October 24, 2012

Boy, 6, with Brain Cancer Brings Halloween to Sick Kids

Nico Shopping for Sick Friends. Photos: Marlene Castro
Six-year-old Nico Castro from San Bruno, Calif., isn't letting his battle with brain cancer affect his spirit of giving this Halloween. After his doctor gave him the green light to go trick-or-treating thanks to a break in his chemotherapy, he was jumping for jack-o'-lanterns, what a treat! But here's where it gets tricky.

“Even though he's worse off than some of these other kids in the hospital, he's worried about them and oh they can't go trick-or-treating and oh they can't get candy,” said Nico's mother, Marlene Castro, in a proud, but somber voice.

This worried little Halloween hero with a big heart asked his parents if they could buy costumes and treats for the kids in the cancer ward. "I was sad they wouldn't have candy," Nico explained. Marlene and her husband Raul Castro were moved by his thoughtfulness, however, it would be impossible to buy costumes and goodies for the more than 50 sick kids in the hospital. The family took a big financial hit after Nico's diagnosis.

Nico knows what it feels like to have to sit on the sidelines during the holidays. Last November, instead of celebrating, he was in the hospital too ill to take part in the festivities. He was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, cancer of the cerebellum. But during this scary time, all he could think about was if he would be healthy enough to celebrate his favorite holiday -- Halloween.

So in true superhero fashion, they took action and started a costume drive. "We were so surprised from the support outside of our community. The community really came together and packages of costumes are coming from Pennsylvania, Illinois and Texas," Raul said. “The costumes, the little trinkets that the kids in the beds are getting...just an instant and it changes their demeanor and whole attitude about being sick.”

Beware: grab a Kleenex before watching this Halloween hero's story:



It's amazing to see how the community comes together when they're given a healthy dose of inspiration. After meeting Nico, I quickly realized his superhero power is inspiring people to expand their minds, be more compassionate and to open their hearts.

After an initial call with Nico's mother to set up this shoot, I couldn't help but pitch in. I made some calls to local businesses and told them about Nico's story. Sparky's Balloons in San Francisco donated the festive bouquet of balloons and a goodie bag filled with spooky toys and trinkets. My good friend Jessica Chang reached out to Daydreams and Nightmares, a local costume shop in Modesto, Calif., that donated 20 costumes. Green Apple Books in San Francisco donated a $25 gift card after hearing that Nico likes to read. Our Facebook friend, Amanda Rivas from San Jose, Calif., saw our FB shout out, donated 15 costumes and came along to our shoot to surprise Nico. Thanks Rivas family!

Since my nonprofit Go Inspire Go brings you stories of everyday heroes, leverages social media to build community and ultimately inspire action, we had a few tricks up our sleeves -- so I reached out to super mom Amy Pankratz, founder of Wonder Capes in Sioux Falls, S.D., and BAM, she quickly crafted a custom Batman cape for Nico and two other capes for his brother, 11, and sister, 8. I told her that Nico likes Batman because the mask covers his bald head. She told me that made her sad, so she made an extra trip to the fabric store and crafted a mask too.

The donations and kind acts continue to pour in. My friends asked if we could go to the hospital on Halloween to hand out goodies to the kids. The community has pitch in to offset some of the medical costs. More than $1,200 has trickled in.

It is hard to sit back and not take action after meeting this inspiring family who embody the real meaning of family, generosity and being present. "If you would have asked me a year ago that my son would be battling brain cancer and I would be going to the hospital daily, I would have never believed it," Marlene explained. "Ironically, every year we would give donations to St. Jude's Hospital for sick children."

It's easy to see where Nico got his kindness, compassion and giving spirit. When you hear of Nico's story, you can't help but reflect on your own life. As a kid, I thought Halloween was about ghosts, goblins, candy and costumes. But as I get older, I realize that at its core, this hallowed holiday is more about giving, not just with candy, but sharing and revering in these little moments with each other.

We grew up on welfare, so buying a cheap $5 costume was expensive to us. I have vivid memories of autumn. I can smell the morning dew on the vibrant leaves that crinkled under my little feet -- orange, yellow, brown. My brothers and I were excited for my auntie Hong to get off work and take us costume shopping at the local Thrifty's and Newberry. I remember playing with the flash lights, Halloween Pez dispensers and toys in the store aisles that I would have to put back because we didn't have the money to buy them. Still, we were happy because each of us left with a costume.

I never told Auntie Hong how this little gesture and the inexpensive costumes meant the world to us. That's all we cared about. Experiences and connections and simple acts of generosity are what this holiday is truly about. Ironically, Auntie Hong passed away of breast cancer at age 47. I didn't realize it at the time, but Auntie Hong's kind seasonal act had a profound impact on how I see the world today. Her kindness was passed along for many holidays to come. My parents didn't understand or celebrate Halloween or many other holidays, so I made a concerted effort to make holidays a big deal for my younger cousins and now for my nephew and niece. It's inspired me to be kinder to others, give what I can, and to be present and live every day with the attitude of gratitude all year round. It's interesting how the little moments in life come full circle. Now that I have a voice and a platform, I'm using it to multiply the deeds of superheroes like Nico.


Nico has undergone extensive surgery to remove his brain tumor, which was about four-and-a-half inches big. Doctors were able to remove most of the tumor from his cerebellum, but couldn't take out the rest of it because it was attached to his brain stem. Meanwhile, doctors believe the prognosis is good, but worry about how the treatment will affect Nico's standard of living in the long run.

This one's for you Auntie Hong. Nico, my Halloween hero, thank you for your thoughtfulness and allowing me to say thank you to my Auntie by telling your story!


Please don't sit out this holiday. Take action.

Take Action:

Update: Nico has collected 85 NEW costumes & 60 USED costumes!

    1. Be a HALLOWEEN HERO: Donations can be made at:
        C&C Automotive Refinishing
        860 San Mateo Ave.
        San Bruno, CA 94066

    2. Write a letter to a cancer patient to show support.

    3. Hug your child or a loved one. Tell them you love them.

* Follow us on: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest & Instagram

October 16, 2012

GIG Spark: Get Out and Enjoy Nature

There is no better way to relax, recharge and reconnect to your spirit than unplugging your gadgets and getting some R&R in nature. From Tweeting to Instagramming, there are so many cool things that are keeping us from connecting the old school way -- especially amongst our youth who grew up with electronics in their phalanges.

Toan's favorite nature pics from GIG's Instagram feed

I love social media, but I try to keep it balanced with exercise and of course going on walks along the water and being enveloped in the trees. It was my personal goal to spend more time with mother nature this year. I always feel these indescribable feelings of stillness and peace afterward.

So, naturally, I was delighted to see Rachel Choi's GIG Spark (Lesson on Compassion) submission. Her goal is to inspire people to disconnect from technology and connect with each other (after you read this blog and see this video, of course). Being in nature is like a long meditation and the best part is that it's free.

Gigster: Rachel Choi, 17
Where: Hercules, Calif.
Spark: Get out and enjoy nature



GIG Spark was developed to create compassion through the exercise of brainstorming, problem solving and experiencing the joy of using your power to help others. Rachel shares her thoughts about what this particular experience meant to her:

"Something GIG Spark taught me? Don't stop yourself from doing something just because you think it's not going to change anything. Whether what you do is monumental or small, whether it affects a million people or just one person, what's important is that you did something. It's human nature to resist change, but at least you presented a chance to plant a seed of change in someone's mind."

We hope this video inspires you to round up some friends and family and enjoy nature.

TAKE ACTION:

1. Go camping

2. Go on a walk by yourself or with loved ones

3. Do what is in your power to help Empowering World Change, a nonprofit that spreads the message of sustainability and empowering kids for global change.

About Go Inspire Go (GIG):

GIG is about inspiring small actions that ripple out to meaningful changes. As we've experienced, the ripples continue to billow out, one story, one person, one act at a time.

FEELING INSPIRED? Make your own GIG SPARK and share with us. We may share it with the world.

As part of GIG's mission to inspire our viewers to discover their power, we developed GIG Spark: A Lesson on Compassion. The goal is to spark action in everyone that witnesses your good deed. We want you to identify a problem in your community and be the change by capturing your action in a short 1-1:30 minute video. Use your passion and creativity to produce a GIG Spark and inspire viewers with your story! What can YOU do?

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October 11, 2012

How to be Happy Like a Child

I admit it...
I'm a self proclaimed A-D-D, multi-task-master with looong to-do lists.

Long Lists of To-Do's

At any given moment, I have 20+ windows open on my desktop and often forget what I'm searching for while opening up another browser to find an email in another account. I check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks while waiting for my Final Cut Editing Program to render -- you video editors out there feel my pain. Did I mention, I also just picked up my iPhone to check some other apps? (I really did.)

Omm Writer App
To stay on task, I'm blogging in OmmWriter, a writer's app I recently discovered, that clears your screen and plays zen-like music.

With all the flash, video and pictures proliferating the wild wild web, it's hard to catch my attention as I am sure it is to capture your eyeballs for more than 30 minutes on any given site. But this Facebook post by our friends at Service Space made me pause, smile and inspired me to blog… about happiness.

We all search for it and make excuses of why we don't have it. We all can rewind and think about something that happened in our past that creates our bad attitude and bad habits. Likewise, we can look into the future and think our happiness is hinged upon a bigger paycheck, finding the right partner or _____Fill in the blank_____.

The truth is, we have the power to change our thoughts no matter what situation we're in. That is why I LOVE THIS quote by Deepak Chopra. I stumbled upon this sweet message and picture posted by our friends at Karma Tube.


The quote: "Be happy for no reason, like a child. If you are happy for a reason, you're in trouble, because that reason can be taken from you." ~ Deepak Chopra

This resonated with me on many levels. Just last week, I was on a walk in my quaint San Francisco neighborhood and was completely in the moment. I stopped and asked myself why I was smiling. I remember being happy just for the sake of being happy.


I've had naysayers - aka "haters" - tell me, "It's easy for you to be happy, you have nice clothes, lots of friends and a job." While that may be true in my current situation, there have been times where that hasn't been the case. Growing up in bad neighborhoods when I was a child, I wore lots of hand-me-downs from my two older brothers. My mother, being resourceful, used the tattered clothes to stuff the burlap rice bags for pillows. After leaving my TV reporting gig to start up Go Inspire Go, there have been times where I had $0.80 in my bank account. Yep, 80 cents. And there was a time when I lost four family members in one short year.

Looking back during those times, I do remember many happy moments. Most of the time, I didn't let the situation define my happiness. As one of my favorite authors, Eckardt Tolle, said, "It is what it is." I've learned to surrender to things that happen around me because I can't worry about what I can't control. That's a good start. Instead, I focus on what I'm grateful for.

It seems like my gratitude list is longer than my woe-is-me list:

1. I'm grateful for the family that I still have in my life.
2. I'm grateful for my volunteers, viewers and everyday heroes we feature on GIG.
3. I'm grateful for my Skype sessions with my niece and nephew.
4. I'm grateful for the crisp autumn air.
5. I'm grateful for my breath.

These are just five things I'm grateful for. I made it a habit to log five things I'm grateful for in my gratitude journal before going to bed every night. Oh I have one more to add to the list - I'm grateful for the picture that inspired this blog.

Still Shot from Film: The Weeping Camel/Cinematographer: Luigi Falorni

As adults, there are so many distractions: social media, climbing the ladder (whatever the ladder may be), material things, living up to the status quo… the list goes on. I guess as the aforementioned picture shows, we have a lot to unlearn as adults and re-learn from children. I know I do. If this makes you happy, please share with someone you love!

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October 4, 2012

Sparking Compassion and Inspiring Service in Our Youth

It’s a special effervescent experience being around kids. You know that warm feeling that makes you smile wider and feel more carefree.

Imagine that multiplied 500 times -- that’s what I’m feeling now. I was recently invited to present Go Inspire Go’s GIG SPARK (Lesson on Compassion) to 500 kids (kindergarten to fifth grade) at Sun Valley Elementary School in San Rafael, Calif. What an honor!

Photos: Toan Lam

The theme: Community Heroes. I’ve been invited to speak in front of prestigious crowds of adults, but never this many children. I’m proficient in public speaking, but worried if the presentation Kala Shah, a mother of a Sun Valley student, and I put together would hold the attention of 500 little people for 30 minutes. Would they pay attention? Would they get our message? Would they take action?


Words can’t describe the tingles, endorphins and excitement – the chills – that I felt during that presentation -- inspiring the children to “Use their POWER to help others.”


It is one of my most memorable experiences as a journalist, public speaker and inspirator


We created a video to share the experience in hopes of inspiring you to share this blog with at least one young person in your life and perhaps spark your own GIG Spark:



During the presentation, I showed them two video examples. The first video we showcased was a GIG original feature (of regular everyday heroes). This video exemplifies GIG’s goal: to inspire viewers to discover, see and share inspiring stories, then to use their power to help others. Naturally, we shared Part 3 of then kindergartener, Phoebe Russell’s story of how she inspired her community to enable the San Francisco Food Bank to dole out more than 150,000 meals. It all started with five-year-old Phoebe’s letter writing campaign to collect aluminum cans to help feed the hungry in her community:



The second video featured a GIG Spark example. Mini Rasekhy, 14, wanted to inspire smiles, so she and her mother took to the streets and used her voice to spread cheer:



I’m impressed with Julie Harris, Sun Valley’s principal, parents like Kala Shah and the faculty and staff at this special school that goes beyond teaching the basics of arithmetic, science, literature, etc. They inspire good citizens with the three Rs: Respect, Responsibility and Ready to Learn.

Sun Valley Principal Julie Harris getting students ready for the assembly with 3 Rs

I still wonder how this presentation will resonate within them in the future. As my university lit professor, Carolyn Weber would say, “I am shooting arrows out into the world, I wonder where they will land.”

This experience taught me a lot about children. I learned never to underestimate the potential and capacity of a young mind to grasp concepts of compassion and action. I learned that if you have a positive message that inspires goodness, you can captivate the audience of any age.


I am honored and amazed that we captured their attention for 30 minutes!

I can’t wait to see how this presentation will resonate with them through their GIG SPARKS and actions of compassion that they’re learning through this experience.

Many parents tell me they want their child to get civically engaged, but don't know how. Likewise, many of my students tell me they want to do better for their community, but don't know how. Well, GIG SPARK is your answer. Join us in making a video on this LESSON ON COMPASSION.

I believe kids are naturally in tune with kindness, giving and service. Wouldn’t it be great if we adults paused right this minute and channel our inner child and do one kind thing for another person?

Kala Shah, Toan Lam, Erin Sitt, Akina Chargaulaf

As Maya Angelou said, "If you know better, you do better." Now you know, please help our youth do better.

What can YOU do?!

Take Action:
1. Many adults tell me they want to inspire the spirit of service in their children, but don’t know how. Here is the answer. Show our presentation to at least one young person in your life and send us your GIG SPARK: info@goinspirego.com

2. This presentation inspired Kala Shah to create a new “Community Heroes Club” to brainstorm service projects. She will share the GIG SPARKS that are ignited from the club via GIG. Make it your gig to start a Community Heroes club and let us know about it.

3. Be kind to one another. Let us know what kind things you’re experiencing via our social networks: Twitter & Facebook