August 10, 2009

An Angel in New York (a continued series brought to you by Toan Lam)

Brought to you by Toan Lam, live on assignment in New York
To see the video of this story, please visit our YouTube channel!


photo courtesy of Angel in Queens website

I hopped on a flight to New York this weekend to shoot a follow-up on Jorge Munoz's story on GoInspireGo.com. Journalism got really personal and emotional. Munoz, a.k.a. Angel in Queens (bus driver responsible for more than 70,000 hot meals to hungry people in his neighborhood) admits, he was surprised when the Go Inspire Go crew, along with a the Spungen family, a generous family from Waukegan, Illinois knocked on this angel's door to surprise him with new appliances.
Munoz admits, "I want to cry every night when I go out there to deliver the food. But this guy,' (he slaps me on the chest) 'He made me cry!"

This was one of the most logistically challenging, "bust-your-butt" weekends for me; blogging, shooting, editing, meet ups with my Go Inspire Go.com (GIG) crew, juggling phone calls with Good Morning America, (GMA anchor Chris Cuomo saw our Tweet about Munoz's selfless service and collaborated with us to feature the story on Good Morning America). It was a juggling act for me, calling the GMA distribution and rights lawyer, coordinating the purchase of a new stove and refrigerator for Munoz with a family who saw the Angel in Queens video, e-mailing and calling his sister, Luz, to make sure Munoz was home, etc.) -- all while trying to make travel plans and coordinate with 20 volunteer crew members for the big surprise we had in store for Jorge! Phew... Deep breath.

Be present, I remind myself. Albeit hectic, this experience also proved to be one of the most exciting, rewarding, inspiring, warm and fuzzy weekends I've experienced since launching our inspirational website just five short months ago.



After the Angel in Queens story went viral, many viewers from around the world contacted GIG and Jorge's family. Our e-mail inboxes flooded with inspiring stories of how you the viewers were moved by the video... and how you could help.

One of the first to reach out was the Spungens, an amazing philanthropic family out of Waukegan, Illinois (they're the topic of our next blog on corporate responsibility). They insisted on buying a new stove and refrigerator for Jorge and his family after learning about Jorge's amazing project through GIG. On Saturday, I met Debbi Spungen and her brother Glen Spungen (I promise you that you'll be even more inspired after our next blog and video on this family) in New York for the big surprise.

Mission Accomplished.
In the sweltering, humid summer New York heat, my volunteer crew and I surreptitiously met at the end of Munoz's street...

Knock knock... (Jorge answers the door)
"Hi Jorge, it's Toan from GoInspireGo, on behalf of GoInspireGo, my team and our viewers world wide, we wanted to thank you for your selfless act–through your Angels in Queens project. Thank you for feeding more than 70,000 hungry people the past four years...

We have a surprise for you
."

"Ahhh WOW," says Jorge, as he wipes tears away from his eyes, "I called you last night to thank you for getting my story out there, we've gotten so many calls and donations and now you're here!"

"We have a surprise for you," I said, as I walked him down his driveway. "I want you to meet our viewers and friends of Go Inspire Go, Debbi and Glenn. They came all the way from Chicago... to meet you."

In a warm, sincere tone, Glenn says, "We heard about this story, this amazing thing that you do. How charitable you are, you are an inspiration to everybody, around the country, around the world. We flew in from Chicago, to give you a special, special gift from our hearts."

As I opened the van door to present the new refrigerator and stove, Jorge wipes away tears and says, "WOW! I was just thinking right now," he explained "What I was going to do because the (stove) handle isn't working. I didn't know what to do. But now, check it out!" He explained that he had been using his sister, Luz's stove upstairs and that the wear and tear on her stove, from cooking for hours at a time everyday, was taking a toll on Luz's stove too.

And the excitement kept on building.

Len Harris' gracious team not only threw in free delivery and set up of the appliances, they surprised all of us! Len Harris had his team deliver a microwave as a gift to Jorge, after we got in contact with him about purchasing appliances for Jorge and seeing the GIG video.


(photo courtesy of Sarah Mirza)

The whole GIG crew decided to give Jorge a break, so we rolled up our sleeves and started cooking. On the menu; ham, beans and rice. And with Jorge's guidance, we got to work. I've never had such a good time cooking. So much fun. I was even more humbled when I witnessed this angel in action.

While cooking, a woman who looked really stressed and tired knocks on the door. Jorge runs to answer it. I said, "who is it?" He said, "Shhh, I'll take care of it." Munoz filled the woman's two-wheel cart with groceries and produce. Munoz embodies the meaning of service and selflessness.

I can't even begin to explain the excitement and thrill that came from this surprise delivery from the Spungen’s wonderful gift; the kind gesture of a gift that keeps on giving. But as all of the volunteers agreed, we were the ones who received the biggest gift – The lesson of gratitude and perspective. I was surprised that this amazing experience came together with such finesse. (Thanks to Birju Pandya, with Karmatube.org, whom I met from a friend via FaceBook just days before the shoot–Thanks for volunteering Birju and all of my GIG'sters!)

I learned that perhaps when you dedicate your life to service, as Jorge has led by example, there is this energy, this intangible, indescribable thing called joy, that happens. You'd have to meet this real life angel to know what I'm talking about. So Jorge Munoz, we salute you!

In the spirit of service, I thank Jorge, his family and the people he is reaching out to. As they have taught, me, my GIG'sters, all the volunteers on this story (Sarah Mirza, Julian Cohen, Gilles Cohen, Shephali Patel, Takeshi Inamura and other volunteers, Birju Pandya and Shephali Patel (from CharityFocus.org and Karmatube.org)–most of us were strangers brought together by GIG and this surprise donation.

Glenn Spungen
poignantly pulled me aside and explained, "Toan, this was an amazing process, GoInspireGo has brought everyone together, and no matter what direction the website and project goes, you've made beautiful life long friends here today."

Once again I realized that you don't need much to make a big impact on the world. Look at Jorge, who makes $700 a week and spends half of it feeding the hungry people in his community. Amen to that! What can you do?

*Special thanks to the volunteers on this story: Sarah Mirza, Julian Cohen, Gilles Cohen, Shephali Patel, Takeshi Inamura, Birju Pandya and the Spungen family.

-------> Want to learn more about what you can do? Please visit our website's volunteer section or subscribe to our mailing list to find out about more of the efforts we are making to such causes. If you would like to donate money to help us cover and promote more stories of inspiration and good in this world, visit us here.

Thanks Toan! And thank you GIG supporters!

August 9, 2009

Toan Lam Heads To New York

While Toan Lam is out of town for the next week or so, I shall be receiving the inspirational words from his many wonderful events that are taking place. I will be posting his thoughts and feelings, as well as his reports on some unbelievable and truly phenomenal moments. Please check here every day. ESPECIALLY THE NEXT FEW DAYS!!!!!
cheers! -LG

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Surreal. Exciting. Inspiration.
Just a few words to describe this tingly feeling inside -- after working relentlessly with my Go Inspire Go (GIG) Team -- to bring GIG to the worldwide multimedia platform and bring you inspirational stories to your computer. I take several deep breaths a day to stay grounded, taking it all in. Our Vision is taking shape;

That you and others think about what resources and talents you have to better someone elses' life. Many notable venues of information, from TV to the world wide web are taking notice of Go Inspire Go and now the world is watching.

I am sitting here at the San Francisco International Airport in awe, as I await for a plane headed to New York to do a follow up on the Jorge Munoz story. Our goal is to become fully sustainable, so I can travel the world with my GIG team, shoot inspiring stories and finally roll out that multiplatform show we've been brainstorming about. We promise you, it'll be a ground breaking exciting event. Our audience? The world. That's the wonder of the world wide web and the super social networking explosion. I'm putting it out to the universe now: My dream is to use Social Networking to INSPIRE social change! My eyes water and sting with passion as I think about the two mega-entities that are surfacing! A Go Inspire Go non-profit dedicated to doing the aforementioned, while creating an interactive TV/Web talk show that encompasses and encourages viewer involvement. We here at Go Inspire Go are at the verge of a breakthrough, non-static show format that is revolutionary. It will happen. I can feel it in every cell of my body. So many signposts are leading our vehicle of inspiration to collide with destiny.

Wow, what an amazing few weeks it's been.
Not only have my two blogs and videos on the Huffington Post made it to the top 5 most read catergory, Yahoo! Aol and inspirational blogs and other multi-media outlets; TV, internet, chat rooms, YouTube, etc., around the world are participating! People from all corners of the world have contacted us, with inspiring stories, video and text comments, emails, and even phone calls. I was pleased to find out yesterday that USA Today also embedded our latest blog, on Jorge Munoz, a school bus driver, who is responsible for tirelessly and selflessly cooking more than 70,000 hot meals for the needy in his neighborhood, in Queens, NY. He is a true Angel and the epitome of giving. Speaking of Angels, the cosmos and the energy or stars must be aligned. I couldn't have written the numerous blessings and things that have fallen into place that has led me to sitting here in this cushy -- ok it's not that cushy-- black faux leather seat at SFO. Not only has every story we've created stirred such a buzz with the world, so many people are stepping up to help the folks featured in our videos. (There's a link at the end of most GIG stories that gives you more information on where to go to help out and make a difference.) A shift is happening. The world is ready.

Thanks to Chris Cuomo, Good Morning America's anchor, who saw our 'Tweet' -- sweet! I've been in a whlrlwind of e-mail correspondences, telephone calls with a team of their producers and lawyer, because they contacted us last week (through our YouTube page) to ask us for permission to do the Jorge Munoz story. Cuomo gave such big kudos to Go Inspire GO as he plugged GIG three times as GMA ran our video and told the story we featured on www.GoInspireGo.com.

I want everyone to definitely stay tuned and check out our website often, for the latest updates on what's GIG'n with Go Inspire Go (GIG). And to get the latest inside scoop please enter the site, designed by the wonderfully talented Lorelle Graffeo, who has gone cross eyed and her fingers pink from plugging (and sometimes pounding) away on her Imac that is about to crack and go dim. (One day, we'll be able to replace it with money and proceeds raised from GIG-- I promised her). It seemed to have paid off so far (a virtual clap for Lorelle, aka plastique gal plastiquedesign.com.

As I end this installment of my GIG Blog, I want to leave you with this:

I realized that Jorge's story taught me that you don't have to have a lot of money and resources to make a difference. Look at Jorge's video, for example, he's responsible for more than 70,000 meals (and counting) but his story is more far reaching. And let me tell you, GIG is a fully volunteer driven non-profit, and I can assure you, we're not making ends meet yet, but we have struck gold, in many ways because of you the viewers that connect with us and take part in this journey. (Thank you so much GIG'sters for your talent and hard work.) So many people are e-mailing us telling us they're sharing our blogs and videoswith others, their children, churches and schools. Go Inspire Go! I am truly humbled. Our little engine that could, Go Inspire Go is gaining a lot of steam-- so I invite you to hop on and join us on this journey. GO GO GO...

Ok, gotta jam and board the plane. Onward!