By Heein Choi, Development & Communications Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
It is amazing how much can happen over such a short period of time. For the little time I have been interning for Asian American LEAD (AALEAD), I have learned from the youth, my supervisors, and my peers. I was fortunate enough to experience AALEAD as a whole these past seven weeks. Starting from the DC office, I saw the grueling process that staff had to endure in order to make all of AALEAD’s programs possible. From countless hours spent logging in data and requesting funds from foundations, AALEAD’s staff does a remarkable job that often goes without recognition. Often times they work longer hours and juggle multiple tasks to make sure all of the programs are going as planned. The dedication and time they invest is all a testament to how much they love and are willing to sacrifice for the youth they serve.
On Mondays, I always visited the DC Elementary School Summer Program at Thomson Elementary School. One aspect of the kids that was the most surprising was how energetic and active they were. Whatever they did, the kids always did with energy. The excitement that the kids bring everyday shows how much AALEAD means to them. When I arrived at Thomson for the first time, I tried matching the youth’s energy, and before the day ended, I was exhausted and ready to pass out on the ground. To be able to do this on a consistent basis every single day, the DC staff is amazing.
In addition to visiting the DC Program, I got the opportunity to bond with the youth every Thursday at the MD Summer Kinect Program. There is no other word that describes these students better than welcoming. Every single one of them tries to create an environment where they embrace everyone. Nice and caring, these students made me feel that I was part of AALEAD for multiple years. They embrace and care for one another, forge a feeling of community, and create a sense of belonging in everyone they meet. The amount of student leaders in the MD Summer Kinect Program always surprised me. Whenever there was an event or activity, the high school leaders were the one to organize them and make sure the kids enjoyed themselves.
Although working from the office and visiting the programs were great, the highlight of my summer was the 3rd Annual AALEAD APA Youth Summit. The students hosted this event in hopes of bringing life to issues that Asian Americans face everyday. Workshops ranging from stereotypes to writing music, all the activities were relevant to how individuals can express themselves. The poetry workshop stood out as my favorite moment of the day. What started off as an awkward beginning, evolved into a fruitful discussion of race, identity, and stereotypes. As the students began to express their thoughts through their own poetry, it became evident that these youth experience the same racial issues that many adults struggle with everyday. Issues of who they perceived they were clashed against what society told them to be, and incidents of dealing with racial barriers all came out as verbal art from each student’s mouth. AALEAD has created a safe space for these kids to discuss issues that many are forced to keep to themselves.
I asked a youth what he thought of AALEAD and he simply responded with “family.” As I pondered on how I would describe my feelings toward AALEAD, I always ended up with the same word—jealousy. As the Youth Summit came to a close, I couldn’t help but wish I could trade spots with many of these students to have this experience again next year. I was terribly jealous of the fact that these youth can continue to grow and thrive in an environment that encourages all of their students to achieve their full potential. I was jealous at how most of these students had reliable leaders to discuss any issues that they were facing. However, after some time, the envy quickly turned to gratitude. I am honored to have been part of an organization that puts so much emphasis on youth advancement. From developing a shy kid to an outspoken leader and creating an environment for youth to make everlasting bonds, AALEAD is changing students’ lives every single day. Each staff member at these programs has a genuine interest in every single kid, and the leadership in every facet of the organization is strong. The impact AALEAD will have will only continue to expand and grow.
AALEAD is home to many—including me.