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!