I have a stepson who was diagnosed as profoundly mentally retarded at age 1. Up until this year, that continued to be a genuine medical diagnosis.* Calling someone that word, or a shortened version of it, is not acceptable. Period.
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.
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?"
"Well, you know, it's really progressive to cast a—literally no offense to anybody, but I was a little taken aback by, they were very proud to cast a Latino actress as Snow White," Dinklage said, "but you're still telling the story of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.' Take a step back and look at what you're doing there.
"It makes no sense to me, because you're progressive in one way and then you're still making that fucking backward story of seven dwarfs living in a cave. What the fuck are you doing, man?" Dinklage added. However, he could get on board if Disney made some drastic changes to the fairy tale.
"If you tell the story of 'Snow White' with the most fucked-up, cool, progressive spin on it—let's do it!" he said.
As the most prominent living actor with dwarfism, Dinklage’s opinion carries a lot of weight. In a business where people with dwarfism are hired to play fantasy characters, elves and villains, Dinklage has found success in roles that are about much more than a character's height. He’s had sex appeal in “Cyrano” and been a leading man with his breakout role in “The Station Agent.”
Disney also needs to consider the fact that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” casts a big shadow over the dwarfism community because it’s often weaponized to mock them.
In “Cultural representations of dwarfs and their disabling affects on dwarfs in society,” Erin Pritchard notes that people often sing “Hi-Ho'' to dwarfs when they’re out in public or ask them “Where’s Snow White?” as a cruel joke.
Pritchard also says that dwarfs are often dehumanized when portrayed in films such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” “A dwarf is rarely an ordinary human being, but rather a mischievous being, happy to be ridiculed and always to be laughed at rather than with,” Pritchard writes.
Dinklage believes that dwarfs have to endure being treated as less than equal by Hollywood because there aren't enough of them to cause a big enough fuss. "It's such a minority. And I'm not affiliated with any groups or anything, but it's such a minority that it causes a real, like, 'Well, who the fuck cares?'" he told Maron.
Disney hasn’t publicly stated how it will handle the dwarf characters in the upcoming "Snow White" remake, but Showbiz 411 reported in 2019 that they will be CGI characters. It has also been reported that the song “Someday My Prince Will Come” will not appear in the film. The song has been criticized in the past for promoting the sexist Prince Charming trope.
Being in the public eye, Dinklage is in a prime position to call attention to the importance of how dwarfs are represented in a big-budget Hollywood film. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is how many children are introduced to the medical condition of dwarfism so it’s important that the upcoming film portrays them as more than the butt of a tired, old, unfunny joke.
If Disney has any questions on how they should be portrayed, they should look no further than the film career of Dinklage who has shown that people are a lot more than their height.
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.
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.
COVID-19 has forced us to give up and/or alter the systems we rely on to keep our lives running smoothly, and because moms tend to take on the lion's share of child-rearing and logistical household management, we've felt those changes intensely. And at this point, heading into the third year of pandemic uncertainty, we're exhausted. Wiped out. So done.
That's why when editor Lucy Huber shared that her online moms group had invited everyone to an empty field to scream, it resonated with so many:
If you're wondering what things are like for parents right now, someone in my online moms group invited everyone to a Facebook event that is just going to an empty field and screaming and a LOT of people RSVPed yes.— Lucy Huber (@Lucy Huber) 1642034660
Some days we just want to scream because it feels like we can't do anything else. We need to vent somewhere, let out some of this tension and frustration and exhaustion we're carrying around, and we don't want to take it out on our families. The idea of getting together with other moms who get that feeling is incredibly appealing.
The group Huber mentioned actually did this, gathering at a high school in the Boston area on the evening of January 13. Around 20 moms showed up and participated in a group scream session led by licensed therapist Sarah Harmon, according to GMA.
Looks cathartic, doesn't it?
The idea of a primal scream isn't exactly new. In fact, The New York Times set up a "primal scream" hotline for parents to call and scream or cry or vent about anything they feel like getting off their chest. The hotline number is 212-556-3800, and you can let it all out for a full minute.
"Any of our readers or anyone who is not a reader can call to scream, laugh, cry," said the Times' editor at large Jessica Bennett, according to WCBS Newsradio. "We've been hearing for months now about how women have been disproportionately affected in the pandemic and we've been hearing about parents who are struggling to manage work and child care."
Anyone can utilize the primal scream hotline, but most of those who have called in have been women. Shocker.
Ironically, Huber herself wasn't able to attend the in-person scream session because she had to put her toddler to bed. That's how it is, and part of why the scream space is needed in the first place. Even under normal circumstances, mothers need an occasional space to vent. In pandemic times? Absolutely vital.
Really, anyone could probably benefit from finding a place to scream right now, whether it's to the air in the middle of an empty field, into a pillow in a closet or to a random someone on the end of a newspaper's hotline. Times are hard, folks. Let it out, let it out, let it out.
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."