If the past year has taught us nothing else, it’s that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.
Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and “Upworthy-ness” of their story.
Here’s a look at the five winners:
Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.
Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.
In 2020, Mariposas shifted gears somewhat to help immigrants in the community who have lost their job or income stream due to the pandemic. The volunteers bring food and other essential supplies to families’ homes, but Edith often lingers beyond the initial drop off, providing a sympathetic ear for families dealing with high levels of stress. Her patience and genuine concern inspires other Latinx people to come into the Mariposas circle and become community leaders, which in turn is making Memphis a more welcoming place for immigrants.
Tom Dittl, a first-grade teacher in Wisconsin
Like most teachers in 2020, Tom Dittl had to find fun, creative ways to navigate the challenges of teaching his students virtually. And he took it to the next level. Recently, Dittl made a music video of Jack Johnson’s song “Upside Down” while dressed up as The Man in the Yellow Hat — a character from Curious George children’s stories — to cheer up his students who’ve been cooped up at home. But the song also had a deeper purpose: He hoped it would inspire them to be kind to one another and spread that kindness around their communities.
In the video, he tells his students that you can always be kind, even when you’re going through something tough. In response, many of them made “kindness rocks” and put them all over their neighborhoods as reminders for others to be kind.
Teachers have had one of the toughest jobs last year (not to mention every year). When a teacher like Mr. Dittl makes such a noticeable impact on his students, despite the obstacles and distractions of 2020, it’s unequivocally a win.
Nikki and Jonathan Romain, creators of the Art Inc. Center in Peoria, Ill.