March 23, 2015

Three Life Lessons Mother Nature Taught Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 6, 2015

A Day of Giving — And the Magic of Collective Giving

By Kala Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ask….

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

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

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

Three ways you can help:

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

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

February 5, 2015

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

By Kala Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can YOU do?

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

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

January 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information: check out or email

-Kevin Lee

January 7, 2015

How ONE Word Can Transform Your New Year's Resolutions

New year, new you, right?

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

Wow. Powerful. Life-changing.

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

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

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

So my three "get" to’s this year are:

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

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

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

2. Be More Present

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

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

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

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

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

3. Blog more:

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

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

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

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

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December 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflect & Act:

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

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

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

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

October 31, 2014

Cape Crusaders: Empowering and Honoring Young Superheroes

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

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

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

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

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

Our goal for the cape party was five-fold:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pow. Wow. The energy was explosive.

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow,” said Nico.

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

“Yeah,” agreed Nico.

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

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

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

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

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

Peace. Love. Power to you all!

What will YOU do?

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

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

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September 17, 2014

When the Student Becomes the Teacher

I believe we are all students. In the words of the great poet Maya Angelou, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” I hope what we learn, we teach.

After all, disguised in our everyday day-to-day, we are all seekers. Everyone is put on earth to discover our highest calling and everyone deserves to live the biggest, most fulfilling life possible. But some of us get lost along the way. Some bury themselves with work, others consume uncontrollably and amass debt, while others don’t sit still and listen to the intelligence in the quiet during challenging times.

When I was a hyper-busy TV reporter, I had to quiet my mind by running through the wooded Presidio area here in San Francisco. This quiet time allowed me process what was going right and what wasn’t right (trust me, there was more of the latter at the time).

A series of miracles occurred which led me to my life’s work, my calling, which I call Go Inspire Go. It started with a thought: I want to use my power -- storytelling and connecting with people on a purposeful, deeper level to spark action and do good -- for a helpful cause. Then one volunteer came along. Fast forward five years, we have more than 100 volunteers and this lovely program we call “Community Heroes,” a lesson on compassion for the youth co-created with a Marin Mom and soul sister, Kala Shah.

We recently met Melissa Stephens, a teacher at Kent Middle School in Marin County. Melissa is the definition of Maya Angelou’s “Get, give. Learn, teach” message.

After meeting Melissa and feeling her energy, Kala and I knew that she would be the perfect person to expand our message and chose her school to become the flagship middle school for our Community Heroes program.

Melissa is all about “being the person you needed when you were younger.” Her classroom is a fortress fun of goodness, an environment that allows kids to connect on an authentic level, show their gratitude and just be. It’s filled with fun things such as a “Gratitude Tree” where you would “leaf” a message of gratitude, and a full length “Check Yourself Mirror” where students who look in the mirror have to follow through with a set of action items, such as telling Mrs. Stephens something awesome about themselves.

After our meeting, Melissa texted Kala and me to tell us about an amazing experience that unfolded in her classroom as we said our goodbyes. A student, whom we will call “Bobby,” brought Melissa lunch. We thought it was sweet, but didn’t realize the deeper meaning -- Bobby is on the free lunch program.

I asked Melissa to blog and share her sentiments about it. Sparking compassion and action is what the Community Heroes program is all about. It touched me deeply, and in a way healed me also.

Kala, Melissa & Toan

I was on the free lunch program from Kindergarten to 12th grade. I was embarrassed and would hide my little blue ticket that fed me daily. Now that shame has dissipated.

Thanks for sharing your story, your classroom and your light Mrs. Stephens. You’ve inspired and rewired me to extend myself more to the youth and be the person I needed when I was younger.

-- Toan Lam

By Melissa Stephens

I have been gifted with the opportunity to write this guest blog for the incomparable Toan, and the gratitude I feel to share this particular story is overwhelming. It is a story of love, service and the ultimate gift of self.

This is my 20th year of teaching, but I must say that the passion I feel and the inspiration I am filled with is more representative of a new teacher’s optimism and zest for the profession than one who has been at it for a score.

It is easy to get burnt out in education. Long hours, short budgets and challenging situations test even the hardiest of educators. But I work at a school with incredible colleagues, extremely supportive administrators and beautiful kids who have so much spirit and joy that I wake up each day excited to go to work.

While I have taught several grade levels over my two-decade span, I have worn a variety of hats the past two years with a delicious combo platter of roles at our middle school. I teach fifth grade Language Arts, English Language Development (ELD) for fifth through eighth grade, and am the Student Activities Director for the entire school. While I love every position, I believe it is the last one that has afforded me the biggest opportunity to serve my life’s purpose.

Melissa as the "Fierce Falcon" Mascot

We are often asked as teachers to explain our philosophy of teaching. For 20 years, I have tried to do just that but could never quite nail it down to encompass what my style is all about. My colleagues could rattle off Ed Code and different education gurus’ methods, while I would be frantically trying to say, “I just want to create an environment for my kids that makes them want to come to school” in a way that sounded intelligent and “teacherly.” Because honestly, that is my whole philosophy: make it fun, and the rest will follow.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when my brother sent me a quote he found that perfectly summed up why I teach. It read, “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” Gut punch. Took my breath away. That was it. This is exactly why I teach and precisely what drives me to create a space for my kids (and yes…my students are my kids) where they feel safe, loved, and supported.

It is this exact passion that spurred the Student Activities room and all it offers the student body. It is a place where kids can come during lunch and recess to relax, chat and take a break from the struggle that can be middle school. So it is extremely fitting that Toan happened to be in my room for a Go Inspire Go meeting with Kala and me when the lunch bell rang and kids began streaming in.

The first one in the room was a boy I will call “Bobby.” He was in my ELD class a few years ago, but has since tested out. Still, he comes to my room every day to hang out and catch me up on the latest middle school happenings for him.

A quick side note: normally when I recount stories from teaching, they are riddled with humor and sass. See, I have also done stand up comedy for some time, and even took a leave from teaching a few years ago to write, produce and star in an original one woman comedy show about teaching in an affluent area. However, to retell this story of Bobby with anything but total reverence would be a sin, so I will treat it, and him, with the utmost respect. Now back to the story.

When Bobby came in, I introduced him to Toan and Kala and said, “These are the people who are going to skyrocket our [student body’s] community service!” Then I told Toan and Kala, “And this is my pal who keeps me company at lunch.” Bobby just smiled, said hello then dropped something on my desk. When Toan and Kala left, I had a chance to see what it was. And what it was brought tears to my eyes.

See, Bobby does not come from money like most of the students in our school. He also does not have the same skin color as the majority of his classmates. Life is not easy for him, but I swear his smile is one of the brightest you’ll ever find. This year, something must have changed at home for him because his mom used to drop off his lunch, or I would share mine with him. But now he is on our free lunch program, and what he dropped on my desk was just that. When I looked at him questioningly, he whispered in my ear, “They said I could take two today if I wanted to. Dunno why, but I felt like you needed one.”

And in fact, I did.

See, I hadn’t had time to pack a lunch that morning, so my husband was going to drop one off for me. But his day got crazy, so he was unable to. My stomach was growling by the time lunch rolled around, so this unexpected gift could not have come at a better time.

It was so beautiful, so selfless, so giving that it not only filled my belly but it flooded my heart and soul. He who has so little gave me what he could. This is the spirit of true service. This is what I know in my heart Go Inspire Go is all about.

And so we sat together, eating our matching sandwiches, content in the knowing that we would always be there for each other to lift each other up when we needed it and to give what we could of ourselves.

Twenty years later and I know this above all else: my students are my greatest teachers.

Take Action:

1. Share this blog with your community/kids.

2. Do one kind thing for someone and use #goinspirego to let us know what you did.

3. Start your own Community Heroes Club:

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August 21, 2014

First Day of School Inspiration: Blossoming Community Heroes

There’s one word to describe how parents, guardians and heck, aunties and uncles (since I don’t have any kiddos myself) are feeling as another school year gets underway: "Nervouscited."

"Nervous" + "Excited" = "Nervouscited" nerves of yours. That’s how my sister Lynn Billett says my adorably sassy niece Serena describes this feeling as she started her first day of kindergarten this week.

As you wipe your tears and drop off your kids, I ask you one question. It’s a challenge and invitation. It seems this question is ubiquitous among my mommy and daddy friends: How do I raise GOOD, value-oriented kids? I’m sure you’re busy and bustling, but isn’t this the goal of all parentals?

That’s why Kala Shah, Marin Super Momma of three, and I created the Go Inspire Go Community Heroes program. Here’s a lovely blog she wrote about her experience as we embark on the third year of Community Heroes and a video about how one of the lessons on generosity blossomed!

--Toan Lam, Chief Inspirator

By Kala Shah

On Mondays when I host the Community Heroes lunch club at Sun Valley School in San Rafael, California, I usually get a tad nervous. As I open the library door and await the lunch bell, I hold my breath. Will anyone show up? If they do, can I continue to keep these kids interested? Am I indeed sowing the seeds of compassion or is this all just going in one ear and out the other?

To this point -- keeping fingers crossed this will continue -- my fears have been laid to rest when I see waves of adorable little people tearing across the school yard, clutching their lunch boxes, clamoring for the best seat in the room. Their smiles and enthusiasm melt my anxieties, give me courage and boost my energy. The 45 minutes seem to fly by.

Imagine having 25-45 kids sit on the floor in a crowded room, eat lunch, ask questions and have meaningful discussions and activities about serious community issues (and yes, while the parent facilitator concurrently helps open yogurts and tight Tupperware lids, directs crumb and spill clean-up, grants permission to go to the bathroom and breaks up little skirmishes over who gets to sit on the coveted Panda pillow/chair.)

One of my challenges is that the kids are so eager to DO something. Like right then and there. Around Valentine’s Day last year, I decided we needed to take some immediate real action during club hours, rather than just ponder the problems of the world and what we COULD (and plan to) do. The theme I chose? Small, random acts of kindness.

I had planned to pick up a couple of flower bouquets to demonstrate how little gestures can make a difference. When I stopped by Trader Joe’s, it occurred to me that they may be willing to help out a little. The store manager Sheila told me they normally donate their flowers to another organization, but that day she decided to help our cause. She came out of the back storeroom with a huge bag full of more than 30 beautiful bouquets. Ask and ye shall receive. I was completely overwhelmed by her generosity and utterly excited to show the kids this mountain of gorgeous and fragrant flowers!

And here’s how our kindness experiment went…love the reactions of the unsuspecting recipients!

We found that small, random acts of kindness can completely shift someone’s day. Doing something unexpected and nice for someone else is a simple gift we could all give. The kids discovered they felt so much joy in return and it's something they begged to do again for Valentine's Day this year. We should all try to do a little something kind and spontaneous more often! It’s so easy and you never know what you may inspire in others.

Take Action:

1. Share this blog & video with your community/kids.

2. Do one kind thing for someone today and use #goinspirego to let us know what you did.

3. Start your own Community Heroes Club:

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Join our movement & Go Inspire Go…

August 13, 2014

Robin Williams: A Legacy of Laughter and Lament

By Toan Lam

I was leaving my CrossFit Box after a harder-than-normal workout and checked my cell phone to see a news alert that Robin Williams passed away. My heart sank in disbelief and I was overcome with sadness. I viscerally felt a shock, the jolt of a familiar friend who was now gone. I thought, “Say it ain’t so.”

Truth is, I never met Robin Williams. The only encounter I had was seeing him at a sushi bar in the Richmond District of San Francisco. I vividly remember people around him laughing out loud and enjoying themselves. Maybe through his humor, through “Mork & Mindy,” “Mrs. Doubtfire, “Birdcage” and other movies and interviews, I felt a deeper connection to him. It seems everyone I have spoken to since his passing had a story of when the comic genius brought light into their lives. I may not have known him personally, but I will always remember how he made me feel.

A quote by the late author and poet Maya Angelou comes to mind. “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’ve been obsessed with the reports that ensued. Comments flooded my social media accounts. People recounted their memories with him. Pictures, short stories and links to articles of depression filter in. I try to think of something positive -- perhaps this is opening up a dialogue about mental illness and depression. But my heart remains heavy.

It seemed that he was not only a funny man in public, he lived this out in his interactions with others. My friend Michelle Kennedy wrote about her encounter with him on her Facebook feed:

"Is it weird if I ask you to take a picture with us?" she asked.

"Only if you don’t have a camera," he said. Robin Williams R.I.P.

Robin Williams shares a moment with Julia Stuart, left, and
Michelle Kennedy. Photo courtesy of Michelle Kennedy.

Jim Norton wrote this poignant article about his encounter with Williams — how he made him feel in the crazy competitive world of comedy.

It seems like there are more questions than answers. Maybe the answers won’t all be answered.

It seems that Robin Williams has publicly talked about his addiction to drugs and alcohol, but didn’t talk much about his depression.

I immediately thought, “How does such a happy-go-lucky person so beloved and adored by fans do the unfathomable and end his own life?”

It seemed he didn’t know how much people loved him. Perhaps he didn’t know how much joy he brought to people’s lives. Perhaps that wasn’t enough.

It’s been a difficult month for me. My close family friend’s mother passed away from cancer, other friends of friends lost loved ones from suicide, sudden death during sleep and other accidents. Having lost four family members in about a year’s time, I know that unfortunately (and fortunately) death brings people together.

It’s inspiring to have witnessed people mobilize in person and online to make donations, help family and friends cope, and set up funds for surviving children. Likewise, it's moving to see the outpouring of support, people sharing stories about Williams' warmth, charm and pizzaz. While we don’t know what happens when our spirit leaves our bodies, I know that what connects us all are the stories that people keep in their hearts. This is their legacy. What do you want your legacy to be?

I invite you to share how you're healing and how you're honoring his life.

This made me think — life is too short and I too, need to make a concerted effort with the following:

1. I wonder if Robin Williams ever knew the magnitude of the impact he had on others. Did he know and FEEL the love that loved ones, colleagues and strangers had for him? I realize I need to tell more people I love that I love them and better yet, share stories with people about how they make me feel. (Why wait till someone is gone to share?) We'd love to hear, just #GoInspireGo so we can share.

2. We as humans need to do a better job at understanding and helping those with mental illnesses. Write a check, donate your time and talents and/or share information about mental illness and depression. To start, here’s an interesting article from Time.

3. We should laugh more. Tell a joke, rent a funny movie, don’t take life too seriously. Life is too short!

* Please share this blog and tag a friend, telling them a quick story about how and why they make you feel good/happy/joyful.

To Robin Williams, rest in peace amongst the stars. You were a star, a spark and class act. #oneofakind #depression #suicide #mentalillness

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