Joining the Galileo community means connecting with a lifelong network of like-minded, mission-driven changemakers. We’re honored to share one such story of how three Galileans came together to make a difference.
What resulted is Listen for a Change (LFAC)—an organization with a mission to use personal storytelling to bridge socio-political divides by creating a platform for marginalized voices. Check out our Q&A with its founder and first board members—Thai, Molly, and Jimmy—all former Galileo staff.
Tell us who you are!
Thai Chu: Founder and Executive Director of Listen for a Change. Former Program Director of Summer Camps @ The Tech at Galileo.
Molly Maxwell: Listen for a Change Board Member. Former Associate Director of Customer Experience & Retention at Galileo.
Jimmy Simpson Jr.: Listen for a Change Board Member, Emcee, and Story Coach. Partnerships Lead for YouthTruth, a nonprofit helping school and district leaders across the country make positive change to their climate and culture based on their communities’ feedback. Former Galileo Camp Director.
What is Listen for a Change?
[Thai] Listen for a Change is a place for people to share and connect with the stories that matter most in our lives. I founded this nonprofit so we can gather around experiences that have profoundly shaped who we are, how we love, how we parent, how we vote, but that we don’t share out of fear for how it would be received. The goal is to use stories as vehicles to open up hearts and minds—both through telling and listening to them. We coach people on how to harness their personal narrative and share their stories—on oftentimes divisive, politicized issues—in a way that touches upon the universal human experience behind it. We also challenge people to be more open and empathic listeners to the lived experiences of others, even if their personal values don’t align.
The organization holds events like storytelling workshops or Story Hours, where we work with three storytellers to prepare and share their stories to a large audience in a performance venue. Each storyteller also chooses a nonprofit fighting for change around the social issue(s) relevant to their story, and we help raise funds and awareness for these changemakers.
What inspired you to found Listen for a Change, and how did the Galileo community—specifically Molly and Jimmy—play a role in that?
[Thai] I spent my childhood closed off, and internalized a lot of what I should have proudly been expressing as part of my identity. I grew up in Eastside San Jose amongst Vietnamese and Mexican families who shared a collective immigrant experience and lived full, though challenging, lives. My parents saved up money to send me to be the first in the family to attend a private, Catholic, predominantly White, high school where I never felt like I truly belonged. I felt the personal impact of not having my story heard at a young age. It took many years of education and professional growth to get me to a place where I could turn those experiences into an organized service for others.
In 2015, I had the idea to gather my friends for a holiday party in a tiny flower shop where we would listen and give to the work of three friends who were running nonprofits. Each person went up there and told incredibly powerful, personal stories of experiences that inspired them to go into combating poverty, fighting for education reform, and advocating for asylum seekers, respectively. There was power and change in that room that I had never experienced before.
Then in 2016 while working at Galileo, we had a segment called “I am Galileo” at an HQ staff meeting where Molly shared the story of her family’s journey raising a transgender child. I was completely engrossed and saw people opening up to hearing her experience. I had already been planning my next holiday giving event—I knew I had my first storyteller.
Later that year during the elections, Jimmy sat down with me and we talked about what we could do. I knew Jimmy had a background in competitive speech and storytelling, so after telling him about an early idea for Listen for a Change, we knew we had to work together on this. I’m lucky to have both Molly and Jimmy as founding members of our Board of Directors, and they wear many hats! They’re also involved in coaching, emceeing, and supporting this movement in their respective spheres of influence.
Jimmy, can you tell us more about how you felt when Thai shared his idea, and why you felt compelled to be a part of it?
[Jimmy] I knew right away I had to be involved. Thai found a way to blend my personal passions of storytelling, social justice, and advocacy. After attending my first LFAC event, Thai couldn’t keep me away! The power of those stories impacted me for days following the event, and I wanted to find a way to be a part of this in any capacity that I could.
Molly, how has choosing to tell your story—across multiple platforms, including LFAC—impacted you?
[Molly] The first time I told my story was at Galileo, and it was purely for the purpose of reminding our HQ about the impact camp can have and the vital role we all play in shaping that. But after the experience of opening myself to my coworkers like that, I saw firsthand the power of what storytelling can do to deepen relationships and create connections that otherwise may not exist. I have had that same experience with every instance of telling my story and of hearing other storytellers.
Doors have also opened since I started telling my story. I have had the opportunity to weigh in on the direction of Kaiser’s support for trans youth, was a keynote speaker for a women’s conference, and met with schools who want to get better at understanding and celebrating gender diversity. The most exceptional experiences have been with those who told me they thought they understood what it meant to be transgender but now they have a different, deeper understanding. Knowing they will carry that into the world with them is what makes this all worthwhile.
I see the world differently now too, having heard others’ stories. It is the power of perspective shifts that drives me to spread this impact as far and wide as possible.
What are a few pieces of powerful feedback that event attendees have shared with you?
[Thai] One moment that stands out was at our first official story hour, when Molly’s dad came to support her. That night, my friend Arlett also told a story about her father’s dangerous journey crossing the Mexico-US border and finding a home for their family in the Bay Area. After that story, Molly’s dad told me he worked with several Mexican immigrants. He’d never had a chance to listen to one of their stories before, and he was grateful. I find this experience to be pretty common—people come to listen to one story and find themselves surprised by another they’d never heard before.
Can each of you tell us what has surprised you most on your journey of forming this organization?
[Jimmy] The people—our LFAC community. I am constantly in awe of the people that Thai brings—whether they are storytellers, audience members, or fellow members of the board. The perspectives that they bring are invaluable and help make the organization stronger.
[Molly] The immediacy of the ripple effect. It is impossible to count the connections that have been made across 14 Story Hour events in 4 regions, while highlighting and supporting over 30 non-profits. Like Thai shared, even the impact on my own dad was powerful. He wanted to personally connect with each storyteller and just kept telling me how impressed and moved he was. It surprised me and proved to me that what we are doing has real power.
[Thai] I set out to do this work with the expectation that those with the furthest ideologies and political leanings from me would be most impacted by the personal stories behind social justice issues. Yet, I’m constantly surprised by how much I (and other people who consider themselves liberal) walk away challenged, galvanized, and reflecting on how “progressive” we thought we were. There is no right or wrong to a human experience.
A few years out from your role as a Camp Director, what stands out to you as unique about the Galileo community?
[Jimmy] The amount of support that you receive in the Galileo community is unmatched by any other organization that I have experienced. I am still in contact with so much of my own camp staff—we celebrate special achievements together and I am still happily writing recommendation letters. I also see the Galileo community coming together outside of camp. I see it in “congratulations” posts on LinkedIn or Facebook. I see it in attendance at Listen for a Change events. I hear about it from friends who are still on the Camp Director team. The Galileo community is one that I will always be grateful for, and one that I know that I can always count on.
As you all know, our mission is to develop campers and staff into innovators, and we hope that social justice is one of the areas where Galileans can have the greatest immediate and future impact. How do you view that connection as a former staff member?
[Thai] Often when we think of innovation, we focus on STEM education, which is an incredibly important form of innovation. Yet, I think there’s less reward and funding for social innovation. How do we get people to change their health habits? How do we improve access to quality education? How do we bridge divided relationships, let alone communities? Our society isn’t imperfect merely because of a lack of technology. There are creative social systems and paradigms that are waiting for the next social innovator to come along and shift the conversation. That’s the beauty of the Galileo mindset. That process can be applied to fixing social problems in a very real way. Sure, Galileo and Da Vinci were innovators. But so were Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Malcolm X. In fact, I think that stagnant relationships and structural injustice are where we need the most innovation.
How can we best support Listen for a Change’s efforts?
[Molly] We’d love to hear directly from you, and you can also sign up for our newsletter to stay in-the-know about new offerings, events, and volunteering. Consistent support is always welcomed too, so consider becoming a member of our Loyal Listeners Club!
Where do you hope this organization is five years from now?
[Thai] On The Ellen Show. But really, there are several programs I’d love to build out. We’re currently rolling out workplace strategies for authentic, results-driven solutions to increasing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the workplace. We have a social campaign where people post their “Earshots” accompanied by their untold story in an effort to break down the stigma and barriers to having deep conversations about tough topics. The ultimate goal is to scale out programming to politically-polarized regions of this country. I believe that every human has a benevolent, earnest desire to connect to and understand their neighbors from different perspectives.