December 23, 2010

Paying it Back: Unemployed Man Lifeline to 60 Neighbors

(Courtesy: Alex Bauzon)

Every Tuesday afternoon you can hear the wheels of Herman Travis' shopping cart clacking against the cracked, sloped sidewalks of San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood -- an annoying sound for any passerby. But for many residents in this low-income community the sound is heavenly -- their angel, 50-year-old Travis.

"It makes me feel good, seeing them smile when I knock on their door, it just makes me feel good," Travis said humbly.

Travis is the lifeline for many of those who depend on him to eat.

With a cheery disposition, he delivers food to 60 neighbors who eagerly wait for Travis' visit. Many recipients are elderly and disabled. Getting out of the house to pick up food from the San Francisco Food Bank and pantries is nearly impossible.

So Travis brings the food to them.

"It means a lot to me, as a senior. I can't get out. I'm sort of confined to my house. It's just a blessing, a blessing, something you can depend on, Herman's always there with a smile," recipient Millie Sheehy said.

Travis partnered up with the S.F. Food Bank to make this do-good deed possible. For the past three years, a truck drops off 1,300 pounds of food at the Holly Courts low-income housing complex where he lives. A handful of volunteers help Travis sort and pack brown paper grocery bags. He loads his cart and off he goes, on his three-hour mission to feed his neighbors.

"I don't know how we would express it, except for saying that we would be completely lost without him," Bebe Castaine, 81, said.

But besides feeding their stomachs, he also feeds their spirits. Everyone who answers the door beams with excitement, the smiles overflow.

"He spoils me rotten by coming to my door. And he's always positive, he's always got something nice to say. So I enjoy him,” said 93-year-old Millie Sheehy, who smiles wide and giggles like a schoolgirl when her "No. 1" drops by.

Travis knows the stories behind every drop off. The rapport, trust and loyalty are unique as they are special.

Knock. Knock. Knock. No answer. "Her mother's been gone for a while, her mother died," Travis explained with a deep, melancholy breath.

He takes a moment to catch his breath and shake the sadness, then heads up the steep sidewalk to the next visit.

On the way to the next delivery, Travis, shared that he also has a lot to be grateful for. "I'm glad I'm healthy enough to do this," he said in gratitude. This neighborhood angel has been unemployed for the past few months. His construction work dried up. Now he is applying for general assistance. He too depends on the food bank to get by.

It started when "I didn't have no work," he said fervently. "I'm paying back because they helped me, so I'm paying back, that's what any human being should do. Pay back what people give you."

Travis says he hopes others will do the same –- give the gift of goodwill.
"It makes me feel good, seeing them smile when I knock on their door, it just makes me feel good," Travis admitted emphatically.

For now, Travis said, he'll continue to stay positive and that he'll jump at the chance of any job when it comes around. While the future is uncertain for this neighborhood angel, one thing is clear –- his current job, which doesn't grant him a paycheck, is a job that feeds his soul.

What can YOU do this holiday season and in 2011 to help a family member, friend or stranger? You have more power than you may think.


December 13, 2010

Small Acts. Big Changes. What can YOU do?

One small act can truly change the world.

Just ask Phoebe, a six-year-old first grader, who inspired her community to enthusiastically support her aluminum can and letter writing fund-raising campaign. After seeing homeless people in her San Francisco neighborhood when she was in preschool, she felt two things: sadness and a desire to help. She eventually inspired contributions to cover 135,000 meals for the needy, donated by the San Francisco Food Bank. First lady, Michelle Obama also wrote her a personal note to congratulate her.

Then there’s Caitlin Boyle, whose operation is beautiful from the inside out. After having a bad self-esteem moment (who doesn’t have those?), what’s a girl to do? Do something kind for others. Not everyone would conclude, or put this positive thought into action. Caitlin scribbled, “You are beautiful” on a piece of paper and stuck it on the mirror of the public bathroom at her community college in Florida. She blogged about the experience. World-wide response action ensued with readers posting their own notes. As fate would have it, those words of encouragement turned around days for weary folks. Some smiled and in some cases, some recipients of the random note decided not to commit suicide.

In New York, Jorge Munoz, a school bus driver has been cooking, packing and delivering food to the 140 + hungry people that wait under a subway stop in Queens, New York every night at 9:30. For many years, he’s used half of his weekly salary of $700 to buy food and supplies. Then, CNN, Go Inspire Go and other media outlets shared his story.

Hungry for more? The Yahoo! For Good do-gooders asked me to report and blog about 10 Inspiring Acts of 2010, where we featured 10 folks, including the three above, who did one small act of kindness that rippled out to big changes!

This was an epiphany for me because of my sordid childhood.

Growing up in the ghetto as an immigrant from Vietnam, all 10 of my family members crammed into a small trailer. People said “Wow, that sucks.” However, if you ask any of my family members, they’ll tell you quite the contrary. My mom says, "We were so happy, we were safe, all together and we clung onto hope and opportunity."

Books were my passport out of the ghetto. I voraciously read every single thing I could find. I remember even reading the shampoo bottle in the bathroom out loud everyday as a kid. Many of the words I've learned became my everyday vernacular. I tried very carefully not to slip up and use words like “enamored” around the neighborhood bullies. I was unsuccessful. The neighborhood kids would often say, "$##*!" why you tryin' to be white?" (I never could understand why being able to conjugate my verbs and speaking in complete sentences meant that I was acting white.)
I let them have my power.

They stole my voice and I became quiet -- until college -- that's when I realized that through my voice, was my gift, my power.

In red ink, my expository writing teacher, Carolyn Weber wrote on one of my papers: "You are a gifted and talented writer. I hope you do something with it in your life." This woke me up. It created a shift. Against my parent's behest -- to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer -- I went on to do TV news, but was still unfulfilled after 10 years in the biz.

The biggest gift given to me in my adult life was being laid off from my big market TV reporting gig. During a run shortly after being axed, I “woke up” and decided to make a drastic move. As soon as I realized the intent and meaning in my life, clarity followed. I promised myself that I would eat out less, shop less and take a year off of work to use my gift for storytelling to give back. I did not have a huge savings. I was worried about how I would make ends meet after a few months. I was not rich, am not rich and have turned down many lucrative jobs to continue my mission. To pay the bills, I teach two days a week at a local university. The small YouTube channel became Go Inspire Go aka GIG. Since launching GIG year and a half ago, so many miracles -- large and small -- have transpired. I've met so many amazing people who did one small thing, that created big changes. I've also crossed paths with those who helped complete the circle of giving, those who were inspired to reach out and help the inspiring people we've featured.

My new GIG allows me to be the voice for the voiceless… With every story, every blog, I try to inspire my viewers/readers to do what I did “Discover and use their power (talents, gift, network, etc.) to help others.”

This holiday season, give the best gift of all – yourself. I hope you’re inspired by my Yahoo! 2010 Inspiring Acts blog.

Be inspired. Take action. For more inspirational stories go to Go Inspire Go.

What can YOU do?

November 24, 2010

Four Kindergarteners Inspire 135,000 Meals for the Needy

As you gather with family and friends for the holidays, I hope you’ll be inspired to share this story with a young person in your life –- and encourage them to think of others, who may not be fortunate enough to enjoy a warm meal, have a place to live or people to celebrate with.

Meet Ethan, Emily and Sophia -- three of the youngest humanitarians you may ever meet. Taking the lead from Phoebe, their kindergarten predecessor, they have raised money, rallied resources and heightened visibility (about hunger in their community) to enable the San Francisco Food Bank to serve more than 135,000 meals.

It all started a year ago, when Phoebe was in kindergarten (she is now in first grade). Phoebe saw homeless and hungry people in her community and asked her mother, "Why do they look so sad and dirty?" Her mother explained homelessness and hunger to her.

Phoebe knew two things: that it made her sad and that she wanted to help. She enlisted the help of her teacher, Kathleen Albert and her classmates. Her goal was to raise $1,000 in two months. Phoebe was determined to collect aluminum cans and recycle them for cash because that’s what she and her older sister did for fun. The then five-year-old decided the money raised would be donated to the SF Food Bank. She hand wrote letters and mailed them out to 150 family, friends and community members.

"Caaans? What are you talking about?" Albert said in disbelief. "I thought five cents a can, one thousand dollars. It was unrealistic. But Phoebe was adamant about it."

At first, a few cans trickled in, then thousands showed up at the preschool's door step. Checks and envelopes stuffed with cash were also jammed into the mailbox. The community got excited. Businesses matched donations.

Phoebe raised $3,736.30 by her deadline, enough for the S.F. Food Bank to feed nearly 18,000 people.

Albert held a party to celebrate the donation. Go Inspire Go (GIG) attended, created and posted a video. At the end of the video, GIG challenged the viewers with this statement: "If a 5-year-old could raise enough to feed nearly 18,000 people, what can YOU do? Please make a donation to the San Francisco Food bank, and tell them Phoebe sent you."

Other media outlets shared Phoebe's philanthropic project. GIG's video went viral, and amassed more than 30,000 views. Six months later, the S.F. Food Bank wrote GIG, with an update: the money raised spiked to $20,202, or about 80,000 meals. Additionally GIG sent the video to Tyson Foods' Hunger Relief Challenge, which led to the company's donation of 15 tons of chicken. Now more than 120,000 meals could be served.

This inspirational story gets better! Before the end of the school year, Phoebe's preschool protégés, Ethan, Emily and Sophia were moved by Phoebe's philanthropic spirit.

"I like helping other people," Ethan said. "I don't like seeing hungry people," explained Sophia. "We asked other people to help," Emily said.

Albert said the three worked together relentlessly to write letters, count the change and smash dozens of bags full of cans. They even came up with their own campaign slogan, inspired by President Barack Obama: "Yes We Can!"

And yes, they did! The grand total so far: $5,479.05.

Thanks to Ethan, Emily, Sophia and Phoebe, their small altruistic act of goodness means more than 135,000 meals can be shared in their community.

If four five-year-olds could inspire 135,000 meals, what can YOU do this holiday season? As our little philanthropic phenoms will tell you –- yes you can!

To make a donation to the San Francisco Food Bank, click here!

* Phoebe's mother told me that First Lady, Michelle Obama wrote Phoebe a letter to thank her for her generosity. No telling if Mrs. Obama will reach out to Ethan, Emily and Sophia.

Inspiration in Action:

You can find out more about Toan Lam & Go Inspire Go at Visit our YouTube page to check out more GIG stories. Contact Toan at

Follow Toan Lam on Twitter:

October 26, 2010

Recipe For Success: Karma Kitchen Serves Up Generosity

What would you do if the next time you ask for your bill after dining out, your server said, "There is no charge, your meal was paid for by the person who came before you"? Yep, that's right, nothing, zip, zilch -– on your bill. You literally see "$0.00."

In a world and society where we're taught, "If it's too good to be true, it's NOT," it's hard to believe.

In this case, you have to feel it, experience it -– to believe it.

Every Sunday at The Taste of Himalayas restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. -- Karma Kitchen is cooking up kindness and generosity across the San Francisco Bay Area. It's a volunteer-run experiment in generosity that is growing.

On your zero-dollar and zero-cent bill, there is a kind note that reads, "Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those who dine after you." Patrons can choose to pay nothing or pay for only what they feel is right.

The recipe for this generous idea began three years ago, with Viral and Pavi Mehta and a group of friends. "It's an excuse to start a conversation about generosity," Viral said, with a kind, genuine and humble voice. Included in the morning's training session are lots of hugs as approximately a dozen volunteers gather in a circle; a moment of silence, introductions and stories of why all the volunteers are spending a Sunday morning, volunteering to greet, cook and serve complete strangers.

One volunteer tells me her impetus to give back started one morning when she was rushing out the door to a final exam and her car wouldn't start. A neighbor saw her in distress and offered to give her a ride. Moved by the small act of kindness, she was inspired to pay it forward. When a friend told her about Karma Kitchen, she jumped at the opportunity. "The volunteers are here to serve, there's no ulterior motive, no paycheck, they want to give back," Pavi said with passion.

This project is just one of several experiments under the umbrella of Charity Focus, an "incubator of gift economy projects that inspires people to be the change they wish to see," according to founder Nipun Mehta. "A gift economy is an economic system in which goods and services are given freely, rather than traded. In a market economy, one's wealth is increased by 'saving.' In contrast, in a gift economy, wealth is decreased by hoarding, for it is the circulation of the gifts within the community that leads to increase: increase in connections, increase in relationship strength."

It is hard to put into words the magic, songs and stories of giving shared -- that unfold and swirl under the roof of this bustling restaurant when Karma Kitchen is underway. It's infectious. You want to give back, unconditionally.

Come as a volunteer customer and feel for yourself. The smell, the stories and the kindness swirling around will make you hungry to help others and give back. Here's a tip from a soon-to-be-repeat customer:

1. Volunteers, sign up online early as there is a waiting list to serve
2. Eat at a community table and meet new friends
3. Visit and receive gifts from the Kindness Table
4. Say thank you
5. Pay it forward
6. Be ready to be inspired to be a chain in the circle of giving
7. Enjoy!

The generosity is spreading: Karma Kitchens are now also open in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Buon Appetito & Cheers!

October 13, 2010

1000+ Volunteers Team Up to "Be The Change." What can YOU do?!

People talk about change. Some dream about it. Others take action and ARE the change.

In early October, more than 1,000 volunteers teamed up with Hands On Bay Area, a non-profit that inspires, empowers and enables volunteers to be the change they wish to see, for an appropriately titled "Be the Change Day."

From San Francisco to San Jose, volunteers worked on 17 projects across the Bay Area -- from sorting life-saving medical supplies that will be shipped to third-world countries, to beautifying sustainable community gardens. Everyone worked in unison with one goal in mind: to better the community.

At Sanchez Elementary School in San Francisco's Mission District, I met some "Change Makers" who tore down an old chain link fence and installed a new picket fence, while others prepped its sustainable learning garden for the young students.

"Change" was Ranjan Prasad's wish for his birthday this year. He picked Sanchez Elementary School because he is interested in supporting childhood education. Prasad and a handful of friends woke up bright and early to pull weeds and clean up the new garden. "Schools in San Francisco are in desperate need of help, so this is how I can give back to the kids, to the community," Prasad said.

Across the Bay, I discovered a hidden gem in the Gardens at Lake Merritt in Oakland. I was greeted with soothing sounds from a koi pond fountain and a lush green backdrop of colorful flowers and soaring trees. Beyond the green oasis, sounds of rakes, hand shovels and conversation buzzed like an orchestra of goodness. More than a hundred volunteers worked, laughed and inspired one another.

Myriam Garcia and her two young children Max and Paloma, took a break to tell me why they spent their Saturday morning working in the community garden. "I came to beautify the city where I grew up, where I work. This is my community," she said passionately.

"Volunteering means you do it from your heart, you're not doing it because you're getting paid." Garcia said she's planting the seeds of volunteerism early with her 8-year-old son Max and 6-year-old daughter Paloma.

Through volunteering she sees a shift in her children, who are learning an important lesson in civics. "You have to make them a part of what life is about… You don't pay people to beautify your life." She said her children are excited to give back. "Volunteering means you help others," Paloma said proudly.

Down south at Sunnyvale's Full Circle Farms, dozens of volunteers gathered to harvest food. "I just want them to come back, to be inspired to give back to the community they're living in," Shubda Garani, HOBA board member, said.

Volunteers told me their efforts will continue giving back long after the saws and shovels are put away –- and in Prasad's case, long before his birthday candles are blown out.

"People think they don't have money to give back, but they can give time," Prasad said. Only time will tell how Garcia and Prasad's ripples of kindness will billow through their friends, children and out into the community.

What can YOU do to be the change?!

October 4, 2010

Bullied to death -- and How the Power of Pink Could Thwart Suicide

(Courtesy: Tyler Clementi)

Everyone knows what it feels like to be made fun of – belittled, embarrassed, humiliated – but has it been so extreme that you actually contemplated ending your life because the shame was so heavy that suicide was the only option?

In September alone, four people were literally, bullied to death. All were believed to be victims of anti-gay bullying are now dead. How many other unknown teens are pushed to the limit, and take their lives?

This weekend, friends, family and strangers said good bye to 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, whose intimate encounter with another man was streamed live on the Internet by his roommate and another student. These two people, who allegedly provided the video content and splattered it on the Internet, probably thought it was funny – it was not. Tyler is dead. Police say three days after the video was broadcast, Clementi jumped off of the George Washington bridge. The two face legal, moral and consequences, including invasion of privacy and possibly up to five years in prison.

With easy, powerful technological advances and the Internet at our fingertips, someone’s life can be destroyed by the click of a mouse. I believe that everyone has the power to be more responsible. We have the power to teach the youngsters in our lives that teasing, taunting and terrorizing others is not acceptable.

Please read and share this story of how we can inspire compassion and tolerance. It’s about how two teens utilized the Internet and the Power of Pink to combat bullying…
A few years ago, two Canadian students, were moved to action after hearing about the bullying of a freshman at Central Kings Rural High School in Nova Scotia. The victim, a 9th grader, wore a pink polo shirt on his first day of school. According to CBC News, student bullies called the boy a ‘homosexual’ for wearing pink and threatened to beat him up.”

(Courtesy: CBC)

When seniors, David Shepherd and Travis Price heard about the news – something clicked… they were moved to make a difference. The two started a “Sea of Pink” campaign and using social networking to spread the word. They went to a discount store and bought 50 pink shirts, and mass emailed their friends urging them to wear them in solidarity the next day.

"I just figured enough was enough," said Shepherd.
The anti-bullying message created a wave of support. A sea of pink took over the classrooms and hallways. Hundreds – not just 50 – students came out decked in pink: polos, tees and tank tops.

The duo who led this sea of change say when the bullies student saw the support, it was a powerful moment. He blushed and smiled.

"Definitely it looked like there was a big weight lifted off his shoulders. He went from looking right depressed to being as happy as can be," said Shepherd.
As for the bullies – no one has heard a peep from them since.

The boys dubbed their campaign “Sea of Pink” support.

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres posted a video in response to Clementi’s suicide and the other recent tragedies.

"My heart is breaking for their families, their friends and for our society that continues to let this happen," said DeGeneres, (in a not-her-usual) melancholy tone. "These kids needed us. We have an obligation to change this. There are messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting and we have to make it stop. We can't let intolerance and ignorance take another kid's life."

Just like the Internet, your words and actions could spread the good and bad – They hold the power – you choose how to use them. Please use them wisely and take a moment to share this empowering story with a youngster in your life.

Imagine how just a bit of activism, however small, could create big changes. Think about what you, your friends and – your children could do to help save someone’s dignity – to save someone’s life. It could be the life of someone you know, of someone you love.

September 27, 2010

Sunflower Power - How One Cancer Survivor's Garden Inspires Community of Hope

Photo(s) Courtesy: Nancy Siegler

Sunflowers have always made me smile -- I don’t know why, but they just do -- and I hope this story makes you smile too!

Nancy Siegler of Cameron Park, California knows first-hand the hope, strength and power of the sunflower.

Siegler started planting sunflowers last year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She believes it helped her get through some very scary times. Twelve months ago, she had 30 plants. This year she’s planted 310 sunflower seeds. Three of the plants are more than 16-feet tall. "They're magical," she tells me, excitedly. "They make me feel good and give me inner strength."

But sunflowers aren’t the only things growing in her garden.

Who would’ve thought her penchant for these powerful red, orange and gold petals would resonate with so many people and create such huge ripples of inspiration beyond her colorful garden.

"Today, I am doing well," she said. "What's so special is that I have combined the happiness of the sunflower with the awareness of breast cancer into an event to raise money for breast cancer research."

Siegler wanted to share this symbol of hope with her community. Like her garden, filled with 26 species of sunflowers, the idea blossomed. A month ago, she decided to open her garden to the public. Her goal: to raise $1,000 for the American Cancer Society in Sacramento.

“We weren’t sure if anybody would come,” she admits.
But like anything, with love, care and faith – growth is inevitable.
More than 600 people came to bask in the Sacramento sun, share stories and witness these flowering symbols of hope.

She says her event raised a about $5,000 dollars – all from donations. "I was overwhelmed!" she said, in a bubbly voice, as though she just received a huge surprise.

Many people waited in line to meet Siegler and tell her empowering stories of how sunflowers positively impacted their lives. "It makes me feel good, that I'm not alone in this fight and that I'm not the only one who believes in the strength of these flowers… If even for a moment, they make you feel good, it's worth it," she said, passionately.

Since Siegler opened up her private oasis of inspiration to the public, strangers have open reached out – using their talents and resources -- to help her. "One man told me he would come help me with gardening for next year's event -- hopefully in May, depending on Mother Nature --and some children came by and helped me paint the barn."

Do you believe in the strength of the sunflower?

If you don’t, this “Sunflower Floranista” challenges you to take part in her non-scientific experiment: "Add the sunflower to your garden and see how good it can make you feel. Cut some of their flowers and have them in your home. They will bring smiles to all who come.”

Siegler is already harvesting this year’s seeds for next year’s garden. Meanwhile, she has bigger plans to spread the sunflower power. She is working with many breast cancer awareness groups across the country to adopt the sunflower as the official flower.
“I realized that I’m not alone in this… (battle with breast cancer and extrapolating positivity from these plants) 99% of people who have come to my garden tell me they believe in the strength of the sunflower.”

How’s that for flower power?!

What can YOU do to spread generosity, kindness and compassion in your community?

All ideas and projects start off as a thought, a seed – imagine how your passion could blossom into compassion. You may never know where the seeds you’ll scatter will go or grow!

September 6, 2010

Superhero Capes Provide Hope & Inspiration for Sick Children

Are Superheroes for real?

I’ve never met a Superhero before, but now I believe they exist.

I recently flew to South Dakota and Pennsylvania and met the tiniest, bravest, most inspiring Superheroes, including my new Superhero friend, 5-year-old Brooke Mulford.

Wearing her special pink cape, running with her arms raised in the air and screaming with joy, little Brooke forgets about all of the cancer procedures, medicine and treatments she’s had to endure because when the cape is on, this little girl believes she’s “Super Brooke.”

Accessorized in her favorite color pink, Brooke is among 4,000 sick children and their siblings, who have custom homemade Superhero capes. The capes are gifts, sewn with inspiration and sent with blessings of love, from Wonder Capes.

Brooke’s personalized pink Superhero cape gives her comfort, reassurance and power to fight stage 4, high risk Neuroblastoma-- infant and childhood cancer of the nervous system.

All Superheroes need someone extraordinary, to outfit them… Meet Amy Pankratz. By day, Amy is a stay at home mother of three, juggling the normal multiple schedules, obligations and responsibilities: including elementary and preschool school carpools, room mother activities, etc. By night, when her so-called “Love Bugs” are asleep, she sews through most of the night – many times, pulling all nighters.

Amy and her husband Michael call their “hobby” and mission, “Wonder Capes.”
These capes are homemade, beautifully crafted “Superhero” comfort capes delivered to sick children around the world. As a mother of small children, Amy knows how important it is to love, encourage and support all of them. She understands that often parents focus on their sick child, taking away time and attention from their other children - that’s why she also accessorizes their siblings.

The capes are heartfelt inspirations. “I read their story. I think about them. I pray for them while I make it,” said Amy.

I’ve been dreaming about traveling to meet Amy and her family for about a year. There were many challenges to my plans: first funding, then scheduling and more behind-the-scenes logistics etc. Recently, everything fell into place and then BAM! I was on my way to cover one of the most personal stories ever in my 10-years of being a journalist.

How perfect that after nearly a year of trying to connect with Amy and Wonder Capes, that the stars aligned just in time – September, which is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month-- a way to focus attention on the important need to fund the fight against these cancers.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children 1 to 14 years old. On average, 1 to 2 children develop the disease each year for every 10,000 children in the United States. In the 2007, approximately 10,400 children, living in the US, under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer and about 1,545 children will die from the disease.

Scientist and Pediatric Oncologist, Dr. Peter Adamson, with The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) explains the disparity between adult and childhood cancer, “Cancer is a big problem in the adult population, it is a very small, but very important problem in the pediatric population, so the funding tends to mirror that large difference.”

Dr. Adamson, who is also Chair-elect of the Children’s Oncology Group, underscores the tremendous value and importance in pediatric cancer funding, “when you save a child with cancer, you give them a lifetime – 70, or 80 years.”

Everyone has the power to make a difference to find a cure for this horrific disease. Established well-known pediatric cancer research funders include: Cure Search for Children’s Cancer, CHOP Foundation, Alex’s Lemonade Stand and St. Baldrick’s.

Also this month, the entertainment industry unites for Stand Up 2 Cancer, a celebrity-studded, simultaneous multi-network broadcast show-- just one of the many of the platforms for cancer awareness and funding.

As you will see in our GIG story, we too highlight the brightest STARS and Superheroes on the forefront of research, care and this determined fight.

In my lifetime, it my hope is that you discover your Superhero powers to make a difference and that you’re moved to use them to give back.

GIG “Call to Action”

Since I created Go Inspire Go, my video-based, inspirational website that “Helps viewers discover their power and use it to help others,” I’ve been jonesing to do a story about the fight against cancer.

Covering and sharing this story with you has been a dream of mine, and something I’ve been moved to do, since my father and aunt both passed away, months from each other, in 2001. Back then, I felt powerless.

After meeting Amy, other parents and Superheroes, I finally regained my power. Like the Brooke and the other little Superheroes I recently befriended at CHOP, I too believe in miracles and the positive “power” of the cape!

For many of the sick kids who receive their cape, the Metropolis (and second home) where they fly is the hospital. Hopefully one day, they can fly freely outside and away from the villain they call cancer.

You may not be a sewing superstar like Amy, (I’m no Martha Stewart either); however, I do know that you have it in you to give back, no matter big or small. You can make a charitable donation ---a gift to honor or remember someone- to cancer research organizations, or if you’re on a tight budget, you can volunteer at your local hospital, sponsor, or organize a fundraising event.

Do you have commitment phobia, or hesitate supporting a non-profit, or cause? No worries, be creative. Maybe there’s a family member, friend, neighbor fighting cancer, who you can help with errands, household responsibilities, or better yet, lend your talents (painting, music, etc.) and spend time making your important Superhero smile.

Here’s an example of paying it forward; In the video, you saw that Nick’s mother, Angi Kappenman was inspired by Amy to give back. The Kappenman's donate backpacks to parents of a sick child at a local hospital – in them are activities, such as coloring books, crayons, etc. along with a picture of Nick and a message to “Stay Strong Carry On,” a mantra the family repeats as Nick continues his checkups... The intent is two-fold: to keep kids entertained and to help parents organize hospital paperwork.

It’s obvious that I love talking and revere in storytelling. One of my contributions is using my skills to create videos and blogs that raise visibility and support for amazing superheroes-- many I want you to meet through GIG.

Please view and share our heartwarming video by copying and sending this video & blog link, sharing on facebook, or tweeting.

To all the Superhero families and children who continue to fight, the “C” villain: Stay strong. Carry on. Bless you.

Toan Lam

Special thanks to: Denise Poon with Creative Streamline, Steve Kotton, Dianne Fukami, Phat & Lynn Lam, Yasmine Farazian, Luis Pena, Vera Poon, Keely & Tanya Stevenson, Le Tran, Michael Hang, Allison Tom.

August 11, 2010

Yoga Drama

When you think about yoga, you probably wouldn’t pair it in a sentence with the word drama – the words blend like oil and water.


I recently had a -– let’s just say -- interesting experience where the two mixed together. It wasn’t pretty. But it was funny. Kind of.
My sister Lynn, who is a yoga instructor, and her friends Tallie (who is also a yoga instructor) and another friend Barbara (not her real name), drove down to San Francisco from Sacramento, to take a Yoga class taught by her friend Bryan, a well-known Yogi-Guru-Master.

Parking is a premium in many parts of the City by the Bay, especially at the yoga spot in the Castro neighborhood where the class was scheduled to be held. The whole day was picture perfect: great parking, clear skies, mild temperatures, quality time with my sis and her friends, a healthy, light breakfast and lots of laughs…

Then the drama ensued.

We walk over to the Yoga center and as we turned the corner near the entrance, people stormed out of the door, red-face, stomping feet, pouty-lips and all.

Huff. Puff. Huff. Puff.

Posted on the door was a sign, in BIG bold, sans serif, Times Roman letters read: Bryan’s class will be taught today by _______ ________ (In respect to the sub, I’ll omit the name of the poor woman who had dropped her plans that weekend to fill in, just to be faced with a bunch of outraged Yogis with their stretchy designer lycra pants in a bunch.)

Silly, un-yoga-like comments spilled onto the sidewalk: “I can’t believe this! We drove all the way up from Los Angeles just to see Bryan,” said two elderly men with salt and pepper hair, in disdain. “I won’t be able to make this trip again at least for two more years. I want my money back.”

Then my sister’s friend, Barbara added to the madness, surprised me and said, “Dammit, we came to see Bryan, not some other young sub girl to teach us Yoga! I want my money back, too."

Waaait a minute, did she just say that? I thought to myself. Isn’t part of Yoga supposed to be about letting go of judgment?


My sister got on her iPhone and texted Bryan to see why he wasn’t going to make his appearance. There was no answer. So she checked his FaceBook (gotta love FB) She saw his status, which explained his absence: “Stuck on the tarmac at LAX because of strong winds and bad weather."

The two angry men chatted with my sister and her gang for a bit as more people arrived, some yelling at the woman at the counter, as if the woman at the front desk was Mother Nature and the cause of Bryan’s absence.

With the Yoga wisdom my sis taught me from back in the day, I took a deep breathe and tried to breathe humor into the ‘situation.’ “Why don’t you all gather together and I’ll take a picture and send it to Bryan, to show that you support him and miss him?” One. Two. Three, cheesy pouty faces… They all laughed -– I could literally feel the awkwardness fade away –- you know, that same tension-releasing feeling you get when you work the downward dog, but minus the fierce bark.

Tallie smiled the whole time. I asked her, isn’t Yoga supposed to be about going with the flow? Taking deep breathes when facing a tough situation? Surrendering?

Chillax people!

Tallie agreed, “Oh well,” she said. “It wasn’t meant to be.” Then I replied with one of my favorite quotes from Eckhardt Tolle, “It is what it is.” It was really as simple as that. Move on.

My sister and her friends turned around and drove back to Sacramento. Lynn wanted to stay and enjoy the city, however, Barbara, wasn’t ready to let go and let this situation dictate her day and insisted they go home. The fun and adventure was over for them as they hit the road.

Lamenting about what should have, could have, would have been isn’t going to make the situation any better. In life, if go with the flow and are gentle with yourself in tense situations, you will always be in a better space. Let’s take cars for example; when you constantly speed, slam on the brakes and peel out -– your car wears down more quickly. The same idea applies to your body. Wouldn’t you rather buy a used ’79 Ford Mustang from the granny that drove it gently and with care, rather than the teenager who drove it to the ground?

Life is really like a “choose your own adventure book.” Remember those? It’s full of choices, lessons and consequences. When situations appear in your life will you let them bug and eat away at you? Or will you be grateful and try to search for the true meaning of the lesson presented to you? Will yelling, screaming, pouting get make you feel better? If so, good, then move on. Or will you move onward and enjoy your day?

No one is perfect, I let my tighty whiteys get in a bunch once in a while, but when I do, I now remember to chuckle at myself afterward because I realize my ridiculous reactions.

One helpful method of moving on -– think to yourself, is this something I’m going to stress over tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next Year? If it is a foreseeable long term situation, then I give it more thought, if not, I move forward.

When things don’t go your way, think about the important lessons you learned because you can’t go back in time to undo what ‘is.’ Because after all, “it is what it is.”


July 22, 2010

How Much Could Your Boss Pay You to Be Unhappy

If you could choose one or the other - money or happiness --which one would it be? My good friend - I'll call her Abby - has what she calls "a big dilemma." Abby has more than 15 years of experience in the TV biz as a TV reporter for a major national news outlet and producer for a lifestyle cable show. For as long as I've known her (about 14 years) she's always been level headed, pragmatic and the pinnacle of sound judgment and instinct.

Until now.

She's in a "situation" that many hard-working, go-getting, ambitious professionals are experiencing. Now she has a stable, high paying job, at a advertising firm in a big city, the job is pretty easy, she gets a month vacation annually, several of her assignments are glamorous and whisk her off to exotic locations -- but she still is not happy. No, she's not ungrateful -- actually, she's quite the opposite.

She has a perfect job for those on the outside looking in. But the ugly truth is, she works ridiculously long hours, her boss is "a rude jerk" and her not-so-nice co-workers - let's just say they're not exactly who she'd hang out with during happy hour.
Recently, the cable channel she was laid off from called her back and offered her a producing job. A job where many of her friends who she loves and adores still work. Sweeeet, perfect, right?! Well, problem is, the job offers more than $30k less than the trendy ad agency job - and this job offer will expire in a year, which means she'll be waiting in line at the unemployment office once again, this time next year, for Uncle Sam to send the bimonthly checks for $450 before taxes.

What to do? What would you do? My suggestion - follow your heart, not the money.
I'm not saying, money doesn't buy you happiness - because having a nice home, luxury car, being able to take vacations, shopping, eating out and not having to stress about buying an extra hot, grande caramel macchiato is a good feeling. Trust me, I know,.I used to have a nice paying job as a TV Reporter. I was making good money, living the high life in a big city with the high skyscrapers to match it - but I was miserable.

I didn't find true happiness and balance until I was given the gift of being laid off. I'm not going to lie, the lifestyle adjustments and change post-lay off stung. Badly. It wasn't until I decided to stop my job search, live meagerly for a year and give back to the community through what became my non-profit inspirational website, Go Inspire Go (GIG), that I found true happiness. I'm not going to sugar coat this - it's a lot of work building a startup with an all-volunteer base, I work long hours, and it is very hard finding startup grants in these tough economic times. But I am hopeful and inspired by the stories and trust that the funds will come, eventually.

Spiritual guru, Dr. Wayne Dyer produced an amazing film, Ambition to Meaning that resonated with my professional career. The message: We are all born and bred into a society of ambition, not the good kind of ambition (because ambition is a good thing) rather, the type of ambition that feeds the big ego - the ego that wants a big title, big house, big car, etc. But all this means nothing if it is not connected to meaning in your life. When I watched this film two years ago, I had what Oprah calls a "Aha Moment," when I realized that it wasn't all about me, myself and I. Rather it was about us - about community. The powerful experiences, stories and connections I've created through GIG are priceless.

In the end, this may not seem like a big dilemma, perhaps, until you're faced with it. Sure, it's great that, in a time where jobs are scarce, Abby has choices, doesn't have kids to feed and the decision won't mean that she'll be out on the streets - however, this is a life decision and lesson that may young professionals I know are facing. How much could someone pay you to be happy? What does happiness mean to you and why?

I've been to many funerals in my short life (four family members died in eight months) and I can truly say, through experience, that no one will stand up during your eulogy and say, "(fill in a name here) was the best worker, who never missed a day of work, was diligent and always came in under budget." Trust me. You won't be able to take your mansion, yacht or savings -- Instead, what you'll take away and what people will remember are the experience, what you're leaving behind that makes the community and world better.

Are you making your mark? Living your meaning? Is that a Dyer phrase? It's very nice!! I hope you are and Abby will - and if you aren't I hope this blog post will inspire you - or at least give you a nudge -- to wake up, take the steps, and make the right decisions personal or professional, for which you'll be remembered. So what should Abby do? I'm sure she'll be able to have her coffee (extra hot caramel macchiato) and drink it, too.

What to do if you're faced with this "situation."
1.) Make a pros and cons list - this will help you visualize what's at stake.
2.) An assignment I like to give my mentees and students - Tonight, when your stomach is full, you're in bed, in the dark, no eyes of judgement are on you... I want you to think about what would get you so excited to jump out of bed in the morning? Is it a hobby? Something you've been dying to do, but were too afraid? Figure out a way to turn your extracurriculars into a career. Who says you can't make money doing something you love. Take baby steps. I'm not saying quit your job, rather, look for jobs in that field or intern/volunteer in that field - you may be surprised to find that people like helping those who want to be helped. And whether it works out or not, you'll be one step closer to seeking what job makes you happy.
3.) Trust your instinct. God gave it to us to protect us. Ask yourself how do you feel before, during and after work? Look in the mirror - your body has an internal compass, your gut, that tells you if you're in happy, stressed, or danger.
4.) Ask, ask, ask your network of friends- Gather your close friends over dinner or a grande caramel macchiato - and ask for their input. They know you best and can tell you the truth. They may also know of other job opportunities.

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

July 5, 2010

Homeboy Industries -- (VIDEO)

"I was 7-years-old, my mom turned on the burner of the stove and burned both of my hands," says former 'homeboy,' Luis Colocio. With tears in this grown man's eyes, he finishes- "I ran to the bathroom that night, put both of my hands in the toilet to cool them down and fell asleep in the bathroom."

There is no doubt, this severe consequence for playing with matches falls under the 'child abuse' category." But, as a grown man, Colocio says he "forgives her. She raised me how she knew best," he adds. Colicio says he grew up in the hood, was raised by an abusive, single mother, who locked him up in the house to protect him from the tough streets. "I didn't have a father figure."

This personal experience is just a snapshot of the numerous heartbreaking stories I heard while connecting with some "homeboys" and "homegirls" at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California -- the nation's largest gang rehabilitation center in the United States.

What comes to mind when I say the word "Homeboy" or "Homegirl?"

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Home·boy \ˈhōm-ˌbȯi\ means:
1 : a boy or man from one's neighborhood, hometown, or region
2 : a fellow member of a youth gang
3 : an inner-city youth

As you watch our Go Inspire Go video on Homeboy Industries, I ask you to observe without judgment for the next few minutes and take in a deep breath of compassion:

I serendipitously came across this story during a business trip to Los Angeles. As usual, I was welcomed by the thick layer of smog and "sig-alert" traffic, so my media consultant, Denise Poon, and I decided to exit the freeway, grab a bite to eat and wait for traffic to die down (By the way traffic hardly ever 'dies down' in the City of Angels.)

We found Homegirl Café, one of the many businesses under the umbrella of Homeboy Industries. Poon and I were so moved by our waitress' story on how Homeboy Industries turned her life around -- we just had to come back and cover this story to share it with you...Especially after she told us about their recent layoffs.

Founder Father Greg Boyle and the "Homeboys and Homegirls" moved me to produce this video - my hope is that viewers will think twice before judging others. Father Boyle believes that no life is more important than another.

As the pastor of Dolores Mission Church, in Pico-Aliso, which Fr. Boyle describes as the poorest parish in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, he was inspired to create Homeboy Industries more than 23-years ago to give people like Colocio a second chance to turn their lives around.

This area is also known to have the highest concentration of gang activity in the entire city. Fr. Boyle says, "I started burying many gang members... I just had to do something." (For the gang members and parolees who wanted a way out of the hood - and back in to the working world.) Finding jobs for parolees wasn't easy, so he decided to create jobs, training, placement services - AND hire them.

As you see in our GIG video, Homeboy Industries needs 5 million dollars to get through the next six months. Father Boyle says, due to the bad economy, grants and donations dwindled, so they need the money to bridge the gap.

I am so inspired by Fr. Boyle and Homeboy Industries' story of compassion and hope. As I sign off, I think of two of my favorite quotes:

"Now you know, so you can't pretend you don't." -Oprah Winfrey

"If you judge people, you don't have time to love them." - Mother Teresa

My challenge to you - "What can YOU do?"

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

Contact Toan at:

June 18, 2010

MC Yogi "Gives Love"

What does Yoga and Hip Hop have in common? A heck of a lot! Just ask MC Yogi!

This yoga inspired artist puts a new and unique spin on rapping, freestyling and yoga. MC Yogi spent much of his teen years painting graffiti and listening to hip hop. Beastie Boys & Run DMC were his role models. He found an outlet for his creativity at an at-risk youth group during high school. When he was 18, he was introduced to Yoga and fell in love.

This discovery led him on a journey that changed him deeply, he began studying this ancient discipline and grew physically, mentally and emotionally. This video made me smile and moved me to think -- What can I do today, to spread the love and make someone else's day better?

What have you done lately to give love? It doesn't have to be a 'ginormous' gesture - it could be as easy as holding the door open for someone, paying toll for the car behind you or just a simple smile to a stranger. At Go Inspire Go, our mantra: What Can You Do?

Thanks for your inspiration MC Yogi!


June 8, 2010

How a Lovely Lady with a Yellow Umbrella Will Make You Smile

Just who is Amy Krouse Rosenthal? While Amy fits under many titles -- artist, filmmaker, author -- I know her as the-out-of-the-box lovely lady with the yellow umbrella, who created a movement that brought folks together through her creativity and made me smile. Amy inspires me to inspire you to create something that makes people in your life smile, laugh and connect. So get off your Facebook and Twitter just for a minute, and check out Amy's videos below.

When I created my inspirational website, Go Inspire Go, after being laid off from my TV reporting gig, I set out to inspire people to discover their power and use it to help others. I never would've imagined that job offers, new friendships and invaluable new experiences would forge from my altruistic mission to give back through my resources and talents.

Thank you Amy for using your talents to create community, curiosity and elevate humanity.
I don't want to spill the beans on the lovely movement she's created; you'll just have to watch for yourself:

This is a short film she created in June of 2008.

On 08/08/2008 at 8:08 p.m., with her yellow umbrella in tow, Amy met her online community at Millenium Park in Chicago - what happened next will make you smile:

Her project, "The Beckoning of Lovely" began with a spontaneous public gathering of strangers and friends new and old. It goes to show how the power of one could inspire others to gather and connect and create something, anything that makes you feel good, warm and fuzzy. This inspires me to think about how I can continue using my power to spread the inspiration. I hope it nudges you, tickles you, inspires you to think about what you can do, however small or large, to make someone else's life better!

"The Beckoning of Lovely" has since evolved into an expanding film project involving hundreds of strangers from around the world. Go Amy Go!

June 1, 2010

Children Of The Trains

There is something magical about locomotives -- maybe I've watched too many episodes of "Thomas the Train" with my five-year-old nephew, Drew who is entranced by the choo-choo sounds and shiny blue box cars carefully crafted to match the cheery music.

But for thousands of destitute, despondent and impoverished children left to fend for themselves on the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, there is deeper meaning to the real locomotives they call home. The "Library Train" is a heart-wrenching and inspiring story where trains are transformed in temporary shelters and learning centers for homeless children. A special place that inspires and gives hope to many needy children living in the slums of Bangkok.

In 1999, Railway Police commander Jarumporn Suramanee started a daily three-hour program in Bangkok's train station to teach homeless children the basic life skills they were never taught.

Soon after, junk-yard box cars were brought back to life and transformed into colorful, learning centers and a temporary shelter, packed with books and activities for many children who had nothing: no family, no friends and no hope. Now, 10 railway police officers are making it their mission to serve, protect, provide shelter and educate the children, instead of fighting them in the all-too-common clashes in the slums of Bangkok between the cops and the youth.

Jaran, now 17 years-old, was abandoned as an infant and left for dead in a garbage dump. He was later found by his grandfather, who cared for him until he passed away, leaving Jaran homeless with no family, no friends and no support. He had nowhere to go and began to sniff glue to help to escape and forget about the pain. Kittima, a railway police officer found Jaran, brought him back to the Library Train, cared for him and helped him find a job on a dairy farm milking cows as a way to raise money to survive and move beyond his situation. Jaran now refers to Kittima as his father.

Meanwhile, Kiet says he ran away from a violent environment, after being brutally beaten by his own family members. He wandered the streets of Bangkok alone in search of food, shelter and hope. He spent much of his time trying to avoid the police -- however, it was a police officer who became his saving grace. One day, while rummaging garbage cans for recyclables, he met Chatchai, a railway cop who promised to take him to a safe place. Kiet was brought to the Library Train where he was reacquainted with his older brother, Kop, who ran away from home years earlier and never thought they would reunite again.

This video, created by Barbara Grandvoinet, my filmmaker friend, takes us on a journey of hope -- through this story of The Children of The Train. (Get a tissue handy.)

While researching a family trip to Thailand, Barbara ran across this inspiring story of hope -- and what's possible. She contacted the organizers of the Library Train and wanted to help. Barbara then decided to make a film,, featuring this amazing program. A big thank you to Barbara for sharing your story with Go Inspire Go. And our ongoing prayers to the Library Train leaders and the innocent children who continue to search for hope... Like the founder of the Library Train, Barbara wanted to use her gifts -- of capturing stories on film to inspire others to do what they can to help the children of the trains.

What can you do?

April 24, 2010

Dr. Gives the "Gift" of Healthcare

Trying to fix America’s healthcare problem(s) is confusing, frustrating and hard to figure out. Consider the intricacies of the paperwork, the red tape and the circuitous phone calls back and forth with insurance companies about what medical procedures are covered when desperately needed. The stress, terror and despondency that this can create are enough to make anyone sick.

When I was a teenager, I remember trying to help my grandmother and mother (who speak limited English) figure out their healthcare benefits. Breast cancer claimed my Aunt Hong’s life 10-years ago. I remember she was more worried about what her insurance would or would not cover, more than the cancer itself. I remember my heart beating fast, palms sweaty, as I tried to decipher the legalese and medical jargon on the forms for my family members. It’s as if the paperwork was made to confuse applicants. I could just imagine the frustration of my elders and how helpless they felt relying on a kid to do the paperwork so they can get the medical care they so desperately needed. I’ve had my personal tug-of-wars with my previous dental insurance provider when I was in pain during finals my third year in college and the insurance company denied my root canal.

I’m not here to make a statement about America’s broken healthcare system or air my grievances about whose done me wrong. As a matter of fact, I’ve had some pretty pleasant encounters with my HMOs and PPOs. Rather I’m here to share an inspirational story of a Doctor whom I recently met through my friends at CharityFocus. A doctor with a prescription on how she can fix America’s healthcare boo boos.

Amidst the ongoing healthcare debate in America, one doctor, out of Oakland, Calif., has a simple solution: just give it away.

“We give, no strings attached,” Dr. Aumatma Shah said with a big smile. Dr. Shah co-founded KarmaClinic in April 2009. She decided to volunteer her services full-time about four months ago and doesn’t get paid a single penny. Yep, that’s right, she doesn’t get a paycheck. Patients don’t have to pay for her services. She gives the gift of healthcare.

Why would anyone do such a thing, especially when Naturopathic doctors can charge $50-300 an hour? made an appointment with Dr. Shah to find out what inspired her to gift healthcare, how she sustains the clinic and how she pays her bills without a paycheck or hidden savings.

Dr. Shah is Naturopathic Doctor (using natural remedies to heal). She received her Naturopathic Medicine Degree and her Masters degree in Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport and got her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Rutgers University. Even though she excelled in the pre-med program at Rutgers, Dr. Shah found her calling through Naturopathy because it connects the mind, body, and spirit.

The concept is simple: “We wish to give the gift of healthcare,” she said. “Our current healthcare system is broken and is in shambles, the reform really doesn't address the root cause. Even with the at-best option for single payer, the healthcare system would not address the problem of disconnectedness that people so commonly feel from their practitioners.”

Dr. Shah believes that the universe will sustain the cost operating the clinic and her basic needs. “All I need is food and shelter,” she said with another smile. Anonymous donations have miraculously sustained her since the clinic opened its doors.

Oh, and I must mention, the quality of time spent with patients. After they make an appointment online, Dr. Shah sends patients a long, in depth questionnaire, with questions that reach deep within, such as the patient’s perspective on life and their responsibility to heal, before she meets with them. The first appointment is about two hours long. Along with no payment due at the end of the visit, patients don’t have to wait in line and get a unique one-on-one medical experience that has many patients leaving transformed – with a renewed outlook on their health and their lives. On top of the deep connection, the attention and quality time with Dr. Shah, patients leave with the gift of a smile card that reminds you to “smile” and pay this gift forward in an anonymous way – a gift, a shift and an experience that money can’t buy.

This experiment is about to face its biggest test yet – Dr. Shah’s medical school loans will be due next month. Still, she trusts that if the loans need to be paid, the money will come. The universe will provide.

When I tell people about Karma Clinic and explain what Dr. Shah is doing, I could literally see people’s minds churning – People ask how could this be? How does she pay her bills? What? Blank and discombobulated facial expressions ensue.
Some people I’ve come across while producing this story have called me credulous, others were skeptical of Naturopathy and exactly how and why Dr. Shah does what she does. I’m not insinuating that naturopathy will work for you; everyone has the right to think and choose the path of healing they believe in.

Whether you’re a skeptic or a supporter, I hope this story inspires you to think about what you can do for others.

Through our work at Go Inspire Go, we hope to help people discover and use their “power” to help others. Through our videos, we hope that you will discover your power (resources, talents, gifts) to give back. You don’t have to take drastic measures, sell your home or quit your job -- I hope to inspire you to think about what you’re capable of doing to help others, in your scope, in your comfort level, on your own time.

When I think about my Aunt Hong, who died in her 40’s and everyone who is battling illnesses and insurance companies, I can’t help but think about what Dr. Shah said that will always continue to resonate and inspire me: “We give the patients the respect that they deserve, regardless of whether they have money or not, because they’re human beings.” Isn’t that the way healthcare should be? Isn’t this the way we should treat others, no matter what resources or gifts we have to offer? No matter how much you have in your bank account, what title you do or do not have, I truly believe that everyone has the power to help others.

What Can YOU do?

April 15, 2010

Jog Blog Adventure

Inspiration nudged me out of bed this morning and it made me do something awesome that I never have done before...

That inspiration came in many forms: sunlight beaming through my window --, as you will see, it was a beautiful, crisp San Francisco spring morning, a fresh bowl of strawberries and an early morning phone call with an old college friend, Sandy, who wanted to spontaneously drop by for a visit. A series of events led me to the theme of today's video and blog post: Gratitude -- and how it can change the trajectory of your day.

So I blog today, in honor of being aware and grateful of everything around me as I go about my daily routine.

I invite you to slow down and do the same.

Back to this morning... I was surprised to hear Sandy's familiar voice. "Toan I am quitting my job, so I thought I'd give you a call to see what you're doing today, maybe we can hang out and catch up?" Sandy said. After she told me that she was excited to reconnect, I replied, "First off, congrats for quitting your job and yes I'd love to hang out, it's been a while." It just so happened that I had no plans (which is a rarity for me because I teach four classes at the Academy of Art and run a non-profit): No classes to teach, no meetings with anyone from my non-profit and no conference calls. So, like a little kid who just set a play-date with a long lost friend, I jumped at the opportunity to reconnect with Sandy.

The phone call left me feeling tingly, excited, grateful for what the day has in store.
After my morning ritual of brushing my teeth, washing my face and a moment of silence -- I decided to eat some strawberries before going on my morning run. The water running over my bowl of strawberries stopped me for a moment. Time suspended. I was mesmerized. I took a moment to look at the berries, that were vibrantly red, ripe and juicy -- mother nature's gift, I thought. I thought to myself, How often do we ever stop, amazed at the beauty that surrounds us during our daily journey? The shape of the fruit, juxtaposed with the green stem -- I thought, every little seed seemed perfectly crafted onto the berry. I never thought strawberries and a phone call would cause me to pause for a moment and reflect. After a busy week, I finally stopped once to realize, WOW, I do really have a lot to be grateful for: fresh fruit, connecting with an old friend, a morning jaunt in one most beautiful cities in the world and oh yeah, I have jobs that I love (trust me, I've been at many jobs that I didn't enjoy). Teaching and inspiring a new fleet of multimedia content providers at AAU and of course, my non-profit, Go Inspire Go, where I create videos with a call to action and inspire people to use their resources and talents to give back to the community.

So, my instinct told me to do something I've never done before in my life -- I pulled out my Flip Video Camera and decided that I was going to document what I was grateful for during my morning jog today. Initially, I was going to keep the video for my own reference, but had such an insightful run, I decided to share it with you. It was just the same route that I take regularly, but how I felt was very different. Just by being aware and focusing on things I was grateful for, I discovered things that I never stopped to appreciate during my daily jaunt. Come along on the journey with me and watch what I found -- I hope that it inspires you to be more aware and grateful for the beauty that surrounds you, as you go about your busy daily routine. As you watch, as yourself, "What amazing things do I overlook everyday as I go about life's hustle and bustle?"

There were so many highlights on my run: The pure joy that emanated on little three-year-old Ethan's face -- I could literally feel the joy while watching him and his grandmother connect and laugh while running up the hill. Then there were my two new friends, Orla and Danielle, enjoying the sun at the cafe. Orla is a TV Reporter with SKY TV in London. Danielle just moved into the neighborhood to attend medical school. Welcome new neighbor! Orla invited me to give her a ring when visiting across the Pond.

This euphoria you receive from being grateful isn't just make believe. There are many health benefits when you become aware of what you're thankful for -- Robert Emmonds and his colleagues conducted a research project on Gratitude and Thankfulness at the University of California Davis -- He found that there is an abundance of benefits from being grateful.

1.) Greater Optimism and Physical Fitness: Those who keep regular gratitude journals exercised on a regular basis and were overall had more optimistic outlooks on life.

2.) Reaching Goals: Thankful people also consistently achieved more personal goals, especially after keeping a gratitude journal for two months.

3.) Stress Relief: Being grateful is also an effective way to release stress, according to Emmons. "Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress."

4.) Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families. (No wonder that being grateful for strawberries and a phone call from a long lost friend brought me way back to the days of being a little boy, who shot out of bed, ready for the day's possibilities.)

5.) Helps Cope With Illness: Among people with a neuromuscular disease, Emmons found that a "21-day gratitude intervention" produced more "high-energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one's life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group."

I realized that when you go about your day and you look for things that you're grateful for, you stop worrying about what you don't have, you worry less and you live in the present moment, you feel and experience life from a whole new space. Your lens shifts. Then you wonder, what can I do to make someone grateful today?

Today's gift taught me many things. Like the perfectly embedded seeds on the strawberries and the flowers blooming alongside Telegraph hill today, I realized that I too am exactly where I am supposed to be at this point in time, in my life, both personally and professionally. And I am thankful for that. Sure I sometimes wish that I could have a bigger house, more money in the bank and that I could afford to own a home here in San Francisco, etcetera etcetera... Then I think about the series of events that have ensued after being laid off from my major market TV reporting gig and deciding to live off of my savings for a year so I could use my storytelling skills to give back through Go Inspire Go team.

I reflect on how much my team and I have been able to accomplish, inspiring and helping tens of thousands of people around the world through our videos. When I embarked on this journey to inspire people (to use their resources and talents to help others) through this project, one year ago, I hoped that at least a handful of people would pay attention and be inspired to act. On a weekly basis, viewers from around the world email to tell us what they've done to help others, purely by being inspired by our website and our stories - I would have never imagined that through helping people help others the biggest receiver would be me.

When I stop and think about the things I'm grateful for, I lose count. I just have to make sure I continue to be aware and grateful on a day to day basis. I think I'll go and download that "Gratitude Journal iPhone application, to remind me to be grateful for all the greatness that surrounds me. I challenge you to go out and look for 10 things you're grateful for today -- and everyday. I'm sure that you and those you cross paths with -- on your journey to work or play -- will thank you too! Thank you for reading...

Whoa, I didn't thing that a bowl of strawberries and a phone call would lead me to this experience, video and blog today.

March 25, 2010

GIG & Haiti Relief Efforts: As Media Spotlight Dwindles...GIG Moves High School Students to Action!

For the most part, the mainstream media's spotlight has gone dark in the aftermath of the devastation from January's earthquake in Haiti. It’s been more than two months since the quake that in a matter of seconds tore lives apart: killing an estimated 230,000 people (many more bodies are uncounted for) and leaving more than 1.3 million homeless, according to the Associated Press.

There are so many untold stories, good and bad, some that are just now emerging. Go Inspire Go (GIG) hopes to continue shedding light and inspiration on how people are helping other people in Haiti and beyond. Here’s an amazing follow up from one of our “Helping Haiti” videos…

High school Band Teacher, Kenneth Williams, from San Jose California, saw this recent GIG video about New Jersey Reverend Lemaire Alerte, whose mission is to build a junior high school in his home town of Grande Saline, Haiti. “I was inspired because I know how hard it is to build something without having a lot of resources,” Williams said, with empathy and determination. “So when I saw that Rev. Alerte was helping his fellow Haitians by building a school for the kids, I asked my students, “What did you do after the earthquake in Haiti?” Williams was inspired to not only teach a civics lesson to his students, but a lesson in compassion.” Wow! I’m so proud of the students who banded together and synergized their resources and talents to give back!

Williams said many students in his six classes initially thought they really did enough to help by using their cell phones to text 90999 to make a $10 donation to the Red Cross. “That’s great, but do you pay for your cell phone bill?” He asked his students. “No, our parents pay our cell phone bill, we’re not working so we can’t help much,” some students said. “Oh so your mom and dad pay your cell phone bill, so they helped the victims in Haiti?” Williams replied – Then came the challenge. The following question “What did you do?” let to a bigger conversation -- how can you use your talents to help?” Take a look at how Williams challenged his students to orchestrate an amazing call to action:

This video below epitomizes what Go Inspire Go is all about: To inspire viewers through our videos to use their resources and talents to help others. Williams told me that the more than 100 students organized most of the benefit concert with little supervision. Parents told me that they never saw their children so involved – possessed almost -- in helping others. Students told me they were so proud that they could use their talents, doing something they love, to benefit others in need.

I’m happy to see that President Barack Obama nudged former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to take a trip to Haiti this week to raise awareness for earthquake relief.

According to this HuffingtonPost article, “The ex-presidents are spearheading U.S. fundraising in response to the Jan. 12 earthquake. Tapped by President Barack Obama for the role, they are making the one-day visit to assess recovery needs.”

As President Barack Obama joined forces with Bush and Clinton to assess how to more efficiently help, I am elated to see that many people, like Williams and his students are doing what they can and what’s in their power to help.

Great job Kenneth Williams and students at Willow Glen High School -- it all started from a GIG video volunteer Julian Cohen created with us! Williams now tells me the students were so moved by this experience, they will organize another benefit. This time the proceeds will go to helping the earthquake victims in Chile.

So today, I’m signing off on an even higher note… When you put goodness out into the world, like a boomerang, goodness finds its way back.

March 19, 2010

6-Year-Old Inspires Movement; 120,000+ Meals Served

Take a close look at the photo of the young lady on my blog – Her name is Phoebe Russell. Although I’ve had some amazing teachers in my more than three decades on this earth, I can truly say that Miss. Russell is the best teacher I’ve ever had, when it comes to the true meaning of “Service.” No, nothing is wrong with your eyes and no, this is not a picture of her from way back when she was youthful. Phoebe is 6-years-old. Since meeting her last year, she has taught me a lot about life and about fitting into this world as an “adult.”

I met Phoebe when she was 5-years-old through our friends at the San Francisco Food Bank. I created this video for my inspirational website on her project to feed the hungry.

Phoebe’s mother told me in a way that made me feel humble, “There’s always little things that we can do in our daily life that makes a huge difference for other people. The project started off as a small thing. Phoebe’s taught me, you got to just do it.” That’s when I realized how deep Phoebe’s wisdom was, even at this tender age.

While on the way to school, she saw some homeless people on the street. She became curious. “I was sad,” she told me in timid voice. So she did what kids are good at – she asked questions -- which led to a movement that, to this date, has fed about 120,000 people in her community.

“Why do they look so sad?” She inquired inquisitively. “And how do we help them?” Her parents explained that the food bank helps feed hungry people. She became determined to raise money for the food bank by collecting cans, recycling them and cashing them in for money.

Phoebe innocently told me, “It makes me sad because they have no food and shelter. Me my dad and sister would go to whole foods… we would have this big bag of cans and we would turn them in to get money, so I wanted to collect cans.”

With the help of her preschool teacher, Phoebe reached out to her network – during recess, she hand wrote, signed and sent letters to family and friends. Her goal was ambitious – you might say impossible -- for a 5-year-old, but then again what do grown-ups know anyway?

To say the project gained momentum is an understatement.

Family, friends, the media shared her story… which led to a ripple effect of giving. Within two months, Phoebe raised $3,736.30. According to the SF Food Bank, that’s enough to feed nearly 18,000 people.

The news gets better.

I featured Phoebe’s video on Go Inspire and it went viral immediately. More than 26,000 hits from all corners of the world, YouTube comments and e-mails poured in. Parents, churches and other community groups contacted our team to say they were sharing our blog and video with their children (as bedtime stories) and during sermons and meetings. I could see a shift happening – people were inspired by Phoebe’s actions to act.

Fast forward 6 months.

I received an email from Gayle Keck, a Media Manager at the SF Food Bank. The total from Phoebe’s project: $20,202!” That’s enough to feed 90,000 people.

Get ready to keep on smiling… yes, this story does get better.

Go Inspire Go submitted the video to Tyson Foods Hunger Relief Challenge. Phoebe became the “Tyson Hunger All-Star.” A title that comes with a donation of 15-tons of Chicken!

That means the SF Food Bank is able to feed 120,000 people in the community.


This isn’t just a civic’s lesson to her peers; Phoebe taught us big kids a thing or two as well.

Tyson’s Ed Nicholson said in his 15-years with the company, Phoebe is the one who left a life-long lasting impression on him. “This is to recognize unlikely people in unlikely places doing extraordinary things. I think maybe phoebe is the one of the most unlikely we’ve run across and perhaps doing one of the most extraordinary thing,” Nicholson said, in a voice with so much excitement, I thought he had won the contest.

Paul Ash, Executive Director of the SF Food Bank, was blown away too. He told me, “We’ve never had someone this young do this much. We certainly have volunteers, come in with parents, but no one so young who moved something along so independently and with such great results.

Little Phoebe taught me some big lessons in life as well.

First off, you don’t have to be rich, famous or even experienced (that’s my nice way of saying old) to give back. Small acts of kindness matter in a big way. It’s amazing to see Phoebe in her “zone” and working in the spirit of service, with only one goal: to help others.

I also learned to unlearn things that we’re told constantly as we “get older.” Just over a year ago, I started my Go Inspire Go Project, my mission was to set up a global platform for people to see and share inspiring stories. My Vision is for viewers to be inspired to use their own resources and talents to help others.

Along the way, we’ve inspired and empowered people to help those featured through our call to action. (There are links at the end of every story on how they could be a part of the change.)

More than once I almost put the project on pause because I was constantly inundated with people asking me, “You’re doing what? Okaaay,” and “How are you going to monetize this?” “You need to have a business plan, now.”

I admit, there were times when I felt like giving up. But people sent story ideas my way…which touched the journalist in me. (My parents wanted me to nix the journalism thing and become a doctor –but what Asian old school parent doesn’t want their children to wear scrubs and make more moola?) That’s when I just started doing what I knew best -- connect, inspire and empower people through my stories, which led to the vision of my project.

Over a year later, I am still humbled, amazed and intrigued by the fact that children like Phoebe are uninhibited and just take risks. As you see in the first video link above, kids dance shamelessly, freely and unabashed. Kids believe they’re artists, singers and astronauts.

But what happens to us when we get older?

Aren’t we supposed to get wiser? More connected? How many times have people put up roadblocks on the path to your dreams? How many times have you been told, “You want to be an artist?” or “How are you going to pay your bills?” While these are valid questions that I had to ask myself every day as I took on this project, I learned to cut back, ask questions and rubix-cube my opportunities to work for me.

I don’t make a lot of money and still work part-time to work on this project, fueled with hope, passion and compassion.

As I sit here at Starbucks and blog, I wonder how many artists, singers and astronauts out there who “could’ve been.” But were thwarted one way or another.

The world is a big place, we are very small. But the opportunities are vast, limitless -- and within our reach.

So with no shame, I’m proud to say, I learned a lot from little Phoebe – Even though it took some imagination, a shift in my thinking to see life through lens of a 5-year-old. Or as Phoebe corrected me recently, I’m 6-and-a-half!”

Boy I’ve got a lot to learn!