’The Christmas spirit:’ Grass Valley woman uses TikTok fame to connect, benefit foster youth this Christmas
Local uses TikTok fame to benefit foster youth this Christmas
The shelter-in-place order imposed by the state of California makes this year’s holiday spirit that much more difficult to come by.
In turn, Zoom and Facetime have become popular virtual substitutes for the welcoming warmth of a grandparent’s hearth and homemade cooking.
One Grass Valley resident has turned to TikTok, a video-sharing app and a relatively new social media platform, to support her family and to sponsor local foster children for Christmas.
Mariah Walker said her family “does not have a ton,“ but has more than some. The app has allowed her to increase her capacity to give.
Walker recently achieved Internet fame — 60,300 followers and more than 1.8 million likes —after she posted a TikTok video on Nov. 14 that went viral. In it she explains that if each of her followers were to watch the recording three times, she could sponsor 10 foster children through TikTok’s creator fund in her town for Christmas. As of Tuesday, the video had been viewed more than 7.8 million times.
TikTok videos cannot be longer than a minute. According to the TikTok newsroom, the Creator Fund was introduced to the app in July and pays content producers if they have at least 10,000 followers and at least 10,000 video views in the last 30 days. The revenue generated is dependent on other content produced on TikTok that day and the level of engagement on the video —comments, likes and shares.
Walker’s video has been shared over 187,000 times.
Walker said she reached out to a local fostering agency, Sierra Forever Families, as well as Environmental Alternatives, a nonprofit corporation whose stated mission is to cultivate and support positive relationships between children and their guardians.
“I raised enough money to sponsor all 10 of the foster kids,” Walker said.
Sponsorship delivers a message with more value than stocking stuffers or tangible gifts, Walker said. The message: “People care about you. They want to love you.”
Walker’s sensitivity to the experiences of children in foster care comes from her love for her niece, who was adopted out of Nevada County foster care by her brother and sister-in-law.
Walker’s 24-year-old sister Elizabeth Myers said awareness of the experiences children in foster care go through extends beyond their immediate family.
“We have three cousins who went through foster care who were then adopted by my grandmother,” Myers explained, “so she’s seen a few kids go through a childhood without their biological parents.”
Comments posted on her video reflect an audience with a spectrum of experience with the foster system, Walker said. Current and former foster care children expressed gratitude that someone thought about giving to people like them during an already tense holiday season.
“Lots of kids in foster care commented on the video: ‘I really appreciate you doing this,’” Walker said. “I had one girl reach out to me individually who is currently in foster care, and I will be sending her a gift.”
Myers said Walker’s generosity sets an example for others to think beyond themselves or their isolated family unit during this holiday season.
“Some people don’t get presents, some people don’t even get the thoughts,” Myers said. “Mariah is shifting the mindset that it’s not just about us, and other families would like to be able to celebrate like we do.”
Walker said she was particularly moved by those commenters, who said her message prompted them to consider fostering children themselves.
“One girl commented, ‘You inspired me to want to be a foster parent and to adopt,’” Walker said. “I was not expecting to have an impact like that.”
Paromita Pain, an assistant professor of Global Media Studies at the University of Nevada Reno, said content creators become influencers when they get people to become customers, followers or fans. Many content creators rely on the “reputation trigger” to garner followings, Pain said.
Even stronger is the “acknowledgement” trigger: content creators capture attention by building a deeper relationship, by acknowledging their audience and what they care about.
Walker, whose TikTok bio reads “Mama, Jesus Lover,” said she did not have expectations for how her audience would respond to her content, but she had high expectations for the way she wanted to represent her family and the message she wanted to send.
“I feel called to give back to my community and people in general,” Walker said. “Since I was little, God put it on my heart to help people and be of assistance to others. I want to be the kind of creator that promotes wholesome stuff and lets people know that there’s still good in the world.”
According to a 2019 study published by Reuters, 60% of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24. Walker is older than the typical TikTok user, generally belonging to Generation Z, and is grateful for the opportunity to connect with other parents and model compassionate behavior to younger people.
“My platform grew pretty much overnight — what an honor to be able to influence people that way,” Walker said. “I want to provide a good role model for our next generation. I want them to think that it’s normal to treat people fairly.”
Walker said she and her husband model that in their own home, as they raise four children, all under the age of 6.
Walker’s commitment to compassion is evident beyond the sort of content she produces online.
Myers said Walker’s family has always been her first priority. Further, the core of her message — compassion — is wrapped in good humor, silliness and positivity.
CURATING AN ALTERNATIVE SPACE
Referring to TikTok, Walker pointed to its community building potential.
Before Walker “went viral,” she had around 8,000 followers, accrued through content meant to uplift and connect those in relatable situations.
“There are other moms who understand the struggle,” she said.
Walker said she enjoys watching and creating content related to parenting because it provides opportunities for human connection as well as escape from chaotic reality.
“It’s a stress reliever to scroll for a bit,” Walker said. “It’s just a little bit of an escape from everything that’s going on. Everyone is kind and genuine — they just want to be heard and seen.”
The internet can be a scary, disparate place, but Walker said she is grateful to witness and participate in the creation of wholesome content, especially amid the pandemic.
Her sister gets the message. “She kind of is the Christmas spirit,” Myers said.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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