September 24, 2009

Illinois Family Sells Company, Gives 6.6 Million Dollars In Bonuses (VIDEO)

Many presuppositions come to mind when you hear the headline, "Illinois Family Sells Company, Gives 6.6 Million Dollars in Bonuses to Employees." But I ask you -- no I challenge you -- not to jump the gun, judge or fill your head with preconceived notions about the Spungens or why they decided to be so generous.

Laurence and Florence Spungen and their four children sold their PEER Bearing Company last fall and gave the money to employees as bonuses (some bonuses were six figures) based on years of service. Sure, many of the 230 employees needed the cash. Who wouldn't during this time of economic turmoil (OK, maybe former financier "Bernie" Madoff, but I won't go there), but that wasn't the impetus for the generosity.


In a time when we are inundated with bad news about our economic landscape, corporate greed and bank bailouts, it was refreshing to meet such an authentically kind family with solid values -- a shining example of corporate responsibility (listen up corporate America). A family who cares as much about their employees as they do their own family and treats them with dignity and respect -- traits not often heard of in big corporations. When a GoInspireGo.com viewer sent me an e-mail about the Spungen family from Waukegan, Ill., and told us about their generous deed, we were intrigued and wanted to know more about them. Who are they? Why would they give millions of dollars away during the economic downturn?

But it didn't take me long before we found out why the Spungen family was so caring and sharing. What I didn't expect (before even making any contact with the family) was that they'd be so down-to-earth, genuine and extremely compassionate. While taking a tour of the Spungens' other business, PEER Chain, unlike owners of many other big companies, the Spungen family knew the names of every employee, how many children they have... and their stories.

When I asked the family my favorite question of all time -- "WHY?" -- the Spungens explained it was "just the right thing to do." When the family decided to sell their ball bearing company, the family knew they wanted to give some money to the employees to thank them for their dedication and hard work. They just didn't know how much.

After figuring out an equation based on years of service, the family got right to work on the big surprise. The family hand-signed every "Thank You" card. Printed on them were their names and years of service and a heart-felt message of gratitude. When the Spungens called a company-wide meeting to tell the workers about the sale, Eddie S., an accountant for more than 30 years with PEER, said "I thought we were going to get laid off... But I was excited to see the large sum of money and I was happy to see that I was being compensated for my loyalty."

The family said, "Many people cried, other employees say the money helped save their home from foreclosure." "Sure we all wanted to do it, but there we just didn't know how much."

Laurence Spungen, former PEER Bearing CEO, joked, "After we gave the bonuses, they had to check to see if I was still standing."

Glenn Spungen, Vice President of Sales and Operations, said the workers were an integral part of their success, so they wanted to compensate their employees for their loyalty and "blood, sweat and tears the workers put into the company."

Just have a conversation with the Spungens and you'll realize that kindness and generosity is a huge part of the Spungen legacy. The family also created the Laurence and Florence Spungen Family Foundation, dedicated to cancer research and Jewish causes. Every year, the children and grandchildren are required to research and donate to a charity of their choice. Wow. If we could all plant the seed early, what a difference it would make in our community and our world.

"How much money do we really need?" said Debbi Spungen. "I want others (big businesses) to do the same, if they can."

In such turbulent economic times, when all we hear about are corporate crooks and Wall Street woes, it was refreshing to meet a family who humbly built their empire (through lots of hard work, determination and passion) from the ground up and used their success, resources and talents to help their employees; the very people responsible for putting in the elbow grease, talents and time in the well-oiled multi-million dollar empire.

You may remember the Spungens from my last blog and video. When they heard about Jorge Munoz (NYC school bus driver responsible for more than 70,000 meals) they wanted to help him. "We want to buy him a new refrigerator and stove," the family said. They stuck to their word.

I recently hopped a flight to meet them in New York to deliver the stove to Jorge. It was amazing to see how this experience, though www.GoInspireGo.com unfolded. Here you have two families, the Spungens and the Munozes. Both come from opposite ends of the financial spectrum, yet their values and characteristics so aligned; compassion, good will and philanthropy. So to the Spungen and the Munoz families -- we salute you. Thank you for helping elevate humanity.

What YOU can do:

You don't need a million dollars to make a positive impact on your community or on someone else's life:

1.) Volunteer, it's free, fun and a great way to meet people. Partner up with a friend or sign up a group of friends. I've volunteered at the San Francisco Food Bank and packed food with some friends -- we had a fabulous food packin' time. Try it!

2.) Got a special skill? Lend it to someone in need! When I was laid off from my TV reporting job in San Francisco, I thought, "What can I do, using my talents and resources to improve someone else's life?" Little did I know, that in five short months, this question would turn into the vision of my inspirational website www.GoInspireGo.com

Check out my recent video of one school bus driver in Queens, NY, who makes $700 a week and has fed more than 70,000 people in his community! (He spends more than half of his paycheck weekly to do this.)


3.) Ask, ask, ask! It's the little things that count most -- especially during these tough economic times. Use family, friends and neighbors as a sounding board to see what they think you can do to help others. So many people I connect with say, "I wish I could do more, but I don't have time or I don't have anything to offer." Get of the humility boat and ask folks in your circle, they may give you insight on how you can help. That's how I got my website started!

4.) Let us know what you're up to -- and maybe we'll feature you on our site. And if you still don't think you can do anything, volunteer for www.GoInspireGo.com

***

You can find out more about Toan Lam at www.goinspirego.com. Click on the YouTube link and check out the stories his team created, and videos created by viewers.

September 23, 2009

Congratulations, You Got Laid Off; Now Go Round Up the Elephant

Recently, I relived the shocking moment through a phone call from my oldest sister, Lynn, a nurse practitioner and Yoga Instructor. I couldn't help but shutter, as she uttered the words that hundreds of thousands of Americans have also had to admit and say to their loved ones. "Toner (my nickname), I got laid off." Lynn said, in a stoic, monotone voice. I remember the moment vividly. I was getting ready for my morning run along the beach, it was a brisk, morning here in San Francisco, as the Sun tried burning through the fog. My first reaction was like many others on the other end of the phone line. I was stunned. Sucker punched. Pimp slapped. (Ok, that's a bit dramatic but you get the point.) The numbness, coupled with the adrenaline rush that comes with being hit while off guard, disoriented me for a bit, but I took a deep breath and one word came out of my mouth without thinking... "Congratulations."

I welcomed my Sis, eight years my senior, to the "new economy, that I have been living in for the past seven months." Ahh unemployment–that uncomfortable place of limbo, where you feel distressed, disconnected, discombobulated from the world–where most of us are all linked to a common thread... WORK. A transitional place of the unknown, where you dread going out and seeing people who ask you, "What do you do for a living? Where do you work now? Inquiring minds want to know, right? (The best answer to this, by the way, is "I'm in a transition." It will keep people who you aren't comfortable with sharing, baffled and out of your business.)

When you first get laid off, you feel so helpless and directionless. As you feel the light, floaty, numbness that ensues, the weight of the world and responsibilities brings you back down. Reality check. Lynn has two adorable children, 4-year-old Drew and 1-year old Serena. She's also the sole income in the family. She and her husband agreed that it was important for one of them would stay home and raise their children.

The conversation lasted about three minutes. Lynn laughed abruptly whispered, "I'll be ok, gotta go see my next patient."

I knew exactly how Sis felt, sans the huge responsibility of having children to clothe, feed and provide shelter for. But I knew this was the best thing that could ever happen to her. She had been wanting to shift gears, teach more Yoga and create wellness workshops to educate, inspire and empower women to make healthy decisions in life. She, like many of us who either hate our jobs or are just ready for something new, was afraid to muster up the courage to say, bon voyage, farewell, see ya later job. It's so funny how what you ask for in life, you get. Lynn said I always told myself, she only wanted to work for the County of Sacramento for about a decade, then it's time for change. This year marks her ten year anniversary.
I knew what Sis was going through because, I too was laid off from my TV gig at a local station in San Francisco. I had been reporting the news for about ten years and always thought I wanted to follow the traditional TV reporter route; small market, medium market, then the top ten cities in America, and then perhaps the network. I did work my way up the rungs, but God had a different plan for me. A plan, far greater than I could ever have imagined for myself. Being laid off was in the master plan.

When I was escorted out of the TV station in San Francisco, a shift happened in me.

That was when I turned over a new leaf and decided to dedicate my life to service. Slowly, one conversation, one prayer at a time, I started trekking a path where no one had gone before–the journey led me to my non-profit and inspirational website, www.GoInspireGo.com. And with every experience and every conversation, my mission started to become clearer:
My dream was to set up a global platform for people to see and share stories of inspiration.
My Vision, or what I wanted people do, was simple:
To use their resources and talents to help someone else. What I didn't expect was a flurry of inspiration from all corners of the world, from Africa, Asia to America. Wow. I invite you to check out the website to see how tens of thousands of people have responded to help the people we've featured in our stories. And when you give to the world, you certainly get back–and then some! I have been offered jobs in and out of TV–and the personal connections I've made with people–priceless.

Through it all, I've realized that all along, I knew my power. (I love to read, write and connect with people). And I used it in a big way to help people. I was not only invited to blog for the Huffington Post....

AOL, Yahoo!, and countless other blogs around the globe have been sharing our inspirational stories.
My inspirational Sister shared a story about an elephant that I want to pass along to you, in hopes that you'll find your strength, your power.

Once upon a time, there was a baby elephant who was tied to a stake by its master. Through its whole life, the elephant was verbally and physically abused by the master. "You are stupid, powerless, nothing and you will go nowhere in life." The master would scold. And the elephant believed it. Through the years, as the elephant grew physically stronger, but the elephant never knew how physically strong he was. One swing of the tusk, would've snapped the stake that tied him down. But he never knew it's strength. So the elephant died never reaching its full potential. He never know his power.

Are you that baby elephant just waiting to escape?! What is holding you down in life? What is your power? We all have strength and power...now USE it. Say it with me everyone, "KNOW YOUR POWER. USE IT."

Oh, by the way, within a week, my sister, Lynn received about a dozen job offers. Whoever she decides to share her knowledge of wellness with will be so lucky to have her, congrats Sis!

Change is not always comfortable, but change is good. Fall is here! As the Autumn leaves change colors–from lush green to different hues of red, orange and yellow– I invite you think about your life, what's good, what's bad and what's ugly and change what you don't like about what's going on in your life. Know your power!

Here are some tips to get out of the layoff rut:

1.) Keep/create a routine, otherwise, you'll feel out of the loop and will have too much time to let your mind wander and get the best of you. Start by getting some exercise in the morning. Meet up friends for lunch, or make yourself a nice lunch. Then devote a few hours to your job search. Then connect with people with like interests and explore your hobbies–maybe it'll turn into a bustling business.

2.) Connect with people personally and professionally. I've received so many jobs and helped get folks jobs thought networking. People innately want to help, but they don't know how to help if you don't ask!

3.) Volunteer. Time is the BIGGEST gift you can ever give to anyone, and you'll discover a shift that will happen in your perspective in life. It's the best gift you can give to yourself. Just try it, you'll see.

4.) Be Grateful. Look around you, for the simple things in life that you're thankful for. Simple and small is the new BIG. After being laid off, I started eating out less. Instead, I rounded up a small circle of friends. We take turns cooking. It's a great way to connect and learn more about each other in an intimate setting. I'm grateful for the yummy greens and juicy nectarines in the salad. That was a good start. As we broke bread, we learned so much about our cultures, food and how they're connected to family. It's smarter for our wallets and our waists!

5.) Know your power and use it! What are you good at? What have you been dying to do, but the previous job tied you down like the elephant in the aforementioned story? Do it.

September 11, 2009

'Surprise!' An Angel In Queens, NY Follow-Up--The Gift That Keeps On Giving (VIDEO)

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 is a bus driver responsible for preparing and delivering more than 70,000 hot meals to hungry people in his neighborhood over the last four and a half years. He admits he was surprised when the Go Inspire Go crew, along with the Spungen family, a generous family from Waukegan, Illinois -- that I'll talk more about in a later blog-- knocked on this angel's door to surprise him with new kitchen appliances. "For a long time, I didn't cry because when I see those guys in the street, I want to cry every night. But I have to control myself, I have to be strong." Munoz said. "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: blogging, shooting, editing, meet ups with the Go Inspire Go.com (GIG) crew -- and 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, 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 ) -- all the while trying to make travel plans and coordinate with 20 volunteer crew members for the big surprise we had in store for Jorge! Shew... Deep breath. Be present, I reminded my self. 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 Glenn 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!" "As I walked him down his driveway," I said, "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. 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 open the van door to present the new washer and dryer, Jorge wipes away even more tears and says, "WOW! I was just thinking right now... 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. The wear wear and tear on her stove, from cooking for hours at a time everyday, was taking a toll, too.

The excitement kept on building. Len Harris' 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 he saw the GIG video.

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. With Jorge's guidance, we got to work. I've never had such a good time cooking, about a dozen of us bumping into each other in the tiny kitchen. The sweet smell of pinto beans and savory, juicy ham cooking over the stove reminded me of good old home cooking -- comfort food. I was in awe by how much love and time went into cooking food in bulk. It was even more humbling to witness this angel in action. As we were cooking, a woman who looked really tired, stressed and aged, knocks on the door. Jorge runs to answer it. I said, who is it? He said, "Shhh, I'll take care of it." Munoz fills the woman's two-wheel cart with groceries and produce. He face lit up as walked down the driveway with a mini-two wheeled cart in tow.

I can't even begin to explain the excitement, the thrill, that came from the delivery of the Spungen's wonderful gift. But as all of the volunteers agreed, we were the ones who received the biggest gift -- the lesson of gratitude and perspective.

In the spirit of service, we thank Jorge, Luz and the entire Munoz family.
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.

***
You can find out more about Toan Lam at http://www.goinspirego.com. Click on the YouTube link and check out the stories his team created, and videos created by viewers.
Contact Toan at: toanlam@goinspirego.com

September 7, 2009

It's All About the Babies


Lisa Klein neatly packs baby booties, bibs and books in boutique style boxes labeled "Baby Boy" and "Baby Girl" every month with her two kids. But the cardboard boxes aren't for her children.

For the past two years, Lisa has packed more than 20,000 pounds of kids clothes for underprivileged newborns, through her non-profit LovedTwice.org, kids that would otherwise leave the hospital without the baby basics. There's enough clothing in the 10 pound boxes for the baby's first year. There are gently used onesies, socks and every box has 'something extra's such as diapers or a baby Bjorn.

"It's all about the babies," says the Oakland mother of two, "It's to keep them warm, clean and cozy no matter what's going on in their mothers' lives."

The boxes are delivered monthly to 11 county hospitals, shelters and prenatal clinics in her community. Lisa says she heard of a story from a nurse that brought her to tears,
"This 15-year-old girl was getting ready to leave the hospital and she asked the nurse if she could bring home the blanket, she didn't have anything to keep her baby warm."

The idea was born during one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

Lisa was moved after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. "We saw that people lost everything and were camping out in front of a church. My daughter and I wanted to help. We didn't know how. We went on the internet and on Craigslist. What struck me, was that they needed baby clothes, I had baby clothes."

That's when Lisa put two and two together and came up with LovedTwice.org.

Starting in her attic, where she pulled dusty boxes and bags full of baby items Loved Twice emerged. She then asked friends, family, neighbors and strangers to drop off their baby goods on her porch. What she wasn't prepared for was the outpouring of support from her community.

Thousands donated items, crowding her porch. The one-time clothing drive turned into this amazing non-profit. More than two years and two thousand boxes later, the busy mother of two says it was hard to keep her head above the mounds of baby items and wanted to close up shop.

Lisa knows how important the baby's first developing year is also how overwhelming caring for children can be. Adding to this was the massive responsibility of orchestrating a non-profit.

Lisa admits, "Last month, I had to take a step back. I came back from an extended vacation and there was 800 pounds of clothes waiting for me. I was like, I can't do this anymore. I've never thought that before... and within an hour of thinking that, I received a call from you."

"THANK YOU!"
She says with a smile.

That kept me going, and you in turn will help thousands of kids that will continue to get the baby boxes.

She explains, "then within that hour, a woman called me and said she and her coworkers wanted to volunteer and help pack."

Chills tingled through my body, because lately, I've been feeling over-whelmed too. I run a non-profit GoInspireGo.com and I teach full time at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and also one class at my alma mater, the University of San Francisco. Oh did I mention, I also produce online videos for local stores and companies and am in the process of writing a childrens book? And of course, I blog for The Huffington Post and believe it or not, I also try to have a life too.

I recently wanted to take a hiatus from my busy life. I was ready for a "Calgon take me away"–ok, not that dramatic (but you get the point.) I wanted to take a break and didn't know if I could continue my erratic to-bed-at-3am-and-up-at-5am schedule and still get all my work done. I began spending more time with my MacBook than with my family and friends.

It's amazing how timing and the world works–
–I inspired Lisa and she inadvertently returned the favor by uplifting my spirits. Now, underprivileged infants will continue receiving help through Loved Twice. It's almost miraculous in scope of how much goodness is coming out of this experience!

I guess it's true...
What you give to the world, you get back ten-fold.

So what I ask you is, what have you done to improve the life of someone else? If the answer is "I don't know," then GET CRACKIN'!