July 5, 2016

3 Heroes of Caregiving Spotlighted in Film 'Caregiving: The Circle of Love'

I'm honored to unveil the fruits of a project that is near and dear to my heart and soul. In partnership with AARP, I have the honor of being executive producer of the new documentary, "Caregiving: The Circle of Love."



This film profiles three caregiving heroes and made its world premiere on Tuesday, June 21, before a packed audience in San Francisco.

Speaking at the world premiere of "Caregiving: The Circle of Love."

As someone who was a caregiver for my father, aunt and both grandmothers, this is an issue that touches all of us and something we all need to prepare for.

My hope is that you are inspired by the stories of love and sacrifice to take action and start a dialogue about caregiving with your loved ones. We can't predict what happens. But we can prepare to care.

June 10, 2016

The One Regret I Don’t Want You to Make

When I was 20, I faced one of the most physically, emotionally and spiritually trying times of my life. My family and I unexpectedly became caregivers of four members of our household: my father, auntie and both of my grandmothers.

At the time, I was at my first TV job reporting for the ABC station in Wausau, Wisconsin. One day after work, my brother called and told me Dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He had six months to live.

What followed was a blur. I took an emergency flight home to assess the situation and sensed my father’s death was imminent. I decided to quit my job and packed as much stuff as I could into my Honda Civic to move back home. Thank God for my best friend, Keely Stevenson, who flew out to Wisconsin to accompany me on the long trip back to Sacramento. God was watching us because she learned how to drive a stick shift after only an hour of practice in a parking lot before we headed out on the winding, icy roads. Woo wee.

Little did I know, my difficult journey would really begin after I arrived back home to take care of my pops. Much of my time and energy were spent tending to his needs and trying to get closure on our relationship. Six months after his diagnosis, Dad passed. My family had no time to breathe, as we were busy taking care of my aunt who also had cancer and both grandmothers whose health was declining because of old age.

While we tried our best to take care of our loved ones, I admit we were not prepared for the toll it would take on us physically, fiscally, emotionally and spiritually. This was the darkest time in my life. Ever.

Regrets quickly flooded my consciousness.

I wished I had documented the many untold stories that withered away with each family member’s passing. Many people had suggested I should capture their narratives on video. I’m a storyteller for God’s sake. Why didn’t I? My gut knew this was important, but I didn’t listen to that nagging voice as if going through that exercise meant admitting to the reality they were going to die.

That was 16 years ago. Wow, time flies. It does heal some wounds. But still, when I see something randomly that reminds me of them, I break down in tears. What I learned is that we can’t worry about what will happen in life, but we can take action now to do things within our control. Like being prepared to give care.

For the past year, I’ve had the honor of partnering with AARP to be the executive producer of a documentary titled “Circle of Caregiving,” which features three caregiving heroes in the Chinese American community.



A flood of emotions came over me after meeting the folks in the documentary and hearing their stories. Richard Lui is an NBC/MSNBC anchor in New York who travels to San Francisco each week to be with his father who has Alzheimer’s disease. There’s also former educator Elizabeth Chun, a “sandwiched caregiver” who takes care of her elderly mother and five grandchildren. Lastly, we look at Lily Liu, who left her job as AARP’s historian to be the sole caregiver of her elderly mother.

The truth is, we are all connected to this thing called caregiving no matter who we are or where we come from. We all have received care while growing up and we all may be called upon someday to provide care for someone else.

Elizabeth Chun with her mother and grandson.

I took on this epic project in the hopes that you and your family will be more prepared than my family was in all aspects of caregiving.

The goals of this documentary are to let caregivers know they’re not alone in their caregiving journey, to inspire caregivers to capture the stories of their loved ones before it’s too late and to let them know there is a gold mine of resources for caregivers through AARP’s “Prepare to Care” guide.

Two full-circle moments: Not only am I able to give back to everyone who has supported me in my personal caregiving journey through the making of this film, I’m also returning to my old stomping grounds, my alma mater the University of San Francisco, to launch the documentary. The USF School of Education is co-sponsoring the AARP event on Tuesday, June 21, where we will unveil the documentary and host a Q&A with Richard and Lily. From my heart, I invite you and your loved ones to attend the premiere, join the conversation and begin the dialogue of caregiving and being prepared to care.

Click here to RSVP for the S.F. launch, and hope to see you there!

Onward and upward,
Toan

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May 31, 2016

5 Tips for Graduates to Live a Life of Joy

With the school year at a close and graduation season upon us, a sense of nostalgia comes over me (cue Adele’s song, “Million Years Ago”). Graduates, as you look to walk across the stage with your diplomas in hand, there is no textbook for life after college. My hope is that this blog will serve as part of the CliffsNotes for your journey into the real world.

Where did all the time go since I graduated in 2000 from the University of San Francisco? Reflecting back, I’ve been fortunate to accomplish my life’s dreams: TV reporter in a major market, co-host of a show on PBS and a university instructor (I ended up teaching at my alma mater and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco).


I recall waking up one morning last year and thinking to myself, “Wow, I’ve accomplished what I’ve dreamed of and my professional network has grown so much and I didn’t even realize it until now.”

Whenever my students and mentees ask me for sage advice as they prepare for the next chapter of their life, I realize how old I am!

I remember how badly I wanted to be a TV reporter when I was younger — I could envision it and taste it. I would read shampoo bottles aloud in the shower, “rinse, lather, repeat.” With an imaginary mic in my hand, I would practice signing off live shots in the mirror of my college dorm room. However, the odds were stacked against me.

When my journalism professor Michael Robertson asked our news media class, “Who wants to be a TV broadcaster?” almost everyone’s hands shot up. He said, “The numbers show roughly two percent make it.” Undaunted, I was determined to be in that two percent. But how? At the time, I had no experience or connections in the TV industry.

My social life in college was a blur as I worked close to a full-time schedule every semester and had five internships. I found time to get involved on campus, participating in clubs and co-founding the Journalism Association for Multicultural Students (JAMS) with my sister from another mister, Vicky Nguyen.


I also dealt with a number of personal challenges. Several family members were facing life-threatening health issues. Money was scarce, so my parents pushed me to be a “doctor, lawyer or engineer.” My mom’s voice still faintly nags me. “How will you be TV reporter? You can’t afford to buy clothes,” she would lecture me in her broken Chinglish.

Heck, I was a young adult just trying to find my grounding. I got a job at Banana Republic, which allowed me to get discounts on clothing. I joined the Asian American Journalists Association, where I made lifelong connections and found mentors in the biz. As a volunteer, I wrote articles for the AAJA newsletter and was a student representative for the organization. I even won a few awards, including the Ken Kashiwahara Asian Male Broadcaster scholarship, given to young Asian males – a rarity in the broadcast world – who show potential in the industry.

I was determined to make it.

Dear graduate, here are five things I wish I had known, as you step off that stage and onto unfamiliar territory that is your career.

1. Don’t worry about what you can’t control. We are so much more not in control of our lives than we realize. Let’s examine the truth: we can’t control who will give us a job or who will fire us, but we can control how many resumes we send out and how hard we practice our craft, whatever that may be. So do your best and surrender. That thing — I call it God — will create opportunities and spark connections at the right time, not YOUR time.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke powerfully from the heart at UC Berkeley’s commencement earlier this month. In it, she shared for the first time publicly about coping with the devastating loss of her husband last year. “When life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface and breathe again,” she said.

Adversity will come whether we like it or not. How we respond will determine if it brings us down or causes us to emerge from the storm.

2. Be grateful for the now. My good friend Debbi Spungen told me when you live in the past, you are full of regret. When you live in the future, you are full of anxiety. So we have no other choice than being here and now. I’ll say it again, be here and now. Say thank you for your life and all the other things that are marvelous right now.

I often wondered how I would break into the TV industry without knowing anybody at the top. My first year in college, I wondered if I would score an internship. Then after I got my first internship, I wondered if I would get a paid internship. Then I wondered if I would get a job. My internship at the local CBS station yielded a paid, part-time, weekend assignment editor position. Then I wondered if I would get a full-time job as a legit TV reporter. I was never really in the moment. I promise, you’ll always be OK if you are grateful for what you have now.


3. Believe. During a conversation I had with a friend, I came up the equation “TRUST + ACTION = TRACTION,” which I continue to hold on to dearly.

Paulo Coehlo, author of “The Alchemist” and one of my favorite writers, also said, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I believe this and live by it. You have to trust you’ll meet the right people at the right time. Trust that the right doors will swing open — even if they are guised in mistakes or bad news. Trust that you are guided.

Some people say, “What if it doesn’t happen?” That isn’t up to us to worry about. If it’s meant to happen and is aligned with what you are brought here to do, the opportunities will come.

Being able to trust can be difficult, but I have gained a new perspective on it. My friend Princess Tirelo Molotlegi told me (yes, she is a real life princess y’all) she once heard from someone, “God doesn’t let you see your fullest potential.”

I was baffled and asked, “Why?”

She replied, “We would be too scared if we could see it fully.”

But you have to take action. Keep practicing your craft in the industry you want to get into. Be proactive. Do it!

4. Practice self-care. When I was a teenager, my sister Lynn Billett, a nurse practitioner and yoga instructor, told me, “Take care of your body now. Eat well, get in the routine of exercising regularly and limit the crap you put into your body. It’s harder to get into these good habits when you’re older.” Sage advice. Health is really wealth. Without the former, you can’t have the latter. You only have one heart, so take care of it. My daily self-care routine is to do at least five minutes of yoga and stretch every morning. I sit in silence — if I’m busy I do it for just a minute or two to reboot my mind. If I can’t take care of myself, how can I take care of people and things that are important to me?

5. Give back. The law of the universe is: when you give, you get back so much more. It may seem in a culture that is so focused on being more and doing more for yourself. But it is a golden rule that when you give, you receive JOY. That is my dream for you. Find out what your gifts are — I call it your power — and use them the fullest way possible. Shine your light the brightest way you know how. Share your talents with others and you will feel something no dollar bill can buy — joy.

Joy on Class of 2016!

Onward,
Toan

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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