Teen community gathers to raise awareness, support

Letters of Love Gala engages high school students around state

Harris Keekley and Colin Canaday

As groups of teenagers swarmed into a single door at the Profile Event Center, Jan. 31 for the Letters of Love Gala, Orono High School senior Grace Birbig walked on stage and reminded everyone why they were all brought together that night, in order to help children in hospitals know they are loved.

Having lost her mother to leukemia, Berbig said she is determined to give children in the hospital the same support her friends, family and strangers gave to her during that tough time.

“When I was 10, my mom died of leukemia. I really wanted to find a way to give back to the community that helped my family so much, and I knew that the biggest thing that helped my mom was the emotional support that she had throughout all three years of fighting cancer. I really wanted to give the opportunity for students in high school to give more support to those who are fighting cancer and other illnesses,” Berbig said.

Looking out on the crowd as she spoke, Berbig said the event was beyond anything that she could have imagined.

“I was standing on the stage looking at everyone, and it was seriously surreal that so many people care about Letters of Love and that everyone there came for the purpose of helping these kids. I just cannot believe that I created something that has such a big impact. When I first started it, I did not believe that anyone would even like the idea. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Berbig said.

Senior Maggie Klaers said it was great seeing how many people were involving themselves in the cause.

“It was amazing to see at the gala how many teens and how many of my peers were ready and willing to volunteer their time to do something for the greater good,” Klaers said.

According to Orono junior Freddie Benke, it’s easy to stay up to date and become involved with Letters of Love.

“Since we go to Orono we know a lot about Letters of Love and Grace, we’re pretty close, and just kind of through Instagram and spread of word (we heard about the gala),” Benke said.

Klaers said although the gala was mainly kids from Orono, it was nonetheless good to see the collective support.

I was standing on the stage looking at everyone, and it was seriously surreal that so many people care about Letters of Love and that everyone there came for the purpose of helping these kids.”

— Grace Berbig

 

“The event was primarily Orono kids because the Orono club is the biggest (of the) branches, but it was incredible to see that many people who have the same drive to help others and same interests and love in their hearts for these kids, all in one place trying to do some good together,” Klaers said.

According to Benke, going to the same school as Grace, she has watched her grow as a person and watched her optimism spread.

“Getting to grow up with Grace in our school … she has almost gotten more confident and that kind of spread Her positivity is spreading to everyone here right now and I feel like that is really being put into what people are doing,” Benke said.

According to Berbig, as Letters of Love has grown, the goals have as well.

“The goal was just to give cards to the hospital, and it was just kind of a generalized goal. But now our mission is to give emotional support to every single kid in Minnesota who’s battling cancer and illness. That’s a big goal, but it’s our main goal to support every kid in every hospital in Minnesota,” Berbig said.