April 27, 2016

Why Telling YOUR Story Matters to Others and YOU

Recently, I had the opportunity to share my story with the self-improvement website PickTheBrain.com and discuss the importance of shining the light on our life story so that as we radiate, others may see themselves through it:

"Whether I’m interviewing the owner of a ski resort, a homeless person or a teenager who has attempted suicide – they all had one thing in common – they want to be seen, heard and understood. Everybody wants to feel like they matter. But most people I’ve met don’t think they matter that much. That certainly was the case for me...."

Read my full entry on PickTheBrain.com.

April 14, 2016

Chasing After Your Dreams? Slow Down and Savor the Ride

When I was younger, I was constantly chasing after something in my career. I jumped for joy when Randy Winter, former news director at a TV station in Wausau, Wisc., called to offer me my first on-air news gig. I packed up and headed to central Wisconsin after just a phone interview.

Moving away meant missing important dates, celebrations and soirĂ©es with my family and friends back in California. I remember working the weekend shift during Christmas and calling home, only to be passed around from family member to family member to say hello. I could almost smell the yummy turkey mixed with the Chinese and Vietnamese food my mom and aunties would bring. Staring outside the station’s newsroom window at a cemetery across the street, I had an epiphany — life was way too short to sacrifice so much. But I knew this was the part of the deal when going into the news biz — working crazy hours and holidays.

Eventually, I moved on to Midland, Texas; Fresno, Calif. and San Francisco to chase my dream of being a TV reporter in a big city. Check. Though I had finally achieved my goal, I ended up leaving it during the down economy. I didn’t want to report on bad news anymore.


Oprah said, “God can dream a bigger dream for you than you can for yourself.” I always tell my students and mentees, “Be careful what you think — your thoughts become your words — and be careful what you say, because what you say has the power to influence yourself and others and it can become your reality.”

Now that I am close to four decades old (wow when put like that, it seems like a lot of time has passed) I only want to take on projects that bring me joy. Things like Go Inspire Go, a nonprofit I founded that allows me to meet and tell inspiring stories about everyday heroes — stories that have sparked the hero in readers/viewers across the globe to help the featured person or cause.

I also yearned to work with children and inspire them to be better and do better for themselves and others. Then God/Universe brought me to Kala Shah, my co-hero, to create “Community Heroes,” a youth program helping raise the next generation of heroes.

The latest development for Community Heroes is an exciting new partnership with the Institute for Spirituality and Health in Houston to develop a dynamic, open framework “Community Heroes of Houston” program. This video-based curriculum highlights everyday heroes and leverages social media platforms to exercise “the compassion muscle.” It’s essentially the building blocks to spiritual identity and will help kids grow to their fullest potential.

I also fulfilled my dream of being an instructor at the university level. I teach storytelling at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and have taught at my alma mater, the University of San Francisco.

My passion work also includes a project that nearly completes my list of career dreams — doing something with elders. Aside from working with kids, this is something I’ve always wanted to do. My paternal grandmother inspired the values, spirituality and a huge shift in me as a person, so I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the elderly.

Last fall, my friend Richard Lui, an NBC and MSNBC anchor, introduced me to the folks at AARP. I teamed up with the organization to create three short documentaries on caregiving heroes in the Asian American community. Stay tuned for more as we launch the doc in New York and San Francisco later this year!

Which brings me back to the topic at hand — chasing, chasing, chasing — something. Recently, I’ve had conversations with friends and mentees that revolve around the idea of letting things come to you. That doesn’t mean sitting on your booty, saying “omm” and thinking things will just come to you on a silver platter. It means doing what is in your power. It might be sending out a resume, making a call or simply telling others about what you are pursuing. When you put it out into the world and if it’s aligned with your authentic self, it will manifest. I’ve stopped trying to go to every networking event, emailing and calling and running around wasting my energy.

I’m trying to go with the flow and if I feel my gut nudging me to do it, I listen. The hard part is being in tune with yourself and honoring the feelings of “No, I don’t want to go” or “I should just check it out really quick.” As I write this, I’m feeling another chill, another “A ha!” and realizing many of the concerns I had when I was younger were nothing. I was able to check off the goals on my list because they aligned with who I really am.

Growing up poor with an immigrant “can do” attitude, I have been on the go for most of my life. I wanted to be everywhere and do everything. I felt like an awkward swan walking on land when I worry. So I choose to step into a lake and flow.

When I catch myself worrying these days, I do the following:

1. Trust that when the time is right for me to meet someone or do something, God will connect us. I remind myself I’m supposed to be exactly where I am right now. From time to time, I still have to remind myself that it’s all good, but I have trained myself to immediately go to that place in my mind when that little worrywart in me comes out.
2. Talk about what I want to do with myself and others and write them down. It really does come together.
3. Time is important, so when I start stressing or worrying about something, I remind myself, “All the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” That’s one of my favorite quotes from Paulo Coelho.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and concerns about why things have or haven’t manifested in your life.

Onward and upward,
Toan

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April 5, 2016

How to Look Past Negativity and See the Light in Others

When you live in a big metropolitan city like San Francisco with so much to do, it’s hard to whittle down a favorite pastime. One of my favorite activities is “Yoga on the Labyrinth” at Grace Cathedral on Tuesday nights.

Besides the yoga, led by witty teacher Darren Main, many other aspects delight the senses: the live music, the stunning gothic architecture and the energy from the community of more than 500 people who pack alongside the pews to get in a little “Namaste” during their busy week.


It’s a sanctuary for my soul.

Classes start with a little meet-and-greet with someone you don’t know. Then, there’s time to pause and reflect through a weekly message. One recent message was centered on creating peace around you – super appropriate for a wild, wacky and way out-of-control presidential contest our country is experiencing – I promise not to get all political on you.

Brother Jude Harmon gave a quick forward that resonated with me deeply. He asked us to be “instruments of peace,” to see the light in others.

“When I got here early, I saw some of you running up the hill to save your spot,” he said. “I saw the excitement and light in you.”

I couldn’t help but think about how children – often our greatest spiritual teachers – embody this light more than many adults. With wonderment, awe and sparkle in their eyes, they find joy in the simplest of things.

Last week, I witnessed two kids at different tables say hello to each other. They introduced themselves and started playing together – unabashed, no preconceived notions, no judgments. They were just being themselves in the present moment and having fun.

I wondered why more adults aren’t like this. When did so many of us lose this natural state of being?

I admit, it’s hard sometimes to see the light in those who are not pleasant. Some folks are downright negative and rude. I believe everyone is our teacher, here to share different experiences with us. Yes, that means good and bad experiences, too. I’ve been trying to practice this compassion and see the light in others this past year.


So how do we actually practice peace and be instruments that create harmony and community unity?

1. Shift your perspective: Recently, I was driving to a friend’s house when I encountered a very negative lady. I was about to make a left turn when a woman driving on the opposite direction sped up to make a right. It was my turn to go, but I saw that she was in a hurry. So I waved at her to go first. Red in the face, she started yelling expletives even though I had the right of way. Instead of letting her negativity ruin my day and raise my blood pressure, I shifted my perspective and thought, “Wow, something bad must’ve happened to her today or at some point in her life to be so angry.” I sent her love with a smile and wished her the best from my heart. My hope was that the light in her when she was younger would somehow find its way back.

2. It’s not about you: Most times someone who’s angry has had someone else do them wrong and they take on this negative attitude. Or they could be having a bad day. Try not to take it personally.

3. Acts of kindness: Everybody has the power to make someone else’s day. But what I realized is ultimately the giver is the recipient of the biggest gift: that tingly, good feeling of generosity. It also tends to have a domino effect. No matter who you are or how much you have in your bank account, you can change the energy of another person simply by being kind. Smile at someone randomly. Do something thoughtful for someone.

People say I have the gift of lifting people’s spirits and shifting their perspectives through communication/storytelling. Here’s one example of how I was able to help some friends in grief. I’d love to hear how you helped make someone’s day – Tweet/FB/Instagram me….

Two of my friends’ fathers passed away within the past couple of weeks. People who know me know I love telling stories and connecting with people, so I used my gift of communication and storytelling to spread kindness. I sent them this video I produced about dealing with grief. I interviewed a dear friend, Marianna Cacciatore, a grief expert who believes grief leads to generosity and love. There’s no better gift than the gift of your time and talents.

What can you do?

Onward and upward,
Toan

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March 11, 2016

A Monumental 'Day of Giving' Brings Out Superheroes of All Ages


Every parent I talk to undeniably wants the same thing for their kids: to be good, caring people.

The conversation is usually followed by these sentiments: I’m so busy with work/play/shuttling kids around and although giving back is important to me, how do I pass that along to my kids without feeling like I’m forcing it on them? How do I make them really understand how lucky they are and actually make them WANT to give? And maybe even make it something they’re pushing ME to do, so we all make it a priority as a family?

This was the same problem Marin mom Kala Shah conveyed to me when we met four years ago at a LinkedIn mixer. Over lunch, we discussed how to make it easy for kids (and parents) to take action and voila — Go Inspire Go’s Community Heroes club was born. Since then, we’ve created an inspiring, innovative and fun program that entertains, educates and empowers kids to care, share and to discover and use their superhero power(s) to help others. And it’s working!

When you put storytelling, fun and conversation into the mix, lots of folks feel like they have permission to let go and join the fun. The proof is in the action.

We’re now in four Marin schools and are working to create an open framework toolkit to bring this impactful program to a wider audience.

The hundreds of Community Heroes kids who have participated in the club inspired Kala and other parents to create an annual supersized event in 2014 called the “Day of Giving.” I wish I could bottle up the fun, magic and buzz from our 3rd annual Day of Giving this past weekend, which was the biggest to date.

Even though I am a professional communicator, it’s hard for me to convey in words the fun, magic and joy we witnessed, so we’ll show you in pictures… and a video (stay tuned):




My eyes welled up, chills ran up my spine and my smile stretched wide as I witnessed 250 kids and parents partake in nine service projects over four hours on the morning of Sunday, March 6. After an energizing Zumba session led by instructor Rachel Hubbard, Kala and I kicked off the event with a quick superhero powwow that outlined the day’s super service-oriented activities:

  • Assembling more than 150 care kits for Center for Domestic Peace, Homeward Bound of Marin, San Rafael Downtown Streets Team
  • Creating 92 superhero capes for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals of San Francisco and Oakland
  • Preparing gourmet meals with cupcakes and cards for nine families at Homeward Bound of Marin’s Family Emergency Shelter
  • Stocking five classrooms with school supplies, games and keychains for foster kid students at Timothy Murphy School for Boys
  • Building four ocean cleanup boxes with All One Ocean
  • Crafting 100 tissue flowers and delivering them to seniors at AlmaVia retirement home, who were also interviewed by students about their lives
  • Making 20 good luck gnomes for Lake County fire victim families
  • Restoring 1/4 acres of wetland at McInnis Park by removing invasive, non-native plants, in cooperation with Marin County Parks — muddy and physical work!
  • Raising awareness about endangered animals through a Vallecito-student inspired art show that also brought in close to $80 to benefit WildCare
  • Sharing stories at our Go Inspire Go Inspiration Station and learning about Canal Alliance's “My Immigration Story” project


    One of my favorite quotes is from the late Maya Angelou: “When you learn, teach. When you get give.” I want to take it a step further and say, “When you give, you get so much more.”

    A huge unexpected thing I witnessed was how much the parents needed this.

    I was surprised to see some parents came to volunteer without their children.

    Another parent pulled me aside and told me, “Our kids need this program so much. I don’t know how to get my son to care about something other than himself. He’s always on the computer.” The parent also admitted while he was grateful for his current life/situation, there were times when he was in the shoes of the folks our kids served during the Day of Giving.

    “Sometimes me and my family were a paycheck away from being homeless,” he explained, teary-eyed. “There’s been times when the fridge was empty and I didn’t know how I was going to get food for my family.”

    This fun project/program continues to be food for the soul for me, Kala and the community that finds the heroes within themselves to give back.

    Perhaps we should call next year’s event the “Day of Getting”?


    Action Items:
    1. Like our Facebook page and follow us @GoInspireGo
    2. Check out our Day of Giving photo album and if you were there, post your own pics by tagging #ComHeroes #DayofGiving
    3. If you believe in our mission, please consider donating. We are volunteer-run and have a dream to expand our work. Check out our website to learn more about what we do. Every dollar counts — thank you!

    What can you do?

    Onward and upward,
    Toan
  • February 20, 2016

    'Aha!' Don't Miss Out on Life's Special Moments

    I was recently in Washington, D.C. to cover a story about Asian Americans and caregiving with AARP and found some heroes in action at a park near my hotel.

    If you know me well, you’d know that I love food and exercise. Yes, I said I love exercising!

    One morning, I went to the hotel gym to do my workout and then felt inspired to go on a quick jog around downtown D.C. After about a mile, I realized the demographics around me changed.

    I ran through a park and noticed a long line of people waiting to get socks, clothes and warm meals for the homeless. It was cold outside but witnessing this warmed my heart.

    I followed my “Aha!” instinct (maybe it’s the journalist in me) and ran back to meet the folks behind the kindness. I was conscious not to mess up their well-oiled operation. I spoke with a couple of people before being introduced to Teanna Jones, who is part of the Alfred Street Baptist Church “A Heart 2 Serve” Homeless Outreach Ministry.

    Another “Aha!” hit me. I asked her if I could do a quick interview – a selfie talk if you will – on my phone. She said yes. I silently screamed, “Hallelujah!” This is the magic that ensued. Hold on to your jaw. It’ll drop when you hear how this operation started.



    After the shoot, I told Ms. Jones about the heroes I’ve met and documented on my journey with Go Inspire Go. We laughed a lot, connected a lot and “Amen!”-ed a lot.

    A group of other volunteers listened in and we all laughed and shared inspiring stories with each other. She let me know how every September their church hosts a “Feed the 5000” event. My heart skipped a beat. Our souls connected. This was divine intervention. I knew instantly that she was a sister from another mister, and that I had made a friend for life.

    The moral of the story:

    1. Be adventurous and follow your “Aha!” Don’t know what that is? Pay attention to your gut. My gut told me to go on a jog. It told me to stop because I would’ve regretted not finding out what was going on (yes, even though I left the news biz to discover everyday heroes and share their stories years ago, I am still as inquisitive as ever).

    2. Be open to serendipity. Instead of thumbing through Facebook or Instagram while walking around (you know you’re guilty like me), look up, look down, look all around. You’ll be surprised by the connections you’ll make with your surroundings and others.

    3. Everybody has a power. You don’t have to be rich… (channeling Prince) or famous (channeling Oprah). You just have to care (channeling your inner hero).

    Inspired to help? Take action:
    1. Learn more about Alfred Street Baptist Church and their “A Heart 2 Serve” Homeless Outreach Ministry.
    2. Think about what you enjoy and build upon it by using that hobby or your talents to help others.
    3. There is no one right way to give back. Just do it. Still stumped? Share this story. Amen to you!

    What can you do?

    Onward and upward,
    Toan

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    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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    Join our movement & Go Inspire Go

    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