When more than 2,000 children were taken from their families at the border, Julie Schwietert Collazo found it increasingly difficult to sleep.

And as the spouse of a refugee, immigration issues were already intensely personal for her family.

One night, Schwietert Collazo was listening to the radio and heard an interview with the lawyer of a detained Guatemalan mother. Yeni Gonzalez had been separated from her three children at the border while seeking asylum.


Yeni Gonzalez speaks at a press conference. Photo by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images.

"Something he said connected the dots for me about how some parents can be reunified with kids," says Schwietert Collazo. "He explained that Yeni was in a detention facility in Arizona and her kids were known to be in a center in NYC, and that, technically speaking, they could be reunified. She just needed to get to NYC."

Schwietert Collazo wondered what might happen if she tried to make reunification possible for this one family.

She, her husband, and some friends brainstormed and decided they wanted to try to raise bond for Gonzalez, get her to New York City, and support her until her case was heard.

Coordinating with Gonzalez's lawyer, the group immediately launched a GoFundMe, setting an arbitrary goal since they didn't yet know what Gonzalez's bond amount would be. The next morning, they learned it would be $7,500. They had already raised well beyond that overnight.

But money wasn't the only obstacle to helping bring Gonzalez and her children back together. Somehow, the group had to get her from Arizona to New York.

It wasn't as simple as planning a cross-country move. Gonzalez doesn't have a photo ID, so that eliminated the simplest and most obvious option of buying her a plane ticket. The next option — ground travel by Greyhound or Amtrak — could have put her in danger as a lone traveler. So the community got creative.

Schwietert Collazo and the group set up a rideshare relay, moving Gonzalez across the country in vehicles driven by volunteers and stopping in volunteer host homes along the way.

On July 2, Gonzalez arrived in NYC to see streets lined with supporters cheering for her. Accompanied by two elected officials and her lawyer the next day, Gonzalez visited with her children for the first time since their separation.

Gonzalez embraces Janey Pearl, one of the volunteers who helped drive her cross-country to NYC. Photo by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images.

A nationwide injunction in June 2018 ordered all separated families to be reunited within a month. The logistics of that order, however, are proving to be nothing but pure chaos.

The injunction ordered all children under 5 to be reunified with their parents within 14 days and all older children to be reunited within 30 days. Even with the private funds and community help she received, Gonzalez's case will likely take longer than that.

For other families, the challenges of reunification are even more overwhelming.

For starters, kids — some of them preverbal — have been moved all over the country with little to no documentation that would be able to link them back to their parents. Additionally, immigration advocates and lawyers report that many parents are simply giving up their asylum claims out of desperation for reuniting with their children.

Some organizations, like the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) are stepping in to help clean up the mess surrounding separated families.

Previously, MIRC handled cases of "unaccompanied minors," defined as adolescents and teenagers who crossed the border alone. Now that very young children separated from their parents are included in that category, MIRC's work has grown more complicated.

Additionally, MIRC managing attorney Susan Reed says that most of the cases she sees unfortunately don't pertain to parents who are eligible for bond, like Gonzalez.

"It's relatively uncommon that people are getting bonds and being allowed to move forward with asylum claims," says Reed. That's because when Attorney General Jeff Sessions eliminated domestic violence and gang violence as grounds for asylum last month, he made it increasingly difficult for anyone to be granted asylum.

In addition, Reed says, prosecutors at the border are aggressive about trying to get people's paths to asylum cut off as quickly as possible.

"So far our clients who've been reunited have been reunited with parents who either have already been deported or are being deported," says Reed. "And even that hasn't been going that well."

As cases like Gonzalez's become less common, it's more important that individuals like Schwietert Collazo to step in and help with reunification where possible.

Getting Gonzalez closer to her children started with one person moving from compassion to action.

[rebelmouse-image 19478286 dam="1" original_size="1200x1083" caption="Gonzalez walks with members of the team that is helping her reunite with her kids, including Julie Schwietert Collazo, in back. Photo via Sen. Mike Gianaris/Twitter." expand=1]Gonzalez walks with members of the team that is helping her reunite with her kids, including Julie Schwietert Collazo, in back. Photo via Sen. Mike Gianaris/Twitter.

The most important thing, says Schwietert Collazo, is to trust the grassroots process.

"Each person who has shown up has been totally empowered to 'own' their part of the process and to be responsible for it," she says. "We haven't needed to lean on or involve any government representatives, and my experience is that when you trust your team, you can get things done more quickly." Her team's plan went from idea to full fruition in less than a week.

Schwietert Collazo hopes that her team's action plan can act as a model that others can use to support more detained parents reunite with their children.

In fact, on July 4, the group launched two more GoFundMe campaigns for two more moms, each one already approaching their $25,000 goal. Her efforts make it possible for others to contribute to the reunification effort by supporting her team or by starting a reunification project of their own in hopes that, eventually, all families separated at the border can be brought together again.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

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.

More

The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

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.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

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.

Upworthy is sharing this letter from Myra Sack on the anniversary of the passing of her daughter Havi Lev Goldstein. Loss affects everyone differently and nothing can prepare us for the loss of a young child. But as this letter beautifully demonstrates, grief is not something to be ignored or denied . We hope the honest words and feelings shared below can help you or someone you know who is processing grief of their own. The original letter begins below:


Dear Beauty,

Time is crawling to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the day you took your final breath on my chest in our bed. We had a dance party the night before. Your posse came over. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, closest friends, and your loving nanny Tia. We sat in the warm kitchen with music on and passed you from one set of arms to another. Everyone wanted one last dance with you. We didn’t mess around with only slow songs. You danced to Havana and Danza Kuduro, too. Somehow, you mustered the energy to sway and rock with each of us, despite not having had anything to eat or drink for six days. That night, January 19th, we laughed and cried and sang and danced. And we held each other. We let our snot and our tears rest on each other’s shoulders; we didn’t wipe any of them away. We ate ice cream after dinner, as we do every night. And on this night, we rubbed a little bit of fresh mint chocolate chip against your lips. Maybe you’d taste the sweetness.

Reggaeton and country music. Blueberry pancakes and ice cream. Deep, long sobs and outbursts of real, raw laughter. Conversations about what our relationships mean to each other and why we are on this earth.


Keep Reading Show less

What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.

I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.

Keep Reading Show less