February 1, 2016

Follow Your Yellow Brick Road

I’ve always been a kid who believed in magic. And the magic of stories.

I can’t believe I just typed those words, as this is something I kept to myself until now. I think sharing my magic will encourage people to believe, too (pinching myself while writing this on an Amtrak train from Philly to NYC).

While on an East Coast tour for Go Inspire Go and motivational speaking, I was on a plane and saw one of my favorite stories, “The Wizard of Oz,” in the queue of the in-flight entertainment. Who wouldn’t love a story with lions, witches and, for some, glittery shoes? Dorothy had a fabulousness all to herself: her energy, her spirit and her sense of adventure of wanting to go over the rainbow where she, too, could spread her wings and fly like the bluebirds. Little did I know, Dorothy’s message and her journey would have so many parallels for me and if you pay attention, perhaps for you too.


I was a fan since seeing my sister Lynn Billett in “The WIZ” performed live at Valley High in my hometown of Sacramento. At the time, I didn’t know how or why that story resonated with me so much. Like Dorothy, I needed to go further along my journey before I could fully understand it.

But something in me knew it was special. It touched me deeply. “You’ve always had the power,” was one of my favorite quotes by Glinda the Good Witch. Wow, so much meaning packed into those five words.

As a child, I used to wake up thinking, “Who am I going to meet? What am I going to learn? What does the day have in store?” I, too, wanted to see other lands. I knew I, too, had a bigger story to tell one day.

My parents were much like Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. They tried to tame my excitement and sense of exploration. Like many Asian immigrant parents, my mom’s American dream for me was to be (cue cute little Asian woman’s broken English voice) “a doctor, lawyer, engineer.”

I wanted to use my power of communication – reading, writing and talking – in some way, shape or form. I failed them, it seemed, because I took a risk and followed my yellow brick road to attend the University of San Francisco, which led me to become a TV reporter.

“How you make money tell stories? How you have money buy clothes for TV?” Ma would ask, puzzled.


Back then, I was mad because her American dream didn’t match my American dream for myself. But now that I’ve met many “wizards” who I thought reigned in the Land of Oz (or TV, etc.), I realize that you never quite arrive, that you have the power to change your story and that the change starts with a small action you can make today.

For me, the preconceived notion of the “dream” was to become a TV reporter. Then I got a taste of working at PBS as a co-host/correspondent. Later, I added university instructor to the resume. The twists and turns in the road led me to different characters and places – my own Oz continues to change.

I never thought my story mattered… it wasn’t until I told people about how we immigrated to America on a boat and landed in Sacramento with four dollars to our name. How our first home in the U.S. was in a trailer park. Or the story of how I achieved my dreams and still am dreaming a bigger dream. But my story does matter and so does yours.

That is why I’m excited to finally, fully share my story and allow it to be told. Here is my story told for the first time in this fashion by Brian Rashid, a motivational speaker, former speechwriter for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and writer for Forbes.

Like Dorothy, my Kansas was Sacramento, California. I, too, didn’t know why, oh why, I couldn’t go to another place – a land far away from some of the bad zip codes where I had to learn to stand tall on my own feet.

Like Dorothy, the yellow brick road is my life’s adventure to lands near and far. My journey has taken me all across the U.S. and to other continents. I was able to do stories, motivational speaking and storytelling workshops across many ponds, the U.K., Ireland, Australia… and, oh, the people I met! The lions who yearned for courage, the scarecrows who thought they didn’t have a brain and the tin men and women who had a bigger heart than they could ever know. I met soul brothers and sisters and together, we continue to rise above the clouds to discover other rainbows.

I believe if we do life right, our relationships, the people we meet – our light, our rainbow shines brighter. The characters in your story help make your life less bumpy. I met some seemingly bad witches who tried to cast societal spells on me. People who tried to make me fall under life’s “safe” category, chasing after big paychecks and larger-than-life job titles.

But instead, I followed my gut and diverged from their road. Brick by brick, experience by experience, the path turned golden. I learned life lessons and made soul connections money couldn’t buy.


The next road I’m choosing? My biggest dream ever – a role that’s authentic to my heart and soul – that of “Inspirator.” It’s a made-up word that I believe means, “One who inspires others to be better and do better for themselves and others.”

Together, let’s skip, do cartwheels and click our heels together so that you, too, can discover your power. That is my American dream – my soul’s dream for me and you.

I hope to meet you along the yellow brick road. Please share your story and the stories of heroes around you.

Onward and upward,
Toan

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January 13, 2016

Happy New Year 2016 — Approaching the Tipping Point


By Kala Shah
Go Inspire Go Chief Innovation Officer

“All great achievements require time.” — Maya Angelou

These words have been a guiding mantra, especially on days when uncertainty has crept in. I’ve realized that it’s perfectly normal to have those days. I’ve learned to ride through them and believe that tomorrow will be a better one. And I’ve come to understand that if you savor each part of the process and proceed with perseverance, faith and a lot of hard work, the rewards are truly great every step of the way.

As yet another year dawns, I’m deeply grateful for this incredible journey with Community Heroes and Go Inspire Go. It all started as an experiment in 2012 as I was pondering how I could help shape my own kids’ perceptions of gratitude, compassion and service while living amidst the blessed abundance of Marin County, Calif. My serendipitous meeting with Toan Lam of Go Inspire Go that spring set off a series of events that has dramatically changed my course in life — personally, professionally and spiritually.


Toan, aptly titled “Chief Inspirator,” has a real gift for seeing the potential and lighting a spark within people. He has helped me discover my own power — to be able to use my enthusiasm to empower kids and organize a program around kindness, compassion and action for families in my community.

We launched Community Heroes at Sun Valley School in San Rafael, Calif., that year to test our theory that by getting kids excited about service by planting the seeds of compassion early, they would bear fruit in unexpected and delightful ways for years to come. Four years later, the program is still going strong at Sun Valley and has expanded to three other Marin County schools, led by passionate parents at Dixie, Mary Silveira and Vallecito elementary schools. As parents, we all share the desire to have our kids feel gratitude for all we have and compassion for those who have less. Making service fun and fulfilling is a key part of that formula.

The idea is simple:
1. A volunteer facilitator shows a Go Inspire Go video.
2. The kids are prompted to discuss how the featured hero’s story resonates with them.
3. After sharing personal stories, the kids brainstorm ways they can help the cause locally.
4. The facilitator helps strategize and connect with the community to take action (organizing service activities accordingly).
5. We share the Community Heroes’ good works via Go Inspire Go’s social media platforms.

Staying true to our ethos, “Small acts ripple out to meaningful changes,” we are brimming with inspiring, impactful highlights from this past year.

2015 highlights

We’ve presented our message to more than 2,500 Marin County students, with a platform promoting kindness, compassion and action. The impact is evident in tangible ways (service projects) and less “measurable” ways (kinder, more compassionate children who bring in their spare change and bake sale earnings to support earthquake victims, consider homeless people as “just like us” and who WANT to spend their free time helping their community). One day after I posed the question, “What can YOU do, big or small to be kinder?” one little girl approached me in all earnestness, saying, “I want to help lonely kids at lunchtime.” UNQUANTIFIABLE!

We held kickoff meetings at Dixie Elementary and Mary Silveira Elementary in January and Vallecito Elementary in September. AWESOME, energetic parent leaders run the program, meeting with students weekly or every other week during lunch that have led to collection drives, bake sales and kindness acts around campus. We discuss issues that matter to the kids (homelessness, hunger, sick kids, animals and more) and brainstorm ways to take action.

A sincere THANK YOU to our awesome ComHeroes moms (dads are welcome too!): Atashi Chakravarty, Shannon Takaoka and Cari Friend at Dixie Elementary; Barb Snekkevik, Erin Rudsenske and Jennifer Harris-Marks at Mary Silveira Elementary and Amy Probst at Vallecito Elementary who have taken the helm at each of these schools and made this program their own!



Overview of cross-school joint service activities:
1. Winter coat, clothing, shoe collection drives for Canal Alliance & Mission Atletica
2. Made more than 300 superhero capes and 25 blankets for UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals, San Francisco and Oakland pediatric cancer patients
3. Adopted four local families for the holidays through Adopt a Family of Marin
4. Day of Giving: More than 250 participants took part in 12 service projects, including making 200 care kits for the homeless (Homeward Bound of Marin & Downtown Streets team), cooking an elegant meal for 36 Homeward Bound shelter residents and cleaning up Marin County parks and downtown streets. Big plans are underway for our 3rd Annual Day of Giving, coming up Sunday, March 6. More details on our most inspirational event of the year will be available soon.
5. Bake sales and collections that raised more than $350 for earthquake relief efforts by the organizations Nepal Youth Foundation and Adhikaar, along with individual student efforts
6. Collection drive for Lake County’s (Calif.) Valley Fire victims — clothing, supplies and 1,000 books to rebuild libraries
7. Random acts of kindness campus and neighborhood activities


Community Heroes school highlights

Kid-driven projects are unique at each school:

Dixie Elementary — Collected 65 bags of clothing, toys and toiletries for Lake County fire victims, raised $750 for UNICEF at Halloween, made special bookmarks for the Dixie library to encourage reading and made holiday cards for Homeward Bound and Casa Allegra Community Services. The club also started a Community Hero speaker series, including Dr. Alexandra Denino from the SF-Marin Food Bank who discussed the issue of food insecurity in Marin County.

Mary Silveira Elementary — Has set up a wonderful blog to document their many activities, including creating giggle books for children in local hospitals, raising $350 through popsicle sales for Lake County fire victims and making beautiful ornaments for Homeward Bound and Whistlestop Wheels.

Vallecito Elementary — Our newest Community Heroes school is off to a roaring start! They have been meeting weekly since September. Students at Vallecito have decided to focus their compassion and philanthropic efforts towards their love of animals. They’ve invited the Humane Society to speak, after which students have been holding fundraisers to raise money for the organization. Students are also making efforts to improve animal habitats by preventing plastics from entering oceans and landfills by launching a student-run, school-wide marker recycling initiative with Terracycle. Vallecito students have also practiced community compassion by making holiday cards for Whistlestop's Meals on Wheels' homebound clients.

Sun Valley School — Continued with tried-and-true activities such as adopting families for the holidays through Adopt a Family of Marin and collecting for the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program. New activities this year included a Halloween costume drive for residents of Homeward Bound of Marin, collecting about 1,000 books for Lake County fire victims, and conducting earthquake relief bake sales and fundraisers for Nepal Youth Foundation.

Testing and tweaking: Our friend and mentor Marin County Superintendent Mary Jane Burke advised us when we first met her a couple years ago. Grow small. Don't try to expand too quickly. Test and tweak. Try it out in a middle school, a high school. We took her advice and ran the program through our wonderfully enthusiastic teacher Melissa Stephens at Kent Middle School for a whole year and also shared our message with Terra Linda High’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program students. These experiences showed us that in its current form (showing videos and doing group service work), our program construct is best suited for elementary school students, with parents facilitating.

Our future plans are to tailor a flexible curriculum that students of any age, parents and teachers could use to inspire their own community projects.


Approaching the Tipping Point: After years of testing, tweaking, experimenting, aspiring and inspiring for the past several years, we truly believe that 2016 is OUR year — the year of the tipping point. The year of breakthrough, and making compassion THE fashion. If you focus on the mainstream news, it’s easy to get downright discouraged with political rhetoric, global warming, refugee crises, Monsanto and the like.

Instead of completely burying my head in the sand, I choose to keep asking myself and my Community Heroes, “What can YOU do to change your piece of the world?” Find YOUR inner hero. It’s in there….within all of us. If we all just focused more on THAT, the future is certainly bright.

Warm wishes for a productive, fulfilling and service-driven year ahead.

Cheers, Kala

December 30, 2015

New Year, New Time to Discover Your Power

I believe everyone single person born on Earth has a power. Yes, I truly believe that we all are like superheroes with super powers. It’s our responsibility to discover our power and use it to the fullest capacity while we’re alive.

Many people don't realize this in their lifetime and die not knowing their power, or worse, not using it to better their lives and the lives of others. Unfortunately, I discovered this life lesson after losing four family members in about a year's time. Fortunately, I paid attention and took action to make small changes that rippled out to big changes that shifted my life personally, professional and spiritually.

My wish for you this new year is that you take baby steps. Start by helping someone in need or volunteering. It doesn't have to seem laborious or like something you check off in a long list of to-do's. It should be inspiring and fun. Think about what you enjoy doing naturally.

For example, people who know me, know I like love to talk. For me, there's no better way to use my power of connecting with everyday heroes, telling their stories to inspire you, the viewer to find your inner superhero power to help them.

I know this may sound kidlike, woo woo or a bit cray cray, but it’s true. Each and every one of us has the power to make or break someone’s day. It doesn’t matter how great your wealth, health or connections — you have the power. I believe this so much that during the throes of the economic meltdown in 2008, I decided to quit my “dream job” as a TV reporter in San Francisco to prove this theory.

My power: connecting with people. To take it a step further, I know that I can have a soul-stirring conversation with someone and uplift, inspire and change their perspective — and in many cases spark action within them, which billows out into the community.

A journalism brother, Archith Sehshadri, recently asked me what one word describes our power. He said, “My network.” I said, “Inspiring” people. On any given week about 5+ people message me saying they need some “Toan Time.” What a great compliment! When I left the news biz, I was dead set on testing this algorithm: Authentic Storytelling + Leveraging Social Media = Action.

More than 60 videos and 200 posts later, I realized this works. The impact is real.

One of our most popular stories is about Jorge Munoz, a.k.a. the “Angel in Queens, New York,” a school bus driver by day and real-life angel by night. For more than a decade, Jorge has devoted half his salary of $700 a week to purchase groceries that fill his tiny shoe box-sized apartment in Queens, New York. He and his family pour love into making home-cooked meals that he delivers each night in his white pickup truck to a subway stop to more than 150 people. No questions asked!



Other inspiring impactful stories include:

  • Reverend Alerte, who built a high school in his hometown of Grand Saline, Haiti, after the country was devastated by a 7.0 earthquake. This story created a movement that allowed 32 kids to attend school in Haiti.

  • Dr. Ron Holt’s story about spreading his message of awareness and compassion around the LGBT community inspired people to love their authentic selves and thwart suicides.

  • We also helped Phoebe Russell, who as a kindergartener enabled a local food bank to give out more than 200,000 meals in San Francisco.

    The common thread in each of these stories is that the hero’s journey began with a small act that rippled out to meaningful (and sometimes big) changes.

    Don’t think you have the time or money to help others? Meet Claire Lemmel, who used her smile to inspire connectedness and kindness.

    So many people have said to me, “I wish I had the time,” or “One day when I make a lot of money I want to give back.” The truth is, you don’t need money or a lot of time to give back. You just have to take action.

    Do one small thing to help someone. If you like books, use your power of the spoken word and volunteer to read to kids. If you like to garden, help upkeep or revitalize a neighbor’s yard. The key is to do something, anything that you enjoy and plant the seed.

    So, what is your power? What are you doing to make someone else’s life better? We want to know! You just might inspire a movement…pow!

    Follow us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Join our movement & Go Inspire Go
  • November 20, 2015

    A Call for Stories of Hope, Heroism and Inspiration

    My good friend Suzanne Lettrick once told me that when more than one person is telling you something, that’s the universe whispering in your ear. If that is true, something is yelling at me big time. In the past week, we’ve heard of the horrifying, heartbreaking, evil news of violence in Paris, Lebanon and Mali.

    It seems nearly every week the news is smattered with yet another shooting. No matter what it looks like — an isolated incident, terrorism, (fill in the blank) — it is an attack on humanity at large.

    Barbara Ocampo and Toan Lam

    I was sitting peacefully on a dock along the Caloosahatchee River in Florida, watching the sunset while on vacation with Barbara Ocampo, my good friend and Go Inspire Go videographer, when we heard about the shooting in her hometown of Paris. I had been thinking about how peaceful the water looked against the backdrop of the peachy sky. The white cloud wisps seemed almost like a painting changing before our eyes, the sun’s rays sparkling like diamonds on the water.

    Barbara’s phone started buzzing wildly. Barbara told me, “Sorry for looking down at my phone, I got a text from my brother in Paris.”

    “There was a mass shooting in Paris and people are being held hostage at a concert hall,” she explained with horror in her wide eyes.

    We watched the terror unfold through social media and news outlets online. She was checking Facebook and text messages to see if her loved ones were OK. Thankfully, her family was safe. A quick check showed that my friends were OK, too.

    I felt helpless, but learned that I could do something to change that feeling… and to change the life or lives of others around me. And so can you (keep reading for the challenge).

    Before bed, I went to check in on her. Her eyes were red from crying. My heart hurt and mind went wild, thinking about the horror the concertgoers and other victims in Paris endured — each one with a story, family, friends, careers — their lives abruptly ended as they were going about their everyday routines. Then, more bad news about the violence that unfolded about Lebanon.

    As I said good night, Barbara said, “Toan, the world needs you!” I chuckled. She didn’t. Her voice was as serious as a heart attack. I knew she wasn’t kidding.


    Barbara, a professional videographer and documentarian, has volunteered her time and talents for several years, producing, shooting and editing videos for GIG. She told me that she’s been volunteering for me because she believes in me and has seen the changes in people I connect to and share my stories with.

    For the past six years, Barbara and more than 150 volunteers have helped me spread stories of everyday heroes and good deeds via my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go (GIG). I honestly didn’t realize I had that big of a power to inspire people to do better and be better for themselves and others. I got the chills.

    I left the world of TV news because people told me they wanted to see more positive stories. I paid attention and with story after story, we’ve inspired people on big and small scales. Barbara, a professional videographer and documentarian, has volunteered her time and talents for several years, producing, shooting and editing videos for GIG. She reminded me that the world needs more stories of inspiration, heroism and hope — the threads woven into all of our Go Inspire Go stories.

    With the mayhem that is breaking loose this week, we need to see more positive stories.


  • According to a University of British Columbia study, ‘Good news begets better people’
  • By the age of 18, a young adult will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence. (American Psychiatric Association)



    One of my favorite quotes from Mr. Fred Rogers of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood:

    “As a little boy, anytime there was a catastrophe, my mother would tell me, look for the helpers. If you look for the helpers you’ll know that there’s hope.”

    As an intern at local TV stations in San Francisco, I would want to stick around and talk to the victims and look for the helpers. I would push for some sort of way we could relay information to the viewers on how they could help. This kept me going.

    Here are two stories to get you going:

    Barbara and I recently produced this soul-to-soul chat with Dr. Michael Pritchard, an actor, comedian and humanitarian who has dedicated his life to using comedy to inspire laughter, love and kindness to audiences young and old. His whisper to me: “You are the teacher-preacher-professor for the next generation. You’re the Asian male Oprah,” he constantly says.

    As much as I chuckle over this comparison to Ms. Winfrey, about a dozen people have told me this in the last couple of years. Check out the video we produced…. Teaser: During the chat, we believe his best friend, the late actor Robin Williams, whispered something by way of a real-life “tweet, tweet, tweet”:



    On the day of the Paris shooting, I got a private message from yet another friend, Oli Cohen. Oli is also a talented photographer, videographer and sound recordist who criss-crosses the world for his work. He sent me this direct message:

    “I just wrote this on a FB discussion and thought of you: 'Over half a million people die every year because of malaria. This is so crazy considering that it's a preventable disease. Malaria doesn't make great news or social media stories though. Even worse, in the world over three million people die of hunger ever year. Again this is completely unnecessary. It's a shocking statistic but it doesn't make a shocking news story. It's so easy to feel detached from it too. On a positive note, the numbers dying from malaria are reducing and with some luck it will be eradicated in our lifetime. Similarly, extreme poverty has significantly reduced in the world. Fantastic work is being done and there are many positive stories out there but then they don't make great news or social media stories either. Just saying.' ”

    On Location in London: Oli, Johnny, Phillipa, Martin, Anocha and Toan

    Oli and I were brought together by another magical person, a dear friend and PR volunteer Fiona Pattison. I happened to be attending a wedding in Durham, England, and Fiona knew that she, Oli and I were connected on a higher level. It was also around the time of the 2011 London riots.

    My intention was to produce a story about the aftermath of the riots — but only the goodness that came of it. However, I didn’t bring any gear and decided not to produce a story because of a foot injury just before my trip across the pond. I remember the news showing a lot of violence and anger, people rioting, looting and terrorizing the streets of London.

    My intention was met with a miracle. Against all odds, injured foot, no equipment and not even a cell phone, at Fiona’s behest she convinced me and Oli to work with together and produce this video that tells the story of the positive things that came out of this senseless rioting. This is the video that inspired many of our British brothers and sisters to do good in the wake of the madness and looting that occurred:



    I learned early on that we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond. That could mean changing your perspective, praying for peace and/or taking action to do what is in our power to serve our brothers and sisters in the community and around the world.

    When I was a little boy, 5-years-old to be precise, I remember being super sad during recess. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Persinski, noticed that I wasn’t my perky, playful, positive self and knew something was majorly wrong with me. “How are you doing Toan?” she asked in a motherly tone.

    “I’m sad because I saw on the news that another person was shot and killed in the apartments behind my house,” I explained. She was shocked, but had the best response that made me think deeply.

    “Toan, you know that we have choices, right? You can choose to do good or choose to do bad. If you do good, good things happen. If you do bad, bad things happen. You can get in trouble and go to jail.”

    This was one of the first profound life lessons I learned. The law of cause-and-effect. I vowed to always try to do good things for me and for other people. I wondered why anyone would intentionally hurt or even want to kill anybody. I was sad for the victims as much as I was sad for the perpetrators. I wondered what caused the so-called “bad people” on the news to do bad things. Someone must’ve done something bad to them. I tried to make sense of it all.

    The truth is there are more good stories out there than bad stories. We just need a big ole platform to broadcast this. That’s why I created Go Inspire Go — so you can go to a place to be inspired and go do something and create change. I believe the more good you see, the more good we will do. What you pay attention to, more of it pops up into your reality.

    My challenge to you…

    Please send us:

    Inspiring stories or quotes or kind acts. We may share them on our platform, social media channels or blog about them.

    Help us take the whispers of people saying they want more good news and turn them into happy screams. Let's get as many people sharing more good news as possible. 
  • Please tweet, Facebook, Instagram us. ­Make sure to use @goinspirego and #moregoodnews 
  • Then pass the baton to a friend and let them know it’s their turn to share more good news. Tag them and ask them to share and then tag another friend. As I filter through the responses, I will share a blog and multiply their messages. Let’s create a good news movement!
  • The truth is, you don’t have to feel helpless. You can help. You don’t have to be rich and famous. You don’t have to be Oprah. Be you and share if you care.

    Together, we don’t need to feel helpless. We have the power to uplift and shift those around us.

    Peace be with you.

    Onward,
    Toan
  • October 30, 2015

    Young Superhero Shares Halloween Spirit with Kids in Hospital (Update)

    The Catalyst

    We first featured Nico Castro three 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. He wanted to bring the spirit of Halloween to the kids. 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:



    The Act

    This little Halloween hero with a big heart asked his parents if they could buy costumes and treats for the kids in the cancer ward. "I was sad they wouldn't have candy," Nico explained. His mother Marlene and her husband Raul Castro were moved by his thoughtfulness, however, it would be impossible to buy costumes and goodies for the more than 50 sick kids in the hospital. The family took a big financial hit after Nico's diagnosis.

    Nico knows what it feels like to have to sit on the sidelines during the holidays. In November 2011, instead of celebrating, he was in the hospital too ill to take part in the festivities. He was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, cancer of the cerebellum. But during this scary time, all he could think about was if he would be healthy enough to celebrate Halloween.

    Nico and his family took action and started a costume drive. At first they received about 20 costumes. This Go Inspire Go story activated more heroes across America:



    It's amazing to see how the community comes together when they're given a healthy dose of inspiration. After meeting Nico, I quickly realized his superhero power is inspiring people to expand their minds, be more compassionate and to open their hearts. Donations and kind acts poured in, including superhero capes, goodie bags filled with toys, balloons and more. Nico’s efforts resulted in donations more than 200 costumes and about $1,200 in cash.

    “We were so surprised from the support outside of our community. The community really came together and packages of costumes are coming from Pennsylvania, Illinois and Texas,” Raul, Nico’s dad said. “The costumes, the little trinkets that the kids in the beds are getting...just an instant and it changes their demeanor and whole attitude about being sick.”

    The Ripples

  • Today, Nico in stable condition and cancer-free. He is coping with the residual effects of the treatment that have affected his cognitive learning. He was pulled out of his school and was put into a special school for students with mild to moderate learning disabilities. Marlene says Nico isn’t happy about being in a different school. “He cried the first day and wants to be back at his regular school with his old friends.” Their goal is to get Nico’s cognitive learning up to speed so he can return to his regular school.

  • Nico’s mother describes him as having become very empathetic toward other kids who are not the average child as a result of his illness. “He’s very aware of the differences in people,” she said.

  • Last year, we gifted Nico with a puppy. He and his siblings love Lucky and fight over getting to sleep with him. He’s a calm dog who brings love to their home.

    Take Action

  • Marlene believes in the power of prayer: please pray for Nico’s health and general well-being. “He gets emotional,” Marlene said. “Why did God have to give me cancer? I just want to be Nico, not Nico the cancer patient.”

  • Raise awareness for childhood cancer and support research to end this horrid disease: Volunteer, share this story, make a donation. Marlene recommendations organizations that give 100 percent of the proceeds to the cause like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Juliana’s Journey Foundation.

    Courtesy: Marlene Castro
  • Nico continues to collect costumes and Halloween goodies for his goodie bags every year. This year’s 50+ costumes will be delivered to Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center in Santa Clara, Calif.

  • Marlene is searching for treatment to improve his cognitive learning. Resources she’s found are expensive. If you or anyone you know is a specialist in this field, please email us at info@goinspirego.com -- superheroes activate!

    Previous stories about Nico
  • Boy, 6, with Brain Cancer Brings Halloween to Sick Kids
  • 6-Year-Old Halloween Hero Quadruples Goal, Brings Holiday Spirit to Sick Kids
  • Cape Crusaders: Empowering and Honoring Young Superheroes

    Follow us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

    Join our movement & Go Inspire Go
  • October 1, 2015

    One Thing to do Right Now to Change Your Circumstances

    Being a TV news reporter was my dream growing up. I was inquisitive and loved to read, write and talk. Getting information first and sharing it with a mass audience thrilled me. Naturally, getting paid to do this seemed like a plum job. In many ways it was. But after a while, knocking on doors of grieving families, reporting on catastrophes and searching for bad news daily drained my spirit.

    I remember a crisp autumn “slow news” day. I was on the computer writing a script for a news report when the police scanners suddenly went abuzz. The producers became frantic. News broke about a school bus accident involving elementary school children.

    “Are there any injuries?” a producer yelled excitedly. About 20 minutes later and after some calls to local law enforcement agencies, it was confirmed that nobody was badly hurt or killed.

    I clearly remember some news “leaders” were visibly disappointed that it wasn’t the big news they had expected. Essentially, the lead wasn’t as big of a bleed. As I thought about my career, my reason for going into news was not meeting my zest for using my talents of connecting to people and storytelling – it was quite the opposite. I felt like I had betrayed my calling.

    In 2009, right in the thick of the economic downturn, I planned a trip to Peru. I mustered up the courage to tell one of my best friends Yasi that I was going to quit my job in San Francisco after our trip. Thousands of broadcasters vie for the 130ish on-air reporting gigs in the City by the Bay. Some of my mentors and friends advised against it. But it was time for me to stop avoiding the feeling in my gut that a new adventure awaited – my new calling. Here I was plotting my exit. “I’m going to give my two-week notice,” I told Yasi with a lump in my throat.

    The next day, I walked into the newsroom early with three story ideas ready to pitch at the morning meeting. As soon as I heard an intercom message from the HR department saying, “Toan Lam please come to HR,” I knew my thoughts preceded my actions and that the shift was happening.

    I was laid off and given a few month’s severance. I thought, “A check to tide me over for a few months, yippee!”

    I would be lying if I told you I didn’t start feverishly looking for my next step – another job. I got some calls but felt like those opportunities didn’t align with me internally. Physically, my gut told me to wait it out.

    During this transition time I continued do reporting, but out of personal interest. One of the first stories I told was “The People of Tent City.” Many middle-class families that lost their jobs started pitching tents across the country because they felt they had nowhere else to go.



    Immediately after producing this story, change happened for the people I featured and heroes reached out to help. But the biggest shift happened in me. I was moved that the folks who lost nearly everything were generous enough to share their tents, blankets and bottled water with new tent city tenants.

    Through social media, high school students saw the video and were inspired to make presentations about the growing epidemic of homelessness in their community. They held a collection drive with just a few 55-gallon garbage bins. The result: a truckload of basic necessities donated to their homeless neighbors. A dentist reached out and asked me whom he could talk to about giving free dental care to some of the people I featured.

    More than 70 videos later, 100+ volunteers and more ripples that I can count, I know this changed the trajectory of my life and led me to my true life’s work. I call it “Go Inspire Go.”

    What I learned here is follow your gut. You don’t have to be drastic and leave your job like I did. Start small. Look around. Pay attention. Tell people that you want to volunteer your time. The rest will follow.

    Another huge lesson I learned (I tell this to every student and mentee that comes my way) is to be careful what you think. Your thoughts become your words. Be careful what you say because they can become reality. Words can hurt just as much as they can heal. So once you start thinking negative thoughts, zoom out. You’re the author of your own book.

    What’s your gut telling you? How will you rise to meet your best self? We want to know!

    September 16, 2015

    How the Mundane and Ordinary Routine of Life is Awesome

    One of the biggest personal and professional lessons I’ve learned running a nonprofit and creating a TV/Web show (stay tuned) is to enjoy the yellow light. I used to freak out when things got slow. In a society that covets being busy and doing more, consuming more, it’s hard not to jump in the fast lane and hit the accelerator when life seems like it's plodding along.

    A friend and fellow soul-jah posted this amazing meme on Facebook recently and I thought when I finally learned this seminal life lesson, I became less frantic, less of a worry-wart and more aware. Aware of what was going right. Aware that it’s OK to pause in life. Aware that I’m on the right track.


    This quote inspired me to reflect on each of the different seasons of life and realize the value in each.

    You see, life is amazing: Why? Because you’re breathing. You were born. You’re unique and you’re the only person experiencing what you’re going through here and now. You choose which lens to put on: one that lets in more sun or one that blocks out the goodness. For goodness sake, don’t choose the latter!

    Life is awful: Every awful thing that happens in my life, I think, what the heck?! God, why? Why did you lay me off from a high-paying job during a down economy? Why did I lose my dad and aunt to cancer? Why did both of my grandmothers pass away? Why did all four of them die within 13 months? Why did my rib pop out of my sternum. Gross, I know. Sorry for oversharing… ☺

    Life is amazing: Then life gets amazing again. Like scattered dots, life’s experiences can be connected when you learn what these experiences are trying to teach you -- leading you to your truest, highest-possible potential. All the awful, aforementioned things that I’ve experienced led me to my life’s work, Go Inspire Go, to find everyday heroes and tell their authentic stories, so you can find the hero in you to help.

    Life is ordinary and mundane: When I travel for work, reporting on everyday heroes or just for vacation, I yearn for routine. Going to my CrossFit box and seeing the usuals while working out my body, sweating, getting stronger. Buying groceries at the corner store or my early Saturday walks to the waterfront to the farmers’ market and having dinner with loved ones. This happens most of the time – so much more than ups and downs – so enjoy it. My friend and spiritual sister Terrie Crowley told me when things are quiet, it’s God letting you rest. So rest and say, "Thank you."

    Life is breathtakingly beautiful: It’s so easy to "be busy" and "addicted" to the highs in life. But when things fall apart, as they do for all human beings, you learn the most and feel the most. If I could only hold a mirror up to everyone I meet and say you matter, you gem, you will see and realize that you are beautiful. The sun that rises is beautiful. Your interactions with loved ones are beautiful. The confluence of blessings that have come together to make you and your life is beautiful. So just be… and enjoy.

    Try this exercise out and see how breathtakingly beautiful life is unfolding through your lens.

    Onward and upward,
    Toan

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    September 9, 2015

    Don’t give up. Yes, YOU. Keep going…

    Paulo Coelho, the author of one of my favorite books, “The Alchemist,” believes we all will face many challenges while pursuing our dreams. When the biggest challenges come and we face tests, “That’s the point at which most people give up,” he wrote. Coelho isn’t just all talk – he’s walking this journey. When he was in his forties, he was broke and almost out of hope. Something inside him needed to be expressed. The result was “The Alchemist,” a record-breaking, breathtaking literary treasure.

    Recently, during several conversations with friends about keeping hope alive, I found myself sharing this remarkable story about how Coelho’s book, “The Alchemist” – a story about Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy in search of his dream – went from selling two copies and being dropped by his publishing house to setting a Guinness World Record for being the most translated book by a living author.


    Coelho told Oprah during a Super Soul Sunday interview that after cutting ties with his publishing house, he went to one of the biggest publishers in Brazil and told them that this would sell. They said, “OK” and the rest was history. According to Oprah.com, the book has sold more than 65 million copies, has been translated into more than 80 languages and has been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 300 weeks.

    Like a caterpillar that climbs into a tree and forms a cocoon, something bigger is guiding us. We just have to struggle and strengthen our wings as the butterfly emerges. How does this happen when the caterpillar has never done this before? We are guided by something bigger than ourselves.

    In the prologue of “The Alchemist,” Coelho admits he doesn’t know the secret to the book's huge success. “All I know is that like Santiago the shepherd boy, we all need to be aware of our personal calling.... It’s God’s blessing,” Coelho wrote. “Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our [personal] legend.”

    I believe that we all have a calling. That’s why we’re here breathing. The goal: to find your power so you can not only feel your potential, but go beyond it by using it to uplift and help others. There is no better gift you can give than the gift of you. Share your story, lift someone’s spirit and shift them forever. The challenges you face are here to guide you.

    Take action: Three things you can do to keep the hope alive

    1. Share your story. I’ve done keynotes for Coca-Cola, Rotary clubs and many other nonprofits about having the courage to tell your story. Many people have since come to me, crying, telling me they didn’t think their stories mattered. The truth is, everybody’s story matters. Have the courage to discover and share them. You give others permission to do the same. This raises compassion, leads to action and inspires hope and change for the storyteller and the listener. Don’t know what story to share yet? Share Coelho’s!

    2. If your dream, business idea or project is authentically you, the people, the opportunities and signs will come. My mantra: Trust and action = traction.

    3. Trust that the opportunities meant for you will open doors, while the doors that close aren’t meant for you, after all. See all obstacles as blessings and be grateful for what you have right now. Abundance will follow. The Dalai Lama said, “Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. Not everything that you desire will be necessarily good for you in the long run. If something just seems to not work out continually, in such a way that it seems almost like fate intervened, consider letting it go or coming back to it at another time. The Universe works in mysterious ways and should be trusted. Just be sure you are not mistaking your own failure as the Universe telling you something.”

    If you have any other action tips on how you’ve kept hope alive, please share in the comments section.

    Onward and upward,
    Toan

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    August 31, 2015

    Finding Light and Compassion in the Midst of Tragedy

    When I heard the tragic news that TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were shot and killed during a live broadcast, several emotions and thoughts rushed through my mind. How twisted was it that not only did the alleged gunman Vester Flanagan open fire on the victims while on live TV, but he also recorded the incident and posted it on Twitter? I could not get myself to watch the video.

    Flashbacks of former colleagues and experiences we’ve shared ran through my mind. I thought about precarious situations I’ve been in while covering local news. Then, I said a prayer for everyone involved: their families, friends and even for Vester. Yes, I always pray for the perpetrators when I hear about news like this even though some people, especially those who knew the victims, may be angry (I know I would and am) because at some point, something caused them to do this.

    WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward
    (@WDBJ7/Twitter)

    Mixed in with the anger, grief and terror, I felt a sense of compassion. Not in an "It’s OK what the suspect did so let's forgive" type of feeling. Just a "No one wins" and "Let’s pray for everybody" feeling.

    Compassion may not be a word anyone wants to hear in situations like this, but hear me out.

    I ask for compassion for Vester. Why include the shooter in our prayers? I thought about how sad, dark and twisted Vester’s life probably was. I thought about how he grew up in the Bay Area, my stomping grounds for more than 14 years. I thought about how he probably ate at some of the same places I frequent. I thought about how he interned at the same CBS station in San Francisco where I interned. I thought about how he worked in Midland/Odessa Texas, the same TV market I was once in.

    I thought about how his family, friends and loved ones must’ve felt. I thought and wondered… what or who could’ve wronged him and hurt him? From mental illness to someone hurting them in the past, I believe that hurt people hurt people.

    If you’re not in the TV biz, I ask for compassion for my fellow journalist brothers and sisters. This could’ve happened to any of us. As a former TV reporter, I’ve been put in precarious, dangerous and vulnerable situations.

    In San Francisco, I remember doing a live shot in front of a sink hole and being terrified because a homeless person tried to grab my IFB transmitter attached to the back of my belt. As a morning reporter in Fresno, I remember being sent out on a story where a gunman was on the loose near a peach orchard. It was in the wee hours of the morning. It was dark. I was scared. The only thing illuminating us was the lights my photographer set up for our broadcast. Still, I knew I had to get the story because it was my job. When daylight broke, the gunman was found under the porch of a home just across the street where I went live.

    I thought about how Alison and Adam didn’t think they were in harm's way. It was a light story. I thought about the horror of seeing the gunman just before their lives ended.

    Journalists are not all sensationalism seekers. As all of my brothers and sisters in journalism can attest to, many of us do this for the love of storytelling. We’ve have had to move to small towns to start our careers. We were paid low wages, endured long hours, worked holidays and have had to sacrifice important life events away from loved ones. Out in the field we’ve been called mean things and threatened, while some colleagues were even attacked and robbed. The truth is, most of us got into this biz because we love to tell stories and we want to make a difference.

    It seems that Adam wanted to leave the biz for the same reasons I did. According to this article on NewsCastic, one Reddit user said he “…met Ward two weeks ago randomly while playing golf. And through small talk, Ward said he was moving to Charlotte and was getting out of the new business because 'he was tired of video taping people on the worst day of their life.' "

    Life is crazy – the trajectory of our lives can change for the better in a split second, just like it can end abruptly. We all have the power to make decisions. We can choose to do more things we love and spend more time with people we love and to love more. We’re all on this planet together, trying to get by and dream before the deep sleep.

    As law enforcement continues to search for answers, I too struggle to find answers to the problems this tragedy sparks. There have been debates about gun control, mental illness, etc.. Truth is, you have more power than you think.

    I challenge you to take action. Do one kind thing for someone. I started to tell stories that inspire compassion and action. My team and I also created a Community Heroes program that inspires children to be kind and compassionate and help one another. A first grader in our program said, “I don’t think I can do a lot, but the other day I asked a girl who was eating alone at lunch to eat with me.” A small gesture that leads to big life changes. We may not be able to single-handedly solve these problems, but little by little, if each of us do one kind thing, the world would be a kinder place.

    August 14, 2015

    A Message to My Younger Pre-professional Self

    The 25th annual Asian American Journalists Association national convention is well underway in San Francisco. With family in town I won’t be attending, but I made time to see some of my old friends to catch up personally, professionally and spiritually.

    Catching up with Unity '99 Student Project Mentor Lori Matsukawa

    I’ve been a member of AAJA since 1996, taking part in the convention's student project in Seattle – go Unity ’99 – as well as winning a few scholarships from this organization that aims to support Asian American and Pacific Islander journalists. It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood of people who are storytellers, and where I’ve found many mentors and mentored many kids.

    For me it’s become a reunion of sorts. Yes I sound old, but a sign of age isn’t how you're feeling, rather, you know you’re getting old when former interns and mentees are now working in big markets and guest speaking on workshop panels. I like to drop in on the AAJA convention's student project VOICES to meet and greet these up-and-coming journalists who are currently bright-eyed, hopeful and energetic college students.

    VOICES student staff members at the 2015 AAJA national convention

    While going up the escalator at the convention hotel, I saw some young, unfamiliar faces. This new crop of journalists and aspiring journalists brought back memories of when I attended this conference as a student. While most of the flashbacks were fabulous, I recalled and re-felt the anxiety of going to a professional conference early in my journey.

    As a student at the University of San Francisco, I remember doing everything in my power in hopes of becoming a bona fide journalist one day; I interned five times, emceed events, applied for scholarships – I even co-created JAMS (Journalism Association for Multicultural Students), a student group at USF. As a university instructor and mentor, I'm often asked to give advice. My No. 1 piece of advice is, "Don’t worry, boo."

    Again, Don’t worry so much!

    As a student, I worried so much and wondered if I would ever get an internship. Check. I got five.

    I worried if I would ever get paid to do what I love: reading, writing and talking. Check. I got my first TV reporting job in Wasusau, Wisc.

    While in my small market, I worried whether I would ever make it to a bigger market. Check. I went to Fresno and then to San Francisco.

    When I got to one of the top TV markets in America, I worried about what my next career move would be. Check. I got to co-host a show on PBS.

    I worried so much back then. Only now when I look at old pictures, I realize that real success was in the moment. It was perfect when I made only $20k my first job. I met so many amazing people, told their stories and made life-long friends with people who took me in like family.

    Photo with Stephanie Sy of Al Jazeera America and Vicky Nguyen
    of NBC Bay Area, who were also part of the Unity '99 student project.

    Sometimes I catch myself worrying what’s next. I started a nonprofit, Go Inspire Go. I search for everyday heroes so viewers can find the hero in themselves. I shot a pilot for a TV/web show with hopes of reaching a broader audience to share these stories.

    While things are going well some days, on others I feel a little worrywart growing in my mind, I stop myself and realize that this is exactly where I am supposed to be. Be right here. Right now. The past and future don’t exist. I can only do so much… connect with production companies, network execs, send emails, etc. But I can’t worry about things that are out of my control.

    While some of you may be tangled in the web of worry, untangle yourself. Make time to do things you enjoy. Be around people who bring you joy. That’s because if you trust and take action – you’ll gain traction… and wish that you had time to be with people you love and do the things outside of work that bring you joy.

    Truth is you will never “arrive.” So keep going and enjoy the journey.

    Veteran journalist brother/sisters what advice would you give your younger professional self? Let me know in the comments section.

    Onward and upward,
    Toan

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