By Victor Romos, DC Middle & High School Summer Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
Have you ever tried to keep 20 youths’ attention during an activity for more than 10 minutes? It’s hard.
My summer with Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) was fantastic, unexpected, and transforming. Seeing the youth interact with each other was fascinating to experience. The true dynamics of what it means to be family were exemplified by those who attended the DC Middle & High School Summer Program. There was never a dull moment with AALEAD. To be able to share this time with the DC middle and high school youth was more than I could have asked for. We grew together as a family. I was taught to be patient, give back to others, and to think outside the box.
But it all started with that first day of meeting the youth…
To step into the room full of youth was terrifying. There were millions of things running through my head – most of which were thoughts of failure, feelings that the youth would not like me, or that I would not be able to complete my role as a support system for the youth. I could not have been more wrong. I stressed, smiled, laughed, and cried. It was incredibly humbling to work with such inspiring youth; to share this time with them and the staff was life-changing. And we had as much fun as we could!
It was a bit of an adjustment on my side. I have never met or interacted with city folk, especially youth from a different background. But as the days and weeks went on, and we developed lessons and workshops together, the feeling of being “new” quickly went away. Each day, I looked forward to seeing everyone’s faces and getting ready to start the day’s work! It was fantastic to see the youth begin to open up and be themselves around me. We began to develop mutual respect, and I will honor that always.
We began to feel more like a family! Something that is hard to do, especially for me.
To witness the incredible work they can conceptualize and then make it a reality was moving. I saw the incredibly huge hearts they each have; when they worked together, they were able to inspire younger youth to think about tough subjects like conflict management, teamwork, identity & race, mental health and how to deal with stress. I was able to learn about their passions, their career pathways, and their favorite activities. To see everyone’s presentations about what their future plans are was inspiring.
One of my favorite memories with the program was when we volunteered and cleaned the streets of Anacostia. I believed it challenged the youth’s views about their community, and they were passionate about making a difference. I have learned so much more from the youth that I would have gotten from a classroom (ironically, we were in a classroom most of the summer). Another great memory was the first time that I saw everyone in the group begin to open up about their feelings: things that made them angry during the summer, things that they felt remorse about, and things that they were able to solve and work through their frustrations as a group.
There is so much love in this group. I felt it. My supervisor felt it. The thing I hope the youth take away from this summer is to never forget what they have and can do for each other. They are a support system for one another, a family outside of their houses. Home is where the heart is. The DC middle and high school youth know exactly how to bring their hearts wherever they go. From their lessons, I know I can do the same.
Thank you for an incredible summer. This won’t be a goodbye. See you soon!