More

This group found a simple way to get messages from homeless people to their families.

'I never realized I was homeless when I lost my home but only when I lost my family and friends to support me.'

This group found a simple way to get messages from homeless people to their families.

Kevin Adler's uncle, Mark, was always a very family-oriented person.

He remembered everyone's birthday and gave thoughtful gifts. One year, he gave Kevin an eagle bandana because Adler means "eagle" in German.

Mark also had mental health problems throughout his life. He was schizophrenic and often in and out of homelessness.


Mark Adler. Photo via Kevin Adler/Miracle Messages, used with permission.

10 years after his death, Kevin and his father visited Mark's gravesite. It was Kevin's first time doing so. In fact, he didn't even known his uncle had one. Mark was estranged, but the family felt it was important "that he not be forgotten," as Kevin's father put it.

This got Kevin thinking about all the people without homes in the world (over 100 million according to the last attempted global survey) who either have a mental illness or are simply down on their luck and are disconnected from their families. Then, he thought about how easily he and his friends and family connect via social media — a power few homeless people are probably able to harness.

It wasn't until Kevin launched an art project for his church, however, that he found a way to change this.  

He wanted to show his fellow churchgoers what it was like to see the world through a homeless person's eyes.

Photo via Kevin Adler/Miracle Messages, used with permission.

It was called Homeless GoPro and involved homeless volunteers wearing GoPros to show what a day in their lives looked like.

While working with them, Kevin kept hearing iterations of this sentiment: ​"I never realized I was homeless when I lost my home but only when I lost my family and friends to support me."

That's when he realized he could do a great deal more for them using the same camera and his Facebook account. He could record their stories and send them out on social media to help try and find their families.

He would end up calling the project Miracle Messages.

“That’s my daughter. I love her. And for Father’s Day she actually gave me a foot imprint. But I have a good friend who...

Posted by Miracle Messages on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Kevin decided to test out his idea in San Francisco around Christmas in 2014.

He walked down Market Street and asked every homeless person he came across if they'd like to leave a holiday video message for a loved one.

That's when he met Jeffrey.

Kevin with Jeffrey on Market Street. Photo via Kevin Adler/Miracle Messages, used with permission.

"I started talking to him," said Kevin. "He was a little bit out of it, but once I asked him about his family, he got incredibly lucid. He looked me right in the eye and said, 'I haven’t seen my family in a long time.'"

It had been 22 years.

Kevin asked him if he'd like to record a video message for his sister and father (the family Jeffrey remembered) that Kevin would then use to try and locate them. He said "yes," and Kevin obliged.

That night, Kevin went on an internet search for Jeffrey's family. He found a group on Facebook associated with Jeffrey's hometown in Pennsylvania and sent them a message asking if they wouldn't mind sharing the video. They agreed, and within minutes, comments from locals started pouring in. After 20 minutes, his sister was tagged.  

On Christmas Eve, Kevin got on the phone with Jeffrey's sister and learned that Jeffrey had actually been a missing person for 12 years. Three weeks later, Jeffrey's hometown ended up raising $5,000 to bring him home and rehabilitate him.

The reconciliation felt too good to be true. Kevin was able to change Jeffrey's life with his simple idea.

Eager to help more people, Kevin took his messaging service to St. Anthony's Foundation in downtown San Francisco.

Johnny at St. Anthony's in San Francisco. Photo via Miracle Messages, used with permission.

St. Anthony's has been serving food to the homeless since 1950. At first it seemed like no one was interested, but then, just as he was leaving, one man named Johnny took him up on his request to record a message.

He hadn't seen his family in 33 years and had been listed as missing person for 20. Kevin followed the same procedure he had enacted in Jeffrey's case, and within three weeks, all four of Johnny's brothers and sisters got on a plane to San Francisco with their families and reunited with Johnny in person.

According to Kevin, while he was in the hotel room with them all, Johnny looked at him and said, "Thank you for giving me my family back."

Out of the 45 video messages sent by volunteers at Miracle Messages, there have been nearly 20 reunions.

Perry's reunion with his son, Joseph. Image via Miracle Messages/YouTube.

Eight of those 20 have led to stable housing.

But the organization has much bigger plans.

Their goal is to reunite 1% of the world’s homeless population — that’s over 1 million people — by 2021. That may seem lofty, but considering how much they've already accomplished, it's not impossible.

Over 5,000 people have already reached out wanting to start chapters of Miracle Messages in their own communities.

There are still a few kinks to work out, like having a clear model for how to get consent, record, and upload videos to the proper channels, but people are motivated. These reunions are making so many lives better, homeless and non-homeless alike. The more people who can be brought back to their families, the more people will find their way home.

If you'd like to help this volunteer-based organization, you can donate to their site and learn more about volunteering here.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
True

In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

Keep Reading Show less
True

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."