Heroes

This teen's app stops cyberbullying, and she's just one innovator in this competition.

Innovators are using technology to create impact on a massive scale.

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Comcast NBCUniversal & NationSwell

In 2013, Trisha Prabhu read a news story that broke her heart — a 12-year-old girl had taken her life after experiencing cyberbullying.

Prabhu was only 13 at the time and couldn't understand someone younger than her taking her own life. However, instead of processing her shock and moving on, she decided to do something about it.

"I started thinking about what I could do to stop this from ever happening again," writes Prabhu in an email.


[rebelmouse-image 19532798 dam="1" original_size="920x652" caption="Trisha Prabhu. Photo via Trisha Prabhu." expand=1]Trisha Prabhu. Photo via Trisha Prabhu.

The inner workings of the brain had always fascinated Prabhu, so she decided to research adolescent behavior as it relates to cyberbullying for a science fair. What she found was startling — adolescents are 50% more likely to impulsively post hateful things online than adults because the part of their brains that makes decisions isn't fully developed yet.

Armed with that knowledge and her coding skills, Prabhu began working on an app designed to fight cyberbullying.

She called it ReThink.

According to her research, if given the chance, adolescents will change their minds and not post a hurtful message 93% of the time. With the help of her teachers, her parents, and endless Googling, Prabhu developed the ReThink app, which detects a hateful message before it's sent and gives the creator the option of deleting it.

[rebelmouse-image 19532799 dam="1" original_size="640x480" caption="Photo via Summer Skyes 11/Flickr. " expand=1]Photo via Summer Skyes 11/Flickr.

The app is now available for most smartphones and tablets, and so far, over 3,000 schools have adopted it. Not only has it received an overwhelmingly positive response from parents, students, teachers, and law enforcement officials, it has been awarded scientific merit by Google, MIT, Northwestern University, WebMD, and even the White House. Today, Prabhu is traveling the world, speaking out against cyberbullying and advocating for STEM education, especially for young women. At only 17, she's certainly an innovator to watch.

That's why she's one of the 2017 Tech Impact AllStars. Presented by NationSwell and Comcast NBCUniversal, Prabhu is one of five social innovators who are using technology to solve problems in their communities.

And she's in good company. Here's a look at four other trailblazers making a major impact on the tech world.

1. Dan Rhoton, Executive Director of Hopeworks 'N Camden, is preparing at-risk youths for careers in tech.

Not only does the nonprofit provide job training support, it offers counseling for kids who've experienced all levels of trauma.

[rebelmouse-image 19532800 dam="1" original_size="400x400" caption="Dan Rhoton. Photo via NationSwell." expand=1]Dan Rhoton. Photo via NationSwell.

This is why their mission states, "we believe every youth, no matter their history, has the ability to succeed and thrive. Not just survive."

Rhoton joined Hopeworks in 2012, and helped direct its focus on trauma support. As a result, the program's college enrollment numbers increased more than 300% and job placement by 70%.

2. Felecia Hatcher-Pearson, Co-founder of Code Fever, is helping to bring more people of color to the tech community table.

[rebelmouse-image 19532801 dam="1" original_size="1000x662" caption="Felecia Hatcher-Pearson. Photo via NationSwell." expand=1]Felecia Hatcher-Pearson. Photo via NationSwell.

Hatcher-Pearson runs a coding and entrepreneur training facility in Miami called Code Fever for kids age 13 to 21. The organization was specifically created to help underserved minorities break into various STEM fields and take up leadership positions in order to level the cultural imbalance that currently exists.

Hatcher-Pearson's no stranger to overcoming obstacles. When she was younger, her guidance counselor told her she didn't have the grades to get into college, so she taught herself how to code and landed over $130,000 in scholarship funds. She's basically the archetype for the idea "if you can dream it, you can be it," so now she's made it her mission to inspire others. She's already introduced over 3,000 kids and adults to the tech ecosystem.

3. Kelsey Foster, Campaign Director for the Committee for a Better New Orleans, is using a video game to make city budgets more accessible to the people of New Orleans.

[rebelmouse-image 19532802 dam="1" original_size="400x400" caption="Kelsey Foster. Photo via NationSwell." expand=1]Kelsey Foster. Photo via NationSwell.

Public finances aren't exactly the easiest things to understand, especially for the majority of people directly affected by them. That's why Kelsey Foster helped come up with a user-friendly video game to clearly show them how it all works.

It's called the Big Easy Budget Game, and it allows residents to see just how city budgets are balanced and where their hard-earned tax dollars go. Users play the mayor and are allotted the same budget (simulated, of course) to dispense where they see fit. Who says budgeting has to be boring?

Right now, 80% of New Orleans' population feels neglected when it comes to budget decisions. Foster knew it was high time they found a way to include them in the conversation, which is why the data the game collects is being used to inform voters ahead of the mayoral election.

4. Jeremy Peskin, Co-founder of Borderwise, is streamlining the citizenship process for undocumented immigrants.

[rebelmouse-image 19532803 dam="1" original_size="600x600" caption="Jeremy Peskin. Photo via NationSwell." expand=1]Jeremy Peskin. Photo via NationSwell.

Before Peskin became an American citizen, he always feared he'd be deported when he traveled back to see his family in Canada. He wanted to find a way to eliminate that fear for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.

He created Borderwise in 2016 to reduce the cost for immigrants to achieve citizenship status and to make the application process much easier to digest. By putting all the paperwork online, costs are lowered from thousands to just $500. Peskin hopes this will help more immigrants, who might otherwise be unsure how to proceed, apply for citizenship.

While only in its first year, the program's already helped hundreds of immigrants get the process underway.

Developing technology is an ongoing process, but with such brilliant minds like the ones above at the helm, there's no telling what a difference they'll make.

Innovations like these have the power to change millions of lives, especially in the hands of compassionate creators.

Prabhu put it succinctly: "If I am working on making the world around me a better place, in ways big or small, I would consider myself to be on the right track."

Vote for your favorite 2017 Tech Impact AllStars presented by NationSwell and Comcast NBCUniversal from October 2nd through November 2nd by clicking here.

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.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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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.

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.

Cellist Cremaine Booker's performance of Faure's "Pavane" is as impressive as it is beautiful.

Music might be the closest thing the world has to real magic. Music has the ability to transform any atmosphere in seconds, simply with the sounds of a few notes. It can be simple—one instrument playing single notes like raindrops—or a complex symphony of melodies and harmonies, swirling and crashing like waves from dozens of instruments. Certain rhythms can make us spontaneously dance and certain chord progressions can make us cry.

Music is an art, a science, a language and a decidedly human endeavor. People have made music throughout history, in every culture on every continent. Over time, people have perfected the crafting of instruments and passed along the knowledge of how to play them, so every time we see someone playing music, we're seeing the history of humanity culminated in their craft. It's truly an amazing thing.

The pandemic threw a wrench into seeing live musicians for a good chunk of time, and even now, live performances are limited. Thankfully, we have technology that makes it easier for musicians to collaborate and perform with one another virtually—and also makes it easier for people to create "group" performances all by themselves.

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A round-up of delights from around the internet this week.

Hey all!

Welcome to Upworthy's weekly roundup of delights from around the internet. This week's list features a little of everything—gorgeous music, cute kids, adorable animals, hope for the planet and a brand new video message from the late and great Betty White.

That's right, Betty White left us a message of gratitude shortly before her passing. It's brief, but how lovely to see and hear her speak to her millions of fans one last time. Few celebrities are as universally beloved as Betty White was, and though we knew she couldn't live forever, it would have been fun to see her celebrate her 100th birthday. Now, at least, we get to experience her joy and warmth with a few last words.

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