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As many of you now know, Asian American LEAD has finally expanded to Northern Virginia!  As we announced at the Annual Dinner and on our blog, we have begun serving youth in Fairfax County at Annandale High School!  We are so thankful to the staff at Annandale High School for their support and partnership in meeting the needs of youth at their school.

You may not know that this has also been an exciting year of expansion for AALEAD in DC and Montgomery County, MD!  We have added a middle school and high school program focused on Vietnamese youth in DC, thanks to a grant from the DC Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs.  In Montgomery County, we transitioned a lunch program we had been holding at Newport Mill Middle School to an After School Program and we added a new lunch program at Wheaton High School!

All of us at AALEAD are so grateful to our community of supporters who have made all of this expansion possible.  Without you, we would not be able to continue to strengthen our programming and grow to meet the needs of more of the low-income and underserved Asian American youth in our community.  Thank you for being a part of AALEAD!

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AALEAD Accepts the Challenge!

By Antwoine Johnson, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Last Thursday, during Montgomery County’s spring break, the AALEAD High School Program youth from MD and DC took to the grounds of the University of Maryland, College Park to tackle the Ropes Challenge Course.

Students come from different schools (and states!) and do not get to see each other regularly. Spring break was a time for our youth to come together and to have an awesome family reunion. Like with all reunions, there are some old faces and and new additions to the family. We had Blair and Einstein HS  students, and our new youth from Wheaton and DC Programs. These relationships were  further strengthened and solidified by the ropes course. The goal of the ropes course was to build stronger bonds through teamwork and trust while fostering individual growth through the physical and mental demands of the course.

First, the facilitators had us pair off, one person as a perch and the other person as a bird. It was an ongoing game throughout the day where, if the facilitators said, “FIND YOUR PERCH”  the bird would have to piggy back the perch. If you were the last person to find your perch, you had to introduce yourself to the group. Once you were out, you had to play “defense” and force another group to be last. It was quite fun!

We had other icebreakers that were both fun and physical.  One game forced AALEAD students to stand in a circle with pool noodles and a person in the center. The person in the center had to share something they liked.  If  a person on the outside shared the same interest  they had to go into the circle, grab a noodle, and gently hit other people with the pool noodle that shared the same interest in the circle.  We had a few rounds of this game. It was exhilarating and kept everyone on their toes.

Next was the tight rope exercise, which was very challenging. We were separated into “birds” and “perches”, and each group had to start on opposite side of the tight rope. The task for the group was to meet in the center while being connected to another person at all times.  It was accomplished, but not easily.

All of the team-building exercises taught the importance of trust, communication, and encouragement. We had to rely on each other to  accomplish the task at hand.  At the end of the day, students overcame fears, broke down some social barriers, and it was very nice to see AALEAD students come together as a family to get things done.

It was a wonderful field trip! Special shout out to the professional and caring staff at the University of Maryland, College Park Challenge Course!

Lights, Camera, Action!

By Francine Gorres, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

We are  proud to announce that our MD High School and Middle School youth have finally completed their Youth Media Projects for the spring! They have worked incredibly hard trying to put this together. From learning about pre-production and creating storyboards and messages, to editing and camera work, the students had real hands on experience in what it takes to be a part of a film production!

Some students directed on set, while others mixed sound and audio. We had several actors and actresses, and students working lights to get the perfect picture.

Middle School

In AALEAD, we have many different kinds of students. Students wanted to create a video that featured the many different faces, stories, and personalities of their program. It was their first attempt to answer an important question, “Who am I?” Through these discussions, students were able to learn more about their peers and about themselves and share some of the stories with the world. So AALEADers…who are you?

High School

From the high school perspective, life seems to speed up and get harder with each passing year. AALEAD students wanted to address the model minority stereotype and how it affects Asian American youth. We discussed academic struggles, parental pressures, making friends, stereotypes, and even identifying with being “Asian.” Not one Asian American student had exactly the same story. They really struggled trying to put it all together to convey one message.  They finally decided to focus on a story of hope and following your individual passion–even if it’s not what most people expect from you.

We hope you enjoy the videos! Please stay tuned for a future update on personal interviews from the student actors, directors, and editors!

Special thank you to Wyman and Amy from DC APA Film and to the Gandhi Brigade for your support and helping to make this possible. Congratulations to all of the AALEAD students involved in the video productions! Well done!

AALEAD Releases FY13 Annual Report

Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) releases its FY13 Annual Report. Please check the link below to access the report.

Asian American LEAD FY13 Annual Report

We thank all of our Board Members, staff, mentors, volunteers, interns, funder, and community supporters who stay committed to our mission of serving low-income and underserved Asian American youth who deserve all opportunities!

Want more? Stay connected by liking us on Facebook (Asian American LEAD) and following us on Twitter/Instagram (@aalead).

Welcome to today’s Staff Spotlight on an individual who is a jack of all trades here at Asian American LEAD (AALEAD)!  I would like to introduce to you AALEAD’s Manager of Accounting & Administration, Raj Chinta. Raj has been working with AALEAD for over five years now.  He maintains the organization’s finances, but that is not all!  He also manages human resources and tech support. Raj is the go-to man when there is a problem at the DC office. Check out the Q&A below! *Photo: Second from the left in the back at our 15th Annual Dinner in March!

Q:What is your role at AALEAD?
A: I am in charge of Finance and Administration which includes HR and IT.  I do manage a lot of things in the office.  Whenever there is a problem in the office, everyone usually comes to me.

Q: How long have you been working for AALEAD?
A: This coming July will make it six years for me at AALEAD.  That is the longest I have ever worked for an organization in the United States.

Q:What aspect about your role do you most enjoy?
A: That is a very tough question, because I handle so many things for AALEAD.  I enjoy it the most when it is slow because there are a lot of things that need to be done.  But, I like to keep up with things in a timely fashion.  I try to do all my reports before the due date.  Actually, way before the due date if I can.  It gives me a lot of satisfaction keeping up with everything.

Q:Why did you decide to work for AALEAD?
A:  When I moved to this country, I worked for an embassy. Working for the government was not a very big thrill for me.  It just looked like how people worked back at home.  People show up to work at 9 am and leave by 5 pm.  They are not enjoying what they do but just do what they have to do.  I worked there for two years and it did not seem like a good fit for me because there was no satisfaction or thrill for me. My previous experiences were also in a nonprofit as well as at a school. I enjoy working with kids. I came across AALEAD, which seemed like a good fit for me.  Even though I do not work directly with the kids at AALEAD, it gives me satisfaction knowing that AALEAD is working with kids.

Q:If you were on an island and could only bring 3 things, what would you bring?
A: I would bring food, Internet, and friends!  But most importantly, Internet!

Q:What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?
A:  The funniest thing that happened recently is when people started asking me how come I never wear a tie with my shirt.  I don’t like ties but I decided to buy a tie to dress more professionally.  The funny story behind this is that one day I went to the mall to buy a tie and a shirt.  I went home and tried on my shirt.  My shirt fit, but the neck part of my shirt didn’t.  So I went back to the mall. I thought something was wrong with the shirt!  When I went back, I found out that my shirt size and neck size were completely different.

Q:What is one thing you could not live without?
A: Something I cannot function without is my phone. I guess I cannot live without my iPhone and Internet.

Thanks for reading! Remember to check back on our blog weekly for program and staff updates. Follow us: Twitter and Instagram (@aalead). Like us on Facebook (Asian American LEAD)!

Recent Headlines Reinforce Stereotypes

Recent Headlines Reinforce Stereotypes
by Surjeet Ahluwalia, Executive Director

On April 8, The Washington Post published two pieces that serve to reinforce stereotypes of Asian Americans:  “Demographics shift at Thomas Jefferson High as Asians make up 66 percent of new class,” and “Why Asian American kids excel. It’s not ‘Tiger Moms.’” These headlines reinforce that Asian Americans excel academically – and while this may be true for some groups of Asian American students, it is not true for all.  In particular, for low-income Asian Americans – a population that is growing in the U.S. – this broad generalization is often not true.  When we reference Asians as a homogenous group, it does a disservice to young people who do not fit the mold and are struggling to get support.

Importantly, the piece on Thomas Jefferson High School does reference that only FOUR low-income students (students receiving free or reduced meals) were admitted to the school.  This is the more important story.  Low-income students of all races are not getting the educational support they need to reach the level of academic achievement to attend prestigious schools such as TJ.  There are historical reasons for the differences we see by race in this country.  Clearly, it is still necessary to examine differences by racial groups, but as we continue to become a more diverse nation, we need to look at how income intersects with race.

The piece, “Why Asian American kids excel. It’s not Tiger Moms,’” references a study of Chinese and Vietnamese American students in Los Angeles and says the findings show “young Asian Americans have all kinds of good role models to emulate. Their communities and families make sure they get extra help when they need it. Their families, even on limited resources, manage to seek out and move to neighborhoods with good schools.”  Again, this is simply not the case for many low-income Asian American families.  The study describes outcomes for the totality of Asian Americans, but actually reflects outcomes for a smaller subset of Asian Americans—Chinese and Vietnamese Americans in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a place with relatively higher numbers of Chinese and Vietnamese Americans over many, many years.  As such, stronger community networks have been established over time.  The article even describes that parents have access to a “Chinese Yellow Pages” to look at school rankings.  That kind of information is not available widely in many places that low-income Asian Americans live – such as in the DC metropolitan area.

When we paint Asian Americans, or any group at all with a broad brush, without acknowledging income, history, and contextual realities, we reinforce stereotypes that can reduce the opportunities for needed support. Race is just a construct that we rely on too readily in the United States to understand our complex world.  As is always the case, there is more to the story.

DC MS & HS Youth Celebrate Spring!

By My Nguyen, AALEAD Staff

Photos Courtesy of My Nguyen, AALEAD Staff

Each year, when the frigid winter weather recedes, DC hosts a three week long event called the National Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate the 3,000 cherry blossom trees that Japan gifted over 100 years ago. This historic tradition has brought different people from around the world together to enjoy the beauty of spring in our Nation’s Capital. This year, DC AALEAD’s Middle and High School students celebrated the spring by participating in events sponsored the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

During the first weekend of April, students got a glimpse into the past of important Japanese figures and characters at the Best of Vignettes theater performance at the Therapeutic Noh Theater. The performances included candid poetry along with the profound symbolism of character selection and accompanied by exquisite costumes and masks. This event allowed students to get a better understanding of Japanese history and how certain individuals played vital roles in shaping its country’s roots.

Students also had the opportunity to showcase their artistic side by spending a day crafting lanterns by Yard’s Park.

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Not only did these events allow AALEADers to understand the rich history of Japanese culture and the importance of carrying on the friendship our country has with Japan, but it gave them an opportunity to explore the treasures of our Nation’s most iconic landmarks and monuments.

AALEAD Launches in Northern Virginia!

By Tina Ngo & Sharon Choi, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) has officially launched in Northern Virginia–we are now serving low-income and underserved Asian American youth regionally! AALEAD first publicly announced the official launch of our programming in Northern Virginia at the 15th Annual Dinner in March. Thank you to all of our supporters for helping AALEAD be able to extend our reach in serving youth. A special thank you to CareFirst, who awarded AALEAD our first official grant to help with our expansion into Virginia, starting with our AALEAD Mentoring Program.

AALEAD staff have been meeting with youth from Annandale High School, once a week during lunch, since March. We have learned more about the backgrounds, experiences, and interests of our new AALEAD youth. From family to favorite subjects, staff have engaged in informal conversations with the youth to understand more about who they are and what goals they would like to achieve. Though the youth were initially reserved, they slowly opened up through icebreakers and team-building activities, and were eager to share more about themselves and learn more about AALEAD and our programming.

Youth were introduced to our Mentoring Program as well as events that AALEAD holds throughout the year. Many of them were enthusiastic about being paired with a Mentor who would serve as a big brother or big sister that they could share experiences and accomplish their goals with!

Last weekend, our new Virginia students had their first opportunity to meet other AALEAD youth from DC at our annual DC Park Clean up. They expressed lots of excitement about riding the Metro together for the first time, getting to meet their fellow AALEADers, and exploring DC afterwards.

We are thrilled to welcome students from Annandale High School into our AALEAD family and look forward to spending more time together with them. Go AALEAD VA!

By Liza R, AALEAD Student
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

I went to San Francisco for CAAM Fest  because I was chosen to represent a video project that other students and I made about Asian American stereotypes over the summer of 2013.  AALEAD was part of a collaborative project called, “Young Historians, Living Histories” between CAAM and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.    I was very honored and glad to be able to travel from DC to somewhere that I had never been before.

The first day my chaperone, Francine, and I went and explored so many cool places. We checked into Hotel Tomo, which was beautiful, and didn’t waste any time. We went sight-seeing right away. We went to the Golden Gate Bridge and it was the most beautiful view I had ever seen! Then we went to eat Boudin’s at Fisherman’s Wharf and dessert at Ghirardelli Square. It was all so delicious and fun!

The next morning we had breakfast with Hardeep, Momo, other representatives from CAAM, and other students from all around the country.  To prepare for our film screening, we went over practice questions and discussed our video projects with everyone. It was nice learning about other projects and meeting the other students.

Afterwards we changed and went to our film screening.  It felt good to see that strangers not only cared to come, but bought tickets to see what we made. It was exciting to see our film on screen and that people enjoyed it so much.  Later we were asked to go up and answer questions.  I was a little nervous at first, but then felt very comfortable answering the questions. When they asked us to talk about our our film, I told the crowd that my group members and I wanted to focus on stereotypes because we felt like it was a main issue in the Asian community.  We wanted a way to share how members in our community experienced stereotypes and how they dealt with it. It felt great to be able to answer questions and it made me a lot more confident!

After the event we explored San Francisco some more and rode on the trolley. That was one of the best ways to see the city and it was so much fun! After our fun ride, we went back to Fisherman’s Wharf to see the sea lions. They were very adorable! As the sun set, we said goodbye to the sea lions to catch the screening of Brahmin Bulls. That film was amazing and I felt like I could connect to it. The main actor was Sendhil Ramamurthy, and he’s one of my favorite actors! I was very excited to meet him and to take a picture with him. The trip was life-changing. I had a fun time going everywhere in San Francisco and participating in CAAMFest.  I even learned a few geography lessons flying over different states. I really liked everything and am beginning to think I could get into film one day! Thank you to CAAM for welcoming us and to the Smithsonian for helping to coordinate this trip and to everyone else who made this possible for AALEAD and I!

~Liza R.

To view the AALEAD Film visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PbTtXCC6rc

For more pictures visit: http://www.aalead.org/blog/2014/03/the-adventures-of-aalead-in-san-francisco/

MD Park Clean Up: Fun in the Sun!

By Melor Suhaimi, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

As AALEAD’s DC program cleaned up the Piney Branch-Crestwood Park on Saturday April 5th, MD Middle and High School students, MD staff, mentors, and an AALEAD board member helped with cleaning a small creek in Kensington, MD. Part of the Ken-Gar Palisades Park, AALEADers put on gloves, grabbed trash bags, and began carefully walking along the creek picking up trash and even finding treasures! Well, not really treasures, but unusual finds that were hidden beneath the dirt!

The sun was brightly shining and it was a beautiful Spring day, despite the wind.  With the sun shining down, AALEADers were paired up with a buddy to find trash to clean up the creek and earned their 2 student service learning (SSL) hours.  In Montgomery County, youth are required to earn at least 75 SSL hours in order to graduate.  AALEAD continues to have community service events like the park clean-up to encourage youth to earn those 75 SSL hours (and even more SSL hours!) to graduate.  It is also to remind youth the importance of giving back to their own community; whether its picking up trash in the local neighborhood or making goodie bags for cancer patients at a local children’s hospital.  Community service events also allow AALEAD youth from all of our Middle and High school programs, volunteers, mentors, staff, and board members to meet and connect with each other.  In a sense, a team-building experience is created through these events and gives all members of the AALEAD family a chance to bond!

As the day came to an end, AALEADers enjoyed a quick snack and played at a park near the creek while waiting to get picked up by their parents and guardians.  Even with 2 hours spent cleaning up a creek, our AALEAD youth were not tired!  AALEADers enjoyed 30 minutes of carefree time of swinging on swings, going down slides, and kicking a soccer ball around.  It was a great and successful event to kick off the Spring season!  Thank you to Park Coordinators, Elin, Gail, and Ken for providing supplies for our youth!