in many ways, his charity work is just a part of his own grieving process.

"This one incident has made me so hard and closed that I wanted to continue to progress and move forward," he said in a 2009 interview with ESPN, shortly after visiting one of his mother's killers in prison. 

"I know that [my mother] sacrificed her life for us — the six of us. I know she's proud. She's proud of the fact that I hadn't gone crazy. I hadn't gone down the wrong path, that I've done something positive with my life."

Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images.

Here's a recent video of the famously soft-spoken running back discussing his mother and his Home for the Holidays program.

And if you want to support Warrick Dunn Charities in their goal of giving away 150 homes this spring, you can make a donation onlineOr you can help by simply spreading the word, so that ever-humble Dunn can focus on helping hundreds of other families in need.

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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From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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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.

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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.

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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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