May 12, 2015

Comedi-tarian Michael Pritchard: Healing Through Humor (VIDEO)

Photo: Robin Williams and Michael Pritchard
UPDATE: Since the taping of this Tea with Toan & Michael Pritchard interview, Michael suffered a massive heart attack and underwent bypass surgery last week. Thankfully, he's on the mend. A small way to say thank you for all his inspiration and love is to contribute to his medical fund.

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Have you ever met someone who touched you so deeply your soul shifted? For me and the millions who’ve been touched by the gentle giant known as Dr. Michael Pritchard, you know and you feel what I’m talking about.

Many folks know him as an actor, comedian, PBS host, Vietnam medic, life saver and humanitarian who along with his best friend, the late Robin Williams, spent many hours using his power of comedy to heal sick kids, bandage wounded spirits and hold hands with the dying as they crossed over to the other side through hospice. I gave him the name “Comedi-tarian.”

He left the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to heal hearts and wounded spirits. “Pritch” traveled near and far to motivate, facilitate and elevate the hearts and minds of many. Authenticity, kindness, friendship and anti-bullying were just some of the life lessons Pritch preached. I know him as my mentor of life... my spiritual teacher-preacher. Get ready to be inspired, entertained and uplifted.

Even Robin Williams spirit made his way through this interview – you'll have to watch and be amazed!



I met Pritch through Kala Shah, my sister from another mister and co-conspirator of our Go Inspire Go Community Heroes program. She called me on the phone after meeting him for the first time and sounded like she had just won the lottery. “Oh my gawd, you have to meet Michael Pritchard, woo!” I get it now. She won the spiritual lottery and so did I. So did so many of you who’ve met him. And so will many of you who will meet him one day – but until then, you can feel this spiritual superstar through my Tea with Toan interview with Pritch.

When we met, it was love at first hug. The synapses of our souls were felt deeply by both of us. His knack for connecting to a higher source and connecting to all he touches is magical.

“Hey brother, don’t work too hard,” or “Take care of your health, your gut is going through some problems,” he would spout out to people walking on the street. Pritch just knew.

He knew that I was, in his words, a “spiritual teacher of the next generation.” He knew that I was working on a TV pilot and had aspirations to do more motivational speaking, a TED talk, write a book and that I had a flair for compassion and fashion – all before I shared with him my soul’s desires. He knew my deep desire to spread my message of what he calls “mindfulness and kindfulness.”

Michael Pritchard, Robin Williams, Kala Shah & Toan Lam

The last few months have been a spiritual whimsical whirlwind of wisdom. His “Pritchardisms” include, "Don't overstand, understand," "When the student is ready the teacher arrives" and "Build a spiritual wall."

He told me that he wanted to pass the baton to me and Kala because he was getting tired. “You are the enlightened reinforcers,” he said last week at his home in Marin, as we talked about the debut of our TV pilot and the folks to whom he wanted to connect us.

“Toan you know my soul more than most. Through your work and this show, you are carrying on Robin Williams’ legacy of compassion and joy,” he said excitedly.

Perhaps the most special (and there are so many things that make him special) is not what he says, but how he makes you feel. He makes everybody feel like they matter. They are special. And he is right. I matter. You matter. We all matter.

Tea with Toan interview

For some reason, I left his home that day feeling heavy after our light but deep conversation. Little did I know that my feeling of “something isn’t OK with him” was right. Last week, I got a call and found out he had suffered a heart attack. As he undergoes triple bypass surgery and heals, I ask all of you in the “unity of community” to pray for a speedy recovery.

It’s ironic that the man with the biggest heart is getting it repaired as I type. As I process what has happened, I thought, “What could I do to help? What can I do to show the gratitude of the biggest gift of all – his time and love?”

I wrote this poem, titled: BearClown for Pritch to read while he was in the ICU:

A big teddy bear. Oh where did you come from? Bigger than life. A happy clown who once drowned and frown thanks to the glitz, glare of fame and fortune. A heart that is the epitome of care and share and dare to find your authenticity. Synchronicity. A noble job he embarked on...using his life, power and many hours to heal with laughter, saving lives day by day, spending hour by hour helping soul brothers and sisters cross over, moreover seeing the love, laughter, light in all. Sending love to everyone he touches. My teacher-preacher bestows wisdom from above... he exhalts “don’t overstand, understand,” “when the student is ready the teacher arrives,” “build a spiritual wall.” Still sometimes I stall. Afraid of my power. But no more. The hour. My power is ready. So join me. Step up. Join the circus of love. Balancing act. Lots of work dropping the act we were taught. That falseness that we fought. Search for your real you. Robin and robins and hummingbirds teach us the legacy of happy. Who cares what haters say? Blessed be the day that me becomes we. That we see the gem in thee. The true community. Keep laughing and lets send our healing vibes to our bearclown...

Michael Pritchard, Barbara Ocampo, Kala Shah & Toan Lam #Selfie

Here are a few other ideas:

Reflect & Act...

1. I don’t know how else to repay him for his support and love but to use my power of connecting with people and storytelling to say, “I love you back and thank you for being you.” I called my editor and good friend Barbara Ocampo, videographer of my recent “Tea with Toan” segment, a conversation of the heart and soul with Pritch from his backyard. I asked her to meet with me ASAP to finalize this video as a gift to him and you. Again, please contribute to Michael's medical fund.

2. Share this blog/video with loved ones and in the blog’s comments section, share how meeting Pritch changed you and/or your fave Pritch moment.

3. In the spirit of Pritch’s teachings, do a kind thing for someone and let us know about it using #PayItForwardPritchard and #GoInspireGo – we’ll share on our social media channels.

4. Laugh at a challenge you're going through.

5. Make someone laugh today.

And don’t forget, be mindful and kindful.

Love you guys,
Toan

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May 4, 2015

Too Blessed to be Stressed

As I count my blessings before bed every night, on the top of my list are loved ones. Peeps who make life’s bumps smoother and life lighter.

From divorces to uncertain times at the workplace, I’ve recently had many friends confide in me about physical, mental and spiritual problems they’re blessed with. While the issues and life lessons are different – there is an underlying theme here: these problems are making them stronger. There are life lessons to be learned and ultimately I’ve told them we are are too blessed to be stressed.

Here’s an email I sent to one of my friends who is going through personal and professional tribulations as I processed a recent call:

1. Write down five things you're grateful for every night. It will rewire your brain to pay attention to the lovely little things in life that really matter. Start with Bella's gaze into your eyes and excitement when she sees you after a long day of work.

2. It's YOU time. Do something nice for yourself every day. Phenomenal, fabulous, stylish -- lovely you. I believe friends are like mirrors that shine the light you emanate back at you. Every time I think of you, I think, "She's got mad style, sexy, fabulous, classy lady, good heart and wicked smart. Anyone who is lucky enough to be in your life and heart space is better for it, blessed for it."

3. You are blessed with breath. Listen to your breath when you get stressed to bring you in the now. If you live in the past you’re filled with regret. Live in the future and you are anxious. We have no choice but to live in the now. Try it and it will calm those crazy nerves.


This too shall pass. I wish I could take a bit of the pain and hurt away -- but like the little butterfly, you need to sit with these challenges as they are teaching you invaluable life lessons about yourself, the light and shadows.

Be well my fabulous friend.

Big hug,
Toan

P.S. Please share with someone in need and let us know in the comments section how a challenging time has blessed your life.

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April 27, 2015

Making the Impossible Possible

Earlier this month, I was honored to keynote Rotary District 5330’s annual assembly in Southern California with more than 350 brothers and sisters of service in attendance. The theme of this year’s district assembly, “Making the Impossible — Possible,” resonated with my soul. The marching orders from incoming District Governor Rudy Westervelt were simple: tie in the theme “Making the Impossible — Possible,” talk about why storytelling is important and inspire the heck out of them. Tall orders for this motivational speaking event, but I was up for the challenge.

“Where do you even begin?” I thought to myself. Right from the heart. I structured the talk around three simple stories:

I started by sharing my story. If you would have told my 10-year-old self that I would have achieved all my dreams by my early 30s, I would have thought it was impossible. My family moved to America from Vietnam with a dream and $4 in our pockets. The ten of us lived crammed into a trailer. Against my parents’ behest of becoming a “doctor, lawyer or engineer,” I followed my own dreams – to use my love for reading, writing and talking to teach in universities, become a TV reporter and tell stories on a PBS show.


I then told the story of one of my youngest teachers: 5-year-old Phoebe Russell, who wrote letters to friends and family asking them to give her aluminum cans so she could redeem them and donate $1,000 to the San Francisco Food Bank. Her efforts raised nearly $4,000. Our video featuring her story multiplied that amount to $20,000 dollars. Together, she, my Go Inspire Go team and the community has helped her enable the food bank to give out more than 200,000 meals.

After the talk, a shy ninth-grader mustered up the courage to tell me that she was inspired by the talk and Phoebe’s story. “When you said, ‘If a 5-year-old could feed 200,000 people, what can you do?!’ I thought, I could do more,” she said enthusiastically. “I can do more.”

I ended the talk with why storytelling is important. What a loaded question. Every single culture from the beginning of time has told stories. They connect us all. You and I may not know each other, but when we learn about each other’s stories, we are no longer strangers. Storytelling breaks down walls, builds compassion and leads to action.


Before I walked off stage, I went off script – actually, I didn’t have a script, but you get the point! I asked the audience, “How has storytelling changed your life?”

A woman stood up and said, “I’m an incest survivor. I haven’t told my story to many people, but am starting to. It helped others.” WOW! I thanked her for having the courage to tell her story. In turn, it was a cathartic experience for her and the people who learned about her story.

Words can’t convey the inspirational fuel that filled me up that weekend. People from all generations told their stories. I’d love to hear about your inspirational story. Please share in the comments section below.

With love, faith and trust we can all make the impossible possible together.

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March 23, 2015

Three Life Lessons Mother Nature Taught Me

I’ve been fielding many calls from friends lately who needed to talk because they felt like their lives and experiences weren’t "going the way they’ve wanted them to" and because "their lives were off-balance." All of these challenges are merely opportunities for us to spread our wings when we’re ready to fly.

I love to be in nature as much as I love analogies, so how natural of me to want to use nature to explain what I’ve learned about the art of going with the flow and being in your flow.

Since I left my day job and started to be in tune with my passion, which I express through my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go, I’ve started to be more in my flow. I’m sure it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.

I’ve faced many challenges — still do — and continue to learn how to deal with them and learn from them. I’ve poured all of my life’s savings and most of my time and energy into this platform that uncovers everyday heroes so that you can find your inner hero to help you help yourself and others. I’ve flexed my physical, financial and spiritual muscles through tough times and joyous times. No matter what I’ve faced since the inception of Go Inspire Go, I can truly say that every night I can say, "Today was a day well lived."

If you’re going through challenges, just think of these three lessons Mother Nature has taught me:

1. One of my favorite plants is a fiddle-leaf fig tree that I bough six months ago. I was excited as more than 12 leaves grew anywhere from 5 to 11 inches in about two months. The leaves — so big, green and rubbery — bring me joy.

Just about a month ago, it stopped growing. Concerned, I went to a local store and talked to a plant expert. After a quick diagnosis, he told me that the plant hibernates from about December to March. It knows that it needs to be in reserve mode during the colder season. How amazing is that?

I wondered, how does this lesson apply to my life? Then it clicked. I used to get freaked out when emails, inquiries and opportunities slowed down during December. A flurry of thoughts crossed my mind and I started to worry.

My spiritual friend, Terrie Crowley, told me, "Honey, God is giving you time to rest. Be in the now and be grateful for it. You’re going to get plenty busy soon.”

I realized that I didn’t need to stretch myself thin and take every meeting and call. I needed to just do "nothing" and get some R and R. Things will grow as they should. Just like the fig plant, I too needed to rest and just be…. What about you?

2. Did you know that a butterfly needs to struggle in its cocoon before emerging? If it doesn’t struggle, the fluids don’t push through the body into its wings and it won’t be strong enough to break free and fly.

Think about the struggles you’ve been through in your life. Release the expectations and just stay in the present moment. In time, what should happen will happen. How did they help you spread your wings? Talk about metamorphosis!

3. While on a walk with a dear friend, Suzanne Lettrick, we talked a lot about the idea of flow — being in your authentic "zone."

I told her that I was in alignment with my true self and that nothing makes me feel more alive than helping people discover and use their power to help themselves and others. Most of the time, I’m in that space and don’t let the ego get in the way by way of thoughts of doubt and negative self-talk.

She heard a writer once say, “If you look at a swan walking on land, it waddles and walks funny. But once it rests upon the lake, it flows.” Are you going through something that is knocking you off balance? It’s OK, go through your human emotions, cry, work out and talk it out if you need to. Just know that you can and will find the effortless flow that only you know how to find.

In the past two weeks, a half a dozen people told me, “You’re glowing.” I believe they meant that I am radiating inside and out — the feeling of joy.

So now, when I freak out when my expectations don’t turn out the way I want them to, I think, "Are you flowing?" For me, exercising, writing and talking to trusted people in my life help me remember to get back in the flow.

I know that we are not alone in this. You aren’t either. The key is to find what helps you be in your element so you can go and flow. Are you glowing and flowing? We’d like to know. Comment or get social and share on our social media channels.

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March 6, 2015

A Day of Giving — And the Magic of Collective Giving

By Kala Shah

When I first started the Community Heroes program nearly three years ago. I was hoping my own three boys would learn the value of giving back in the beautiful bubble of Marin County, Calif. I suspected that if we were able to get their friends and peers involved, “service” might even become fun and if I dared to dream, addictive? I invited Toan Lam, founder and Chief Inspirator of Go Inspire Go, to help launch the program at Sun Valley School (San Rafael, Calif.) and now in our 6th semester, we’re still going strong, helping build a stronger culture of empathy and giving in our community. Something magical has happened as the kids’ compassion and kindness has billowed out on campus and beyond, and as our ambitions have grown to do more. We’re now in four Marin County schools with others lining up to join us.

This past Sunday, more than 250 kids and their parents took the Marin area by storm, giving back to their community. Four schools, participants of the Go Inspire Go Community Heroes program, embarked on the second annual Day of Giving, with 12 unique service projects including:



-Cooking an elegant meal and preparing shelter kits for Homeward Bound of Marin
-Gardening at the Canal Community Garden in San Rafael
-Cleaning up with the Downtown Streets Team San Rafael
-Weeding and trash pick-up at Marin Civic Center
-Planting 150 plants and clearing non-native plants at Terra Linda/Sleepy Hollow Open Space Preserve
-Making superhero capes and blankets to benefit patients at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital and Rooms that Rock 4 Chemo
-Multiple bake sales to help pay for expenses


That’s an incredible amount of good to come from one morning! The joy and excitement was palpable before and after the event. People were glowing… and happy! Why? I truly believe there’s a hunger in this community to try and keep grounded amid our picture-perfect scenery and weather, our gadget obsessions and the super-charged environment fueling the latest tech boom. Disparities are widening and the growing masses of homeless are being shuffled around. You see them out and about more — as local parks shut their gates, and as it gets even tougher to find affordable housing with rents and home prices through the roof. All these Community Heroes CHOSE to spend their Sunday getting their hands and hearts busy to help others. Our secret sauce? We make it FUN and aim to INSPIRE with our videos and our ENTHUSIASM, which I’ve been told is rather contagious. :)


Top heartwarming quotes from kids who took part in the Day of Giving:
-“The people we cleaned the streets with don’t look homeless. They’re just like us.”
-“I can’t wait to see the smiles on the faces of the people we cooked for!”
-“The Day of Giving was the best day of my life.”

Whoa, how’s that for compassion in action. Magic indeed!

The ask….

As Sun Valley School’s program has been going strong, word has got out and we’ve recruited three new local schools to join us this year: Kent Middle School, Dixie Elementary and Mary Silveira Elementary. More are lining up — and at this point, we need your help. Despite what it may seem from all we’ve accomplished, this program is 100% volunteer-run. Aside from a few grants, including a coveted LinkedIn Innovation Grant, we’ve come to the point where to keep this program growing and sustainable, we need to secure funding. This requires support for a full-time coordinator and Go Inspire Go infrastructure to create videos to grow the curriculum, operate our website and help run an organization.


The Community Heroes program has been teaching kids about compassion and action for close to three years, and we’ve been proving that what we’re doing WORKS! We’ve been getting kids and adults EXCITED and ENGAGED and have gone out there and done A LOT — collection drives, fundraisers and service projects to support local charities. The most exciting aspect of our impact is how kids have felt empowered by the program; they understand how they have the power to make a difference. Who knows how these young philanthropists and social activists will exercise their powers throughout their lives?


I believe there’s no greater gift we can give our kids than to grow their sense of compassion and responsibility to help make the world a better place. Don’t you agree?

Three ways you can help:

1. If you think this program is valuable, and can support us with a contribution, please donate here. Funds would help develop a toolkit, expand to new schools, train facilitators and coordinate among partners and the non-profit network.
2. If monetary contributions are a stretch, we could always use more volunteers and connections to those who might be willing to help. Just drop us a line with your ideas!
3. Spread the word about Go Inspire Go’s mission — to inspire people to find their power to help others! Please forward and share this blog. Use #ComHeroes and tag us @goinspirego. You can also email Kala Shah.


Kala Shah is Go Inspire Go’s Chief Innovation Officer and Program Director of Community Heroes, a service-learning program that is now in four Marin County schools.

February 5, 2015

Community Heroes Day of Giving Marks a Year of Growth and Hope

By Kala Shah

As we jump into the throes of planning for this year’s second annual Day of Giving, I think about how far we’ve come this past year with the Go Inspire Go Community Heroes program.

Most notably, we’ve expanded from our initial pilot at Sun Valley School in San Rafael, Calif., to involve Kent Middle School this past September and more recently, Dixie Elementary and Mary Silveira Elementary. That’s about 2,000 Marin County kids we’ve reached directly with our message of compassion and action! Hundreds of them are actively exercising their “What can YOU do?” power thinking about ways in which they can help others — organizing collection drives, participating in clean-ups and simply thinking about being kinder to everyone around them. Lighting that spark and wondering what these kids may do in the future is all the motivation I need to keep going.

I look back to last year’s Day of Giving — the “first annual” as it turns out. I view it as a game-changer for Community Heroes and for me, personally. I embarked upon this experiment more than two and a half years ago, without really wondering where it might take me. This Day of Giving video from last year’s event answers my questions about whether the program is making an impact.



The kids are saying things like “I’m excited about helping people who are sick in the hospital,” “We think helping others is better than helping ourselves,” and “It makes me feel good inside because I know I’m making the community a better place.” Excited, joyful kids helping others on a Sunday — that’s the potential we’re helping unleash and fuel through Community Heroes.

Not only the kids, but even adults and some companies have taken a cue from our acts of giving. An unexpected consequence from making superhero capes at last year’s Day of Giving is that we proved those capes really do have super powers! Hands On Bay Area liked the idea so much that they’ve replicated the activity with several of their corporate partners as in-house volunteer days for their employees. Capes are fun to make and they’re meaningful to the giver and receiver. Thanks again to our original cape-making inspiration, Amy Pankratz of Wonder Capes.



And now all four Community Heroes schools are joining together for one whopping Day of Giving! We will be conducting more than 15 service projects on Sunday, March 1 in Marin County to benefit at least 10 different nonprofit organizations — from helping the homeless, foster kids and patients with cancer, to cleaning up our neighborhoods. Keep your eyes open for bake sales to support our Day of Giving…. All this good does require supplies and resources!

See promotional flier for list of service projects and benefiting organizations.

What can YOU do?

1. If you’d like to join the fun on March 1 and volunteer for the Day of Giving, please contact Kala Shah.
2. Please consider donating to our cause. We want to make the Community Heroes program sustainable and reach more kids and schools!
3. If you’d like to have the Community Heroes program at your school, drop us a line!


Kala Shah is Chief Alchemist of Partnerships and Programs and co-founder of Community Heroes.

January 21, 2015

Toan Lam Shares GIG's Journey on TV Show 'Bay Area People'



Some people live out their dreams by singing in the shower. Toan Lam began the path to his by reading in the shower.

"Growing up I loved to read and write and talk and I would read shampoo bottles in the bathroom, ... books out loud, anything I could get my hands on."

Toan knew early on that he loved to communicate and connect with people. This led to a successful, eight-year career as a TV reporter. However, having to frequently cover negative news weighed on him, and in 2009 he founded Go Inspire Go, a multimedia platform that features stories about everyday people doing extraordinary things, with the ultimate goal of inspiring social change.

Last week, Toan sat down with Lisa Yakota on KTVU-TV's show "Bay Area People" to discuss discovering his life calling, the impact of Go Inspire Go, and what lies ahead for the organization.

Despite achieving what was then his life goals by his early 30s, Toan still felt empty and unfulfilled. He decided to give it all up to pursue his real passion -- Go Inspire Go -- and an unexpected layoff, which he described as "the best gift ever," all but confirmed it.

Since the launch of Go Inspire Go, he has produced dozens of videos which have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people and made a tangible impact on many of the lives featured. This is just the beginning of what Toan hopes will be the start of a new movement to use the power of storytelling and connecting with people to inspire positive action. During his appearance on the show, Toan also shared an exciting new development for Go Inspire Go.

Watch the video above to see Toan's interview on "Bay Area People," which aired on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015.

For more information: check out GoInspireGo.com or email info@goinspirego.com

-Kevin Lee

January 7, 2015

How ONE Word Can Transform Your New Year's Resolutions

New year, new you, right?

How many times have you heard this cliche? How many times have you tried to set resolutions, only to be disappointed that come February, you’re guilt-ridden and feeling bad about yourself? The truth is, many of us are still trying to catch up with last year’s resolutions — lose weight, spend more time with family, be more present. I was recently speaking with a friend who told me an intern of his asked him why he was always so stressed and overwhelmed. He replied, “I have to get my oil changed, get a hair cut, prep for a big meeting, etc.” The intern said, instead of saying I “have” to, change the word to I “get” to.

Wow. Powerful. Life-changing.

I applied this to all aspects of my life and my perspective shifted, I get more done and I am more grateful.

I get to work out. I get to get my oil changed, I get to prep for this awesome meeting with all these people who support my passion work.

So this year, instead of trying to have resolutions, a word that is already loaded with negativity, I have shifted my mentality and changed one word: “have” to!

So my three "get" to’s this year are:

1. Do More Yoga
Thanks to my lovely sister, Lynn Billett, who pens an inspiring blog, Empower with Lynn, I’ve been doing yoga since I was 17. But not regularly though. Yes, there’s nothing to namaste about here — I always feel guilty because I feel so good after yoga. It’s just getting to the mat.


The I have to: I have to, because it’s good for my mind, body and spirit. But I don’t have time to do yoga in the a.m. and p.m.

The get to (and the solution): I get to do yoga for this body that works for me, eats, digests, communicates, manifests and loves. YES! The solution is not to stress myself out. I don’t have to spend an hour or more on a mat. Instead, I do little five- to 10-minute sessions in the morning and night. Don’t know where to start? I love me some Tara Stiles. You can find her videos free on YouTube. When I have more time, I make a date with a friend or two and go to a studio. In San Francisco, Grace Cathedral offers "Yoga on the Labyrinth." It’s a wholly holy experience. Setting up an appointment to go with friends makes it fun and holds you accountable. Can I get a namaste and an amen?!

2. Be More Present

I’m not addicted to much in this life — but my technology — egads!

I admit, the first thing I see in the a.m. and p.m. is my phone. I feeling connected via emails, social media and don’t get me started on WhatsApp.

If your phalanges are guilty and you know it, raise your smartphone! The more I’m on my phone/tablet/computer, the less I am connecting with the real friends I love and adore.

The I have to: check my email, social media. I have to respond — true, but not every 15 minutes!

The get to (and the solution): I get to connect with people, but balance is key. A recent study shows how harmful it is to be on your technological devices before bedtime and that it alters your sleep. So, I’m switching the phone off before bed and getting back to reading myself to sleep. I leave the phone across the room (or better yet in another room) before hitting the hay. And if you’re on a computer, try logging out of your social media and email accounts after checking. Eckhart Tolle suggests building presence into your day-to-day habits. For example, when you close the car door, take 30 seconds to breathe, rest and observe nature — the animals, trees and everything around you. This leads you to the present moment.

3. Blog more:

I have to: blog, I have so much to share. What if my readers come back and the site isn’t updated? I teach a "Blogging Your Passion" class at a local university, so I should regularly update my bloggity, so I have to practice what I preach. Aaahhh!

The get to (and the solution): I get to share my experiences and words to inspire the world.

My dear friend, art therapist and kindred spirit Noula Diamantopoulos told me, “Experiences are the biggest gifts people can give to one another.” I have so many people in my life who teach me, grow me and love me. After many different conversations with these lovely people, I want to share our life lessons. My problem was, “I don’t have time to blog regularly.” And “It takes so long to write my blogs.” So this year, I won’t pressure myself to write so much and feel like I have to. Instead, I am going to keep it short and sweet. I started keeping a log of “things to blog about” and am going to set aside a block of time to regularly blog.

The pattern I’m seeing: Pay attention to how and why you’re not resolving your resolutions. This will lead to awareness and gratitude. Be grateful by changing "I have to" to "I get to." Then take actions that will help you achieve your goals. I better sign off so I can meet my pithy blogs goal! Happy New Year and New You!

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December 17, 2014

Tea with Toan: A Conversation About How Grief Leads to Generosity & Love (VIDEO)

Happy holidays everyone! ’Tis the season to be jolly right? I don’t mean to be a Grinch, but for many, the holidays are anything but merry. For me and many people I know, it’s a time when the hustle and bustle of the holidays — the glistening lights, Christmas cards and holiday parties — force us to reflect on our losses. Loss comes in many forms: loss of loved ones, a break-up, losing a job, etc.

For many years, the holidays were anything but happy for me.

Every October, just before the holidays as the leaves change, so does my spirit. Joy is the antithesis of what I felt going into the holidays. It’s the time of year when families and friends gather for feasts and schedules are packed with celebrations. It also a time when I’m reminded of my loved ones lost.

My father passed away in October of 2001. I was living in Wausau, Wisc., at the time. I remember the phone ringing. On the other end, my brother’s unrecognizable stoic voice muttered, “Toan, sit down. I have some bad news to tell you.

“Dad was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. He has six months to live.”

The rest of the phone call was a blur. I was a reporter for the ABC local affiliate and I immediately met with my news director and told him I was going home to take care of my dying father.

Six long months ensued. Cold, dark, heavy emotions clouded my existence. Memories still haunt and taunt me, especially this time of year. The images remain fresh in my mind: shoving morphine down Dad’s throat, my Mom busting the door open in the middle of many nights, her face pale as snow, begging me to help her help my father get dressed as he was, yet again, getting rushed to the hospital because of the unbearable pain.

Six months after I got the call from my brother, my father passed away. I would lose three more family members in a year’s time: my aunt and both grandmothers.

Not a single holiday passes by that I don’t think of them.

So what do I do to get through this so called “holly, jolly, happy” time of year, a season that stirs up much of the grief?

I believe that all our experiences are like scattered dots. When we’re going through them, it’s hard to decipher the “Whys?” “How could haves?” and “Why me’s?”

Thirteen years since my personal tragedies, I can finally connect the dots thanks to my dear friend Marianna Cacciatore. She’s the author of “Being There for Someone in Grief: Essential Lessons in Supporting Someone Grieving from Death, Loss and Trauma,” host of the VoiceAmerica show "Ordinary People doing Extraordinary Deeds," and former Chief Inspiration Officer of the nonprofit Bread for the Journey, but I know her as a wise, grounded, kindred spirit and grief expert. She’s someone you want want by your side when grief strikes. None of us are immune.

Again, when I use the word loss, I’m not just talking about grieving the loss of a family member or friend. Rather, it’s the loss of anything you may have experienced; a job, family, friend, sexuality, your preconceived notions of what others wanted you to be or as a parent, it’s losing your freedom when having children.

For the first time, Marianna is sharing her story of loss at a young age — the brutal murder of a best friend. Through this tragic experience, Marianna shares her unique perspective on how grief leads to generosity and love.

Childhood best friend Susan Brady, left, and Marianna Cacciatore. Courtesy: Marianna Cacciatore

With the words, wisdom and voice remnant of Maya Angelou, Marianna eloquently explains the patterns she sees in the space of grief. She believes grief leads generosity and then — get ready for this — feeling a deep love. Now, what do the words “grief,” “generosity” and “love” have to do with one another? You’ll be surprised.


“I have observed that there is a natural relationship between grief and generosity,” she said. “And if the inspired impulse toward generosity is noticed and nurtured, it leads to an experience of belonging, connection and love that is life-changing and transformative.”

If you or anyone you know has or is experiencing grief and loss, please share this video with them, I know you’ll find it as cathartic as I have. This may be the best gift you can give to someone this holiday and all year round.



Grief is as unique as each person it touches. We all process and experience it differently. It gets scary, we lose ourselves in the emotions and there isn’t a clear route for any of us. But I can tell you first hand that Marianna’s observation holds true to my experience.

After letting myself grieve and heal over time, I took action when the time was right. Eight years after losing four family members, I felt a deep generosity that words can’t define. It transformed my life and changed the trajectory of where I’m at today and where I’m headed in the days to come. It sparked a curiosity, generosity and love through my passion work, my life’s work with Go Inspire Go, a multimedia movement to inspire kindness, compassion, generosity and action.


In the words of my wise friend Marianna, “It took time and concentration to learn to be there for someone in grief in a way that is welcomed and respectful. Lucky for me, I had great teachers. My deepest wish is that I have found just the right words to help you become a person who can be there for someone you know, perhaps someone you love, who needs your deep presence as they grieve.”

Marianna, thank you for being one of my greatest teachers and shedding light around a topic so taboo, dark and scary. Your bold words and wisdom, I will cherish in all my living days.

If you feel like this video and/or blog has helped you, please share with those you love, those who have lost and those who are lost in the shadows of grief.

Reflect & Act:

1. We're naturally generous. Notice when the impulse to be generous shows up & ACT on it. Let us know what you did! Tag: @goinspirego

2. Know someone who has experienced LOSS, share this video.

3. Learn More: www.mariannacacciatore.com, subscribe to her email list and share her message.

Marianna is currently writing her second book about grief, generosity and love. It explores the many losses and perceived failures we experience in a lifetime and how, when we do our important and necessary interior work to heal from the wounds of loss and failure, we can choose to have our heart break open instead of apart. Stay tuned to her website, www.mariannacacciatore.com, for news of when the book will be released.

October 31, 2014

Cape Crusaders: Empowering and Honoring Young Superheroes

If you had a superhero power, what would it be? What do you think of when you hear the word “hero”?

A quick search in one dictionary yielded this hilarious definition. Insert the lol, #smh and #omg here…
hero |ˈhi(ə)rō|
noun (pl. heroes)
A person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities: a war hero.
• the chief male character in a book, play, or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.
• (in mythology and folklore) a person of superhuman qualities and often semidivine origin, in particular one of those whose exploits and dealings with the gods were the subject of ancient Greek myths and legends.
I chuckled at the “typically a man” and “male character” part.

The truth is, heroes are among us. We all possess heroic qualities. They’re the gifts that were given to us and come in many forms — through art, sports, talking, etc.

Heroes are ubiquitous. Many of them — or you — don’t even know one exists inside all of us. I recently spent the weekend with more than 150 heroes from kindergartners to adults at our cape-making extravaganza at Kent Middle School in Kentfield, Calif. Because generosity, kindness and helping others never goes out of fashion (neither do capes), we threw a party to make superhero capes for sick kids in the Bay Area.


Through Go Inspire Go, my non-profit, I was fortunate to have found two lead heroines, Kala Shah (my Community Heroes co-founder who piloted the program at her sons' Sun Valley Elementary School in San Rafael, Calif.) and Melissa Stephens, to plan this big event. Melissa recently joined forces with us to bring the Community Heroes program to Kent Middle School where she teaches. The program helps kids find their inner superhero through service projects. It all starts by inspiring them with Go Inspire Go videos, a splash of excitement, enthusiasm and fun.

Our goal for the cape party was five-fold:

1. Inspire kids to find their power to give back while having fun.
2. Surprise and honor Nico Castro, 8, our Halloween hero.
3. Craft 250 handmade capes in honor of Nico. Capes will go to the two local UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, in San Francisco and Oakland.
4. Inspire viewers to do something nice for others.
5. All of this goodness will be wrapped up in a tester TV/Web pilot show — some networks are interested — stay tuned!

You may remember we featured Nico two years ago when he was a very ill 6-year-old. He was recovering from a brain tumor measuring a little more than four inches in diameter. In the throes of his illness, in true superhero fashion, Nico wanted to help others. At the time, Nico was undergoing five days of cancer treatment. His wish was to be Batman for Halloween and go trick-or-treating. But things got tricky and bittersweet when doctors granted him a day off from treatment to enjoy his favorite holiday.


He told his Mom and Dad he was sad because the other kids in the hospital didn’t get to dress up and go trick-or-treating. We got the bat signal and helped him bring Halloween to those kids. Grab a tissue, here’s what happened when we told his story and produced this story.



Back to the cape party… people came out of the woodwork to cut, glue and design capes. Others wrote cards with encouraging messages and packaged them for delivery. Some brought their talents to entertain the cape-making crusaders.

My friend Michael Ocampo sang a pop version of John Legend’s “All of You,” while Michael Pritchard, local comedian, healer and actor, made the audience laugh and shared the message of how being a true hero means serving others. His message: compassion, love and action — be good to one another.

After three hours of setup and an hour-and-a-half of cape-making, it was time to surprise our little superhero. Nico and his family had been waiting in a holding room and were now being escorted to the cape-making party.


It is said that the energy you put out is the energy that comes back to you. In this case, the energy in the room was vibrating at a frequency that could lift any hero — caped or not — to soaring heights.

As a quick hurrah, I told the kids that it was almost time to surprise Nico. “Everyone in this room is a hero,” I explained, and that as heroes, I asked them to do the following:

1. I signaled them to hold up a peace sign and said, “All heroes bring peace to our community.”
2. I asked them to put their hands over their heart because all heroes love and care and share with others.
3. Finally a fist in the air, because we all have the power — a gift — to do something to help others.


As I finished saying, “Are you ready to meet our little superhero?” the crowd cheered like the audience in an Oprah favorite things episode. “Nico! Nico! Nico!” they chanted.

Pow. Wow. The energy was explosive.

The doors busted open. I gave Nico a big hug. People crowded around us.

“Nico, you know why people are all here?” I asked.
He was dressed as Batman. I could see his little eyes through his mask, taking it all in.

“They’re here because you inspired the superhero in them. They came here today to make capes to honor you and what you did for the kids in the hospital. When you care and share with others, they care and share with you.”

I told him that he was the hardest hero to hook up because in true superhero fashion, everything he wished for was for others instead of for himself.


“So I did some investigating and found out that the cancer and treatment made it harder for you to learn. That’s OK, because when you listen to your heart, it will guide you and you will do the right thing. So, thanks to our friends at LeapFrog, they wanted you to have the LeapPad3, fully loaded with the latest games to make learning easier for you.”

“Wow,” said Nico.

“And, I heard you wanted a puppy, but not for yourself?”

“Yeah,” agreed Nico.

“I heard you wanted a puppy for your dog Willy, so he could have a friend, right? Julian Wolff from The Peninsula Humane Society is here to introduce you to your new puppy, Lucky!”

At this point, we were on cuteness overload! Tears from kids and adults alike rushed down their faces. Tears of joy. Healing, loving, compassionate energy gave us the courage and tingly feeling I imagine superheroes get when they use their power to help.

The thing is, we don’t need a cape or any other materials to make a difference. A hero and everything that comes along with the true definition of the word is already within you. You were born with it.

When you exercise that heart muscle, you too will be guided.

My hope is that in doing so — discovering that hero in you — like Nico, you will give others the permission to see and feel and be the hero you were brought here to be.

Peace. Love. Power to you all!

What will YOU do?

* Special Thanks: Castro family, Peninsula Humane Society, Leap Frog, Kala Shah, Melissa Stephens, Sean Stephens, Kacy Brod, Frank Siebenlist, Peter Shaplen, Chris Hill, Julian Wolff, Paul Miller, Michael Pritchard, Lisa Sandberg, Skip Kniesche, Liz Schott, Priya Patel, Jennifer Schumacher, Jamie Ybarra, Luis Pena-Philippides, Lee Tran, Andrew Sundling, Hoa Tran, Kevin Lee, Barbara Grandvoinet, Mike Ocampo, Rico Corona, Debbi Spungen, Melissa Ament, Rahul Kannan, Dora Wong, Gina Pell, Dave Pell, Gary Tellalian & every superhero who was a part of this event.

* Big shout out to the Salesforce Foundation, which sent employee reinforcements to participate in the event and donated cape materials as well as to the Coca-Cola Foundation, which supplied in-kind donations for the event.

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