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Old Navy Cozy Socks

When Athena White lost her only child, the grief nearly consumed her.

The void left after her son’s passing was, at first, one filled with anger. "He was 25," she explains. "My son was my life. I was a lost soul."

Athena might have felt lost, but she also soon found kindness where she least expected it: at work. Her coworkers at Old Navy, recognizing her pain, quickly stepped in to support her.


"They could’ve easily said, 'I’m sorry you’re having a hard time, here’s some flowers,'" she says. Instead of empty condolences, they showed up in a big way. "They said, 'How much time do you need? What can we do?'"

And it wasn’t just the compassion of those around her that made an impact. It was their belief in Athena herself — in particular, their belief that she had a story worth telling.

Athena White in an Old Navy store. All images provided by Gap Inc.

It was that belief that led Athena’s district manager to offer her an opportunity that would change her life.

He saw her not as a lost soul, but as someone with real potential for leadership. That’s when he connected Athena to This Way Ahead, Old Navy's internship program that would allow her to transform her pain into purpose.

"I didn’t know at the time, but it’s definitely turned my life around, being part of [This Way Ahead]."

This Way Ahead is a paid internship program for young adults that offers career and skills training programs by partnering with nonprofits and connecting young adults with mentors like Athena. After 10 weeks, interns walk away with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and, most importantly, the connection and care to realize their own self-worth.

It’s that connection that Athena says helped her cope with her grief.

"They’re looking for someone to listen to them; they’re looking for direction, someone that’s just there," she explains. "I lost my son, but I gained so many young adults in my life ... it makes me feel whole. It fills a void."

It’s a tradition of giving back, Athena says, that began with her mother and her son. "My mom was the biggest cheerleader I ever had," she says. And her son, too, had the biggest heart of anyone she knew.

"It’s grown into something bigger than myself," she explains. Mentoring youth helps her carry on the loving legacy left behind by her mother and son and, in turn, allows every youth she inspires to go on and make an impact too.

Athena White with former This Way Ahead intern, and now Old Navy Associate, Yazmeen Owens.

"My mission, in turn, is how do I pay it forward? How do I give back?"

For Athena, giving back isn’t just about giving these youth an internship. It’s about creating a connection that allows them to thrive.

"We’ve all made mistakes," she shares. She sees her role as one where she not only offers skills in the workplace, but gives the genuine support and care that many of the youth lack.

"Sometimes, these young kids, they don’t have the support. [They need] to know that there’s somebody that truly cares."

One intern that Athena remembers started out in the program as shy and withdrawn. At first, Athena wondered if she even wanted to be there.

"She wasn’t open to trusting," Athena explains. "I kept insisting, in my mind, there was something more to this young lady. My mission was to open her eyes and open her heart."

And with time, the two formed a special bond.

"She just started to warm up," Athena recalls. "Every time she’d see me, her eyes would just light up." And not only did she complete the program — she now works with Athena at Old Navy and is returning to school. "She’s a whole different person now," Athena raves.

And stories like hers aren’t uncommon — 74% of graduates from the This Way Ahead program receive job offers upon completion, with a retention rate twice that of their peers.

Yazmeen Owens and Athena White.

For youth in the program, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, This Way Ahead offers one opportunity that can transform the rest of their lives.

It’s an opportunity that Athena is honored to be a part of. "They were [all] seeking something more than a job," she explains.

For some, what they seek is real support and connection. For others, like one memorable alumni from Oakland, they’re looking for a shot at a brighter, better future.

"He had never been outside of Oakland," Athena shares. "Now he’s in college in Indiana. Whatever it takes, he’s going to be a doctor. He [just needed] to get out of the neighborhood."

And that's why, Athena says, programming like this needs direct support. "We have to keep the program alive," she explains.

And with the right support, not only will the program survive — it can thrive. Old Navy is in the process of expanding the program through a donation campaign on Black Friday 2017; for every $1 cozy sock purchased, Old Navy will match it with a donation to Boys & Girls Clubs, up to $1 million. These donations will expand their offerings to create more career opportunities for youth.

For a customer, it might seem like a small gesture. But it adds up. And for Athena and the youth she mentors, those small gestures mean a continued impact well into the future.

Thanks to the support she received in her darkest hour, Athena is now an unstoppable force for good in the lives of countless youth.

"Every year, I want more kids," she laughs.

When asked what she’s learned from her experiences as a mentor, she recalls the impact that one person can have on others. "Take a moment, give somebody your time, listen to somebody," she shares.

"You never know what you’re offering; you never know what someone is going to take from that conversation. Be mindful that people are listening, they are watching. You can change somebody’s life."

And for the kids mentored by Athena, with futures now brimming with possibility, there’s no greater lesson than that.

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.

Peter Dinklage in 2013.

Disney has taken another step toward diversifying its iconic princesses by casting Rachel Zegler to play Snow White in its upcoming live-action version of the Grimms’ fairy tale. Zegler’s mother is of Colombian descent and her father has Polish roots. The 20-year-old actress recently wowed audiences in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Disney has also announced that Halle Bailey, a Black actress, will play Ariel in its upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney’s big push toward inclusivity in the casting of its princesses is definitely a welcome move, but according to actor Peter Dinklage, the Mouse may be missing the forest for the trees.

Dinklage, who was born with a form of dwarfism named achondroplasia, criticized Disney on the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast for being hypocritical for focusing on race while completely missing the ball when it comes to people with disabilities.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Maron.

"Really? Like what?" Maron asked. "What do you see?"


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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.

A group of around 20 moms gathered at a Boston area high school to vent their frustrations loudly.

The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but there are certain groups of people who have faced particularly intense challenges these past two years. Healthcare workers? For sure. Teachers? Definitely. Parents? Um, yes.

Moms specifically? Yesssss.

It's hard to describe how hard navigating the pandemic with kids has been. Figuring out childcare when schools and daycare centers shut down, managing kids' remote or hybrid schooling, constantly making decisions about what's safe and what's not, dealing with the inconsistency and chaos of it all, weighing risks with who is vaccinated and who isn't—none of it has been easy. Many parents are also raising kids with mental, emotional, behavioral or physical challenges that have only been made harder by pandemic life.

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This article originally appeared on November 5, 2013


When I saw these incredible photos Angelo Merendino took of his wife, Jennifer, as she battled breast cancer, I felt that I shouldn't be seeing this snapshot of their intimate, private lives.





















The photos humanize the face of cancer and capture the difficulty, fear, and pain that they experienced during the difficult time.

But as Angelo commented: "These photographs do not define us, but they are us."

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