Category Archives: StartingBloc

6 Questions That Can Make a Stranger Your New BFF

At the StartingBloc Institute in LA this past February, the organizers had a great challenge.  To take 77 new fellows from all over the world, and in 5 days bring them so close together that the relationships they had formed would last a lifetime.  We did not just need to meet 77 strangers, we needed to build trust and caring.  The StartingBloc Fellowship is lifelong; the relationships you make during the Institute are supposed to grow throughout your life and provide a strong safety net for the many leaps and risks you must take as a leader of social change.  After only 5 days, we left promising to visit, hugging and calling one another family.  And no, we were not on drugs.

Sharon Julian and Courtney

Sharon with her new buddies, Julian and Courtney, all LA StartingBloc Fellows

So how did they do it?

I truly can’t put together a formula for how this happens, but I can share one of our Day 1 exercises that was significant in opening the door to trusting, caring relationships.  After discussing how allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open with another person can help to build trust, we practiced with a series of questions.  An important note here: these questions build on one another in terms of increasing vulnerability.  They should not be asked out of order and they should be asked in a setting which encourages intimacy.

1.  Given your choice of anyone in the world (living or dead), who would you wish to have dinner with?

2. What would constitute your perfect day?

3. Is there something that you have always dreamed of doing?  Why haven’t you done it yet?

4. What is your most treasured memory from your childhood?

5. If you had 1 year left to live, what would you do?

6.  What is your most embarrassing moment?

By having a conversation with a stranger focused on these questions, we were able to delve deeper and develop lasting connections.  I now know Santosh (my partner for this activity) much more intimately than I know friends whom I have known for years.

Santosh at StartingBloc Institute

My new BFF Santosh at StartingBloc LA

I encourage you to give this a try.  Maybe with your partner or maybe with a new friend.  Let me know how it goes.  As Houston Spencer said, “The only change that lasts is the change you create with others”, and in order to build something together with other people, we have to first have trusting relationships.


Be The Match – How Might We Increase the Number of Registered Bone Marrow Donors to Save More Lives?

In January, when my sister celebrated 25 years of survival from childhood Leukemia, I wrote about it here on the blog and encouraged you to register as a bone marrow donor at It only took one week for me to hear back from a friend that as a registered donor herself, took the initiative to help her fiance get registered as well.  I was encouraged by these positive results and hoped that of the 107 people who have viewed that blog post, at least a few more have been inspired to register.

Sharon speaking at the StartingBloc Insitute in LA

Kristeen and I giving our Be The Match pitch at StartingBloc Insitute in LA - Photo Credit: Kwiri Yang

Remembering the success of telling my sister and I’s story on the blog, I used the  opportunity of the Ideas Marketplace at StartingBloc to ask a captive audience of about 90 people to register.   I did this with the help of my new friend Kristeen Singh, one of my group members at StartingBloc.  Kristeen inspired me, giving her bone marrow last December to a 17 year old boy who was suffering from Leukemia.  She appears to have saved his life, and having also worked for the National Marrow Donor Registry, is committed to getting more people registered as potential donors.  Kristeen and I were so pleased and proud to find out that one of our group members, Julian, registered as soon as he returned from the Institute.  This makes me think that for every 100 people I can tell my story to, and ask to register, at least one will follow through and add their name to the Bone Marrow Donor registry.  This is progress, but how can we increase that percentage and get to a tipping point on Bone Marrow registrations?

Kristeen shared with me this new challenge from Open IDEO and the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University.

If you’ve never heard of Open IDEO (as I hadn’t) – it is a really cool open source platform for creativity and collaboration.  Right now this challenge is in the Inspiration phase, which means you can post sources of inspiration that may help generate new solutions (pictures, videos, ideas).  The Inspiration phase is open for 10 more days.  The next phase is Concepting where you are encouraged to share your ideas for how to solve this problem, drawing on what was suggested in the Inspiration phase.  Next, the challenge moves to Evaluation where you can rate and comment on the ideas.

So, now you have 2 ways to get involved in helping to save more lives through Bone Marrow Registry

1. Register as a Bone Marrow Donor at

2. Join the Open IDEO challenge & contribute your ideas on how to register more bone marrow donors

Shout out to Rachel, Hadyn, and LiAnn who are also registered as potential bone marrow donors and serve as inspiration to others.  Also, thank you to Vinod who has donated marrow twice and commented on the previous post.  And thank you to Amy who commented previously to let everyone know that after you register online, all you need to do is a simple cheek swab — no pain, no blood, even a Tewksbury could do it!  And finally, a shout out to my friend Kim, who shared on the last post that she was a kidney donor and was able to save a life without any personal health complications.

Third Week In Review – Sharon & Jay Go Their Separate Ways

This week Sharon went to the StartingBloc Institute in Los Angeles while Jay went to Tucson for a 24 hour bike ride and then spent the rest of the week in Phoenix with his family.

Hours volunteered: 0, but we both did activities that had an emphasis on social good

States:   Arizona, California

Budget: not sure, … still trying to see if I really have to pay a $64 parking ticket

People Visited: Elle Durden   — Sharon also made about 80 new friends from StartingBloc that we hope to visit on the rest of our journey

Nights under the stars: 2 (Jay)

Best meal: Burrito by Tom (Jay), Salad Nicose at Annenburg Community Beach House (Sharon)

Best beer: Lagunitas Cappachino Stout

Manhattan Beach

View Near Elle's house at Manhattan Beach

At StartingBloc in Los Angeles

Today I start a five day Social Innovation Institute through StartingBloc.  I will be spending all day at the Annenburg Community Beach House on Santa Monica State Beach.  Unfortunately it is supposed to rain almost every day that I am here, but we will be spending so much time in the meeting room that it is probably just as well.  If you are in the LA area and are interested in connecting please let me know, or consider attending the StartingBloc Launch Party this Sunday night (basically a coming out party for us young social innovators).

By attending this Institute, I hope to meet other energized young leaders from around the world.  I am excited to hear about their ideas and to expand my network.  Also, I hope to learn more about the intersection between for profit and non profit.  The Great Recession got me thinking about how to create jobs and / or create wealth while still focusing on building community and social good.

Thank you again to my sponsors and for everyone that contributed ideas for how to spend $100M towards addressing climate change.  I look forward to sharing with you what I learn.

Saving the Planet in 1 Week with $100 Million and 4 People

As most of my readers know, I am attending the StartingBloc Social Innovation Institute in LA next week.  This program is geared towards young adults (20 somethings) from around the world who strive to make the world a better place.  With that in mind, before we even arrive at the institute, they have assembled us into small teams and given us a lofty challenge.

Our challenge for the “Long Game” exercise is to figure out how to invest $100 million to have the greatest possible impact on climate change.  We are encouraged to look at: for-profit companies who are developing innovative technology, nonprofits that are addressing environmental protection, as well as investments in policy or advocacy regarding climate change.  We are free to invest the money in any way and encouraged to think outside of the box.

By next week when I arrive in LA for the institute, our group needs to have an investment strategy and be prepared to give an 8 minute presentation on that strategy.  The presentations will be voted on and the team with the most votes wins the game.

So …

What is your experience with the issue of climate change?

What investment, if made in the next 10 years, would reduce carbon emissions to zero or near zero?

What type of investment has the greatest return?  What type of investment would allow us to leverage the most money?

Who should I be talking to about this project?

My Sponsors, continued

Cindi and Morgan

Jay's parents, Cindi and Morgan

Jay’s parents, Cindi and Morgan, are like 2nd parents to me and have been amazingly supportive of all of our endeavors.    You may have seen Morgan on this blog before as he accompanied me to the Community Garden in Phoenix over the Thanksgiving weekend.  We look forward to spending a lot more time with Jay’s parents throughout the Service Driven adventure as we use Phoenix as a home base.

Uncle Nathan and Aunt Mariel

Uncle Nathan and Aunt Mariel

Uncle Nathan and Aunt Mariel were kind enough to give us a donation in the form of a Visa Gift Card which allowed us to use part of it for the Sponsorship and then part of it in getting camping supplies for our road trip.  Nathan and Mariel recently got married and we were so excited to welcome Nathan into the family officially.  We will miss living so close to them.


Terri, an old picture of us

Terri and I have been friends since I was born.  Seriously.  She was born 3 days before me and our parents brought us together as babies.  We have followed similar paths, doing Girl Scouts together, going to college at a close by state school and then returning to the DC metro area and pursuing grad school.  Terri and Phil recently got engaged, which is an exciting reason for us to circle back to Virginia in August.

my cousin Karl and his daughter Samantha (Amy not pictured)

My cousin Amy and her husband Karl were also generous in giving us a Visa Gift card which we were then able to us towards both the StartingBloc sponsorship and supplies for our trip.  Amy, who worked in publishing, was also one of the first subscribers to the blog and has been helpful in advice on writing and publishing.  We will miss seeing our east coast relatives while we are travelling primarily in the West, and will particularly miss seeing Samantha as often, as she is growing and changing every day.


And last but certainly not least is my friend, Carolyn Ha, for which I do not have a recent picture because I have not seen her very much since High School.  Carolyn was one of my best friends at TJ.  We used to talk about getting into TJ on the “ditz quota” as we skipped through the halls and gave out gold stars for good fashion.  She went on to be a Pharmacist and had clearly been just going along for the fun on my joke about the ditz quota.  Carolyn is one of those great responsible, smart, and determined young people that are going to be the leaders of my generation.

A BIG Thank You To My Sponsors

My sponsors chartWhen I started asking for sponsorship for StartingBloc, a young leaders program that will kick off Service Driven next month, I had faith that my family and friends would come through for me.  I believed that they would support me and this initiative because I have such an amazing group of friends and family.  Thank you so much to everyone that contributed.  I look forward to sharing what I learn next month.  For all my sponsors, I will volunteer in your name during the trip, so expect to see another blog post with your name on it down the road.

Now a little more about who my sponsors are:

My parents, Melinda and John

My parents are always the first to show support for my ideas and adventures.  They stepped up right away with a donation to get the sponsorships rolling.

LinMarie, my AmeriCorps buddy

I met LinMarie through the AmeriCorps program in Flagstaff, Arizona (she’s seen here standing outside our old house in Flagstaff).  LinMarie and I were great partners through our year in AmeriCorps, working together whenever we could and offering support.  LinMarie has an amazing commitment to service and I really look forward to seeing her when we get to Arizona.

Son, my date for prom and go to guy

Son, who I met freshman year of high school, has always been an inspiration for me.  He came to this country as a small child from Vietnam and earned his citizenship during high school.  A true genius, he was substitute teaching for his mom’s college courses as a teenager.  This year he will become a doctor, working for the Air Force, focused on emergency medicine.

Uncle Chris, my cousin Stephanie, and Aunt Madelon

Another of my sponsors was Aunt Madelon.  Madelon is very generous, last year she and Stephanie baked cookies and bread and put on a fabulous bake sale that raised several hundred dollars for the American Cancer Society.

Tiffany, CVN's Chair


I’ve only known Tiffany since early 2010, but through working together on Community Volunteer Network, I’ve come to admire her greatly.  She is a true servant leader, focusing on recognizing others and trying to maximize their talents.  This year she is also the Chair of the Arlington County Fair Board, so the Arlingtonians have a great fair to look forward to this summer!


Maria, a fellow ODKM graduate

Maria was in the ODKM program with me and I got to know her over the last year as well.  She is a passionate person with a big heart and I learned a lot from her in a short amount of time.  Even after the trauma of being in a hit and run car accident she managed to get a check in the mail to send me a donation.

Jay's grandmother, Millie

Jay’s Grandmother, Millie, has always been so supportive of everything we do.  She sent me a graduation gift which I was able to put towards the StartingBloc program fee so I am counting her amongst my sponsors.