By David Oh, AALEAD Development & Communications Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Check out the latest “Staff Spotlight” on our very own DC Programs Manager Micah Shearer!  She has been part of the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) staff for five years now. Oh snap! Read on to get the scoop on Ms. Micah.

Q: What made you decide to work for AALEAD?
A:  I would say several threads have winded together that has brought me to AALEAD.   I have lived in China before and I really enjoyed working with the youth there.  I also have some teaching experience as well in which I was an English teacher in China at a private university.  I decided to work for AALEAD because it seemed like a great opportunity for me to mesh my current passions and experiences with the goals and passions of AALEAD.

Q: What has been the most rewarding thing so far about AALEAD?
A:  I would say the most rewarding thing about AALEAD so far is that I have been here for five years.  In those five years, I have been able to see students change-especially the fifth grade students.  The fifth grade students are particularly a great challenge for me.  It is great to see some of the fifth grade students come back after they graduate and appreciate the AALEAD program.  Overall, it has been great to be a part of AALEAD for five years because I was able to see several students grow and gain new perspectives of AALEAD.

Q: Do you have a nick name that your students have made for you?
A:  I have two main nick names from my students.  The two nick names are Mr. Bubbles and Ms. Rachel.  The background story behind this is that there are 90 plus student names I have to remember.  I am not very good with names, but I am good with faces and personalities.  I have made a deal with my students that whenever I get someone’s name wrong, they are allowed to call me whatever they want for the day.  The two favorite nick names are Mr. Bubbles and Ms. Rachel.  Some students like to use the name Ms. Rachel because that is the name of my younger sister.  There are a lot of students with siblings and I sometimes make the mistake of calling a student by their sibling’s name.  This is why some students like to call me Ms. Rachel.

Q: If you could have one superpower what would it be?
A: One superpower I would like is the ability to stop time because there is so much to get done but never enough time!

Q: What is your current favorite hobby?
A:  My current hobby is building tabletops.  It has been very hectic lately because there are a lot of events that are coming up.  One in particular is my wedding that is going to be in April.  My current hobby is building tabletops because I want to build tabletops for my own wedding.  I have built four so far and need to build four more!

Q:  What is your favorite TV show?
A:  I do not really have an all-time favorite TV show, but I would say lately, I have been enjoying the TV show “The Walking Dead”.

Please continue to check in with us as we bring you more updates!

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

This year, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) is focusing on three outcomes: Educational Empowerment, Identity, and Leadership. Our Mentoring Program students work towards these outcomes by attending cultural events, working on career development activities, and participating in community service events… all with their amazing Mentors! Outside of planned group outings, youth enrolled in the Mentoring Program don’t often have the opportunity to achieve these goals with their Mentoring Program peers on a regular basis since they come from all across DC and Maryland. With the AALEAD Middle School Youth Council kicking off just this past year, the Mentoring Program students also wanted a space to meet new friends in the Mentoring Program and share their ideas and help plan for Mentoring Program-specific events.

That’s why, on Tuesday, January 28, AALEAD’s first-ever Mentoring Advisory Council (MAC) met for the very first time! Seven middle school youth from varying DC schools met at one of our elementary school program sites, Thomson, to enjoy each other’s company and begin envisioning the year ahead together. There was much excitement and energy in the room as students were reunited with old friends or met for the first time. The meeting began with brief introductions as well as conversation about each student’s favorite healthy snack. Youth then discussed what the Mentoring Program meant to them, what their roles in the Council would be, and what outcome-based events they would like to see in the coming year. Finally, they split off into pairs and volunteered as program aides with our youngest Thomson AALEADers.

By incorporating their individual interests and sharing their opinions, students in the Mentoring Program are truly taking ownership of their program and moving the program up to the next level. They are also setting wonderful examples for our little AALEADers by taking the time to give back to the community and volunteer. We are so excited for our next MAC meeting later this month and can’t wait to see our youth continue to grow and develop to their greatest potential in these leadership roles!

By Keo Xiong, AALEAD Staff
Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff

For this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. service project, youth across the middle school program participated in a food drive to collect and donate non-perishable food items to Manna Food Center. On the evening of Thursday, February 6, seven AALEAD youth and two staff then brought all the donated food to, and volunteered at, Manna Food Center to sort already donated food items at its Gaithersburg location.

Manna's welcome message for AALEAD volunteers.

During the two-week food drive leading up to the volunteer event, youth learned about the Manna Food Center and its programs. Manna Food Center has three programs: food distribution to families; Smart Snacks, which provides young children with kid-friendly and healthy food; and food distribution to agencies. The Manna Food Center collects food donated by community members and distributes it to agencies and about 3,300 families each month across Montgomery County. Annually, Manna distributes more than three million pounds of food to its clients.

At Manna Food Center, AALEADers were tasked with sorting out a large quantity of food items into its respective categories. What started as four large, full bins of canned goods, rice, pasta, and a whole variety of other foods soon turned into four empty bins and rows of neatly stacked crates of food, sorted and organized by type, size, and program. AALEAD youth worked diligently and enthusiastically, checking for expiration dates, helping one another figure out where each food item belonged, and getting to know each other and becoming friends in the process.

After we completed sorting food, we sat down to reflect on the experience. AALEADers had such a great time working together and sorting food that they expressed interest in bringing their friends and family to volunteer with Manna in the near future. As a program coordinator, it is great to see youth who are invested in volunteering their time, even on a school evening, and getting others involved.

Before leaving Manna, students got to weigh the food collected from their food drive. AALEAD youth collected and donated 34 pounds of food, which will go to help feed families in need. We hope to return to Manna Food Center again with even more AALEADers and to continue serving Montgomery County. To learn more about Manna Food Center, visit its website at

Posing for a group picture underneath the welcome board.

Visiting Thomson ES AALEADers!

By David Oh, AALEAD Development & Communications Intern
Photos Courtesy of David Oh, AALEAD Development & Communications Intern

Mondays can sometimes be the most challenging day for youth.  They can be really out of it!  But this was not the case for the AALEAD students at Thomson Elementary School. Youth at Thomson had great energy.  Students in the 3rd and 4th grade class were able to get to know each other more by participating in a get- to-know activity.  Students were given a list and had to find a classmate who had completed something on the list and get their signatures.  The room was filled with laughter as the students raced to be the first one to complete the list.

Meanwhile, students in the 1st and 2nd grade classroom were learning  to make predictions while being creative. Students gathered around as Ms. Nadiah told them a story.

She never finished the story for her students.  Instead, she asked her students to make 5 predictions about what could have happened at the end of the story.  The students worked diligently to come up with the best predictions for the end of the story.

Please keep checking out our blog for more fun-filled updates!

National Mentoring Month Mixer a Success!

By Sharon Choi, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Sharon Choi, AALEAD Staff

Last Thursday evening, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) wrapped up an exciting National Mentoring Month with a DC-wide Mentor Appreciation Month Celebration at Policy Restaurant & Lounge. AALEAD celebrated the achievements and accomplishments of our Mentors along with four other  partner organizations: Capital Partners for Education (CPE), the DC College Success Foundation (DC-CSF), For Love of Children (FLOC-DC), and Mentors, Inc.

AALEAD had nearly 30 Mentors attend the event. We are so proud of our Mentors who commit to positively impacting AALEAD youth and making a difference in our community. Our Mentors come from all different backgrounds and truly reflect the diversity of AALEAD!

We were also honored to announce our Mentoring Hero of the Year, Cicie, in addition to recognizing the amazing accomplishments of all AALEAD Mentors. The award was announced and presented by our Executive Director Surjeet Ahluwalia and Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator Tina Ngo.

We thank all our AALEAD Mentors for choosing to be a part of our family and the lives of our youth. Your commitment is making a huge difference! Check out some photos from the event below!

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By Melor Suhaimi, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

In the past two weeks MD Middle School youth learned about South Korean culture and cuisine!  Conversations about Korean Pop music (K-pop), origins of the Korean language, and different types of Korean dishes were a few of the main topics.  With Korean dishes being one of the topics, our youth were eager to cook at least one of the dishes!

Bibimbap is a popular Korean dish that usually contain these main ingredients: rice, vegetables, gochujang (red pepper paste), beef, and an egg.  After the ingredients are cooked or steamed, these tasty ingredients are placed in a hot steaming bowl ready to be served!  MD MS Youth had the opportunity to assemble their own bibimbap dish using the ingredients that their Program Coordinator brought in.  Youth also compared similar dishes to the bibimbap that they have tried before.  Dishes like Vietnamese pho and Spanish paella were mentioned because of the fact that a variety of ingredients make up one large dish.

Our youth had mixed reviews about the bibimbap dish (a few said the dish was too spicy, while others wanted more ingredients in their bowl,) but all were thankful to try Korean cuisine!  MD Middle School youth will continue to learn about different Asian countries until the end of the school year to explore the different cultures, sights, and food that Asia has to offer.  So stay tuned for future posts to see what our MD Middle School youth is up to for the rest of the school year!

Mentoring Matters: Kamya’s Thoughts

By Kamya Khanna, Current AALEAD Mentor
Photos Courtesy of Kamya Khanna, Current AALEAD Mentor

As the end of National Mentoring Month draws near, we wanted to share Kamya’s story and the experience that she has had with AALEAD’s Mentoring Program. Thank you to all of our Mentors – we are extremely grateful for you and continue to be inspired by you and your dedication every single day. We hope you enjoy Kamya’s story, and Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina Ngo, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

As an undergraduate student, I spent a semester studying language and culture in Shanghai. Once I returned to the United States, I wanted to seek volunteering opportunities that would let me stay connected with Chinese culture. Since I also enjoy working with youth, I found my way to AALEAD, which provided a fantastic opportunity to get involved in DC’s Asian American community and hopefully make a positive contribution. So, in 2012, I decided to sign up as a Mentor.

Before meeting my Mentee for the first time, I was very nervous. Would it be difficult to make conversation with her? Would I have any useful guidance to share with a teenager? Would she trust me? Would I be able to set a good example for a young girl? When we finally met, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she was immediately talkative and excited to make a new connection. Thanks to her friendly demeanor, it did not take long for the two of us to find a comfortable rhythm with each other. Within a few weeks, I got to know all about her favorite school subjects, her friends from her hometown, her family, and her favorite kinds of music.

AALEAD has made it possible for us to continue making great memories together, such as participating in local community service projects and park clean-ups, ice-skating, and even visiting the White House to admire Christmas decorations. Separately, my Mentee and I have formed a solid bond during outings to DC’s art museums, visits to local outdoor markets, homework help sessions, and frequent Skype calls. We have attended cultural events where my Mentee has been able to teach me about Chinese New Year traditions, and in turn I have taken her to cultural functions that have taught her about my Indian heritage. Most importantly, we have reached a place where she is comfortable sharing with me any worries or dilemmas that she is confronting.

Over the past two years, I have aimed to guide my Mentee through her recent transition to high school, navigating the highs and lows of making new friends, being involved in the school community and balancing an ever-increasing workload. As she has opened up to me about her hopes and fears in this new chapter of her life, I am proud to have been able to be an effective listener who is present when she needs to vent frustrations, but also able to relate my own experiences in a way that might help her. I am especially proud of my Mentee and how she has remained a hard-working, well-liked, and fun-loving high schooler.

I have learned that being a good Mentor isn’t necessarily the same thing as having the perfect advice for any situation. Instead, what it really means to me is being available whenever my Mentee needs me. I do not need to have all of the answers to my Mentee’s problems, but I do need to have the willingness to spend time understanding her thoughts and problems so that I may guide her to resources that may be helpful. The mentoring experience has proved to be very rewarding. It has allowed me not only to gain confidence in my own skills as a leader in this way, but it has also allowed me to feel that I am indeed setting a positive example for a wonderful young girl, who will surely continue to blossom.

By David Oh, AALEAD Development & Communications Intern
Photo by David Oh, AALEAD Development & Communications Intern

Hey everyone!  My name is David Oh and I am AALEAD’s Development & Communications Intern for Spring 2014.  I am currently a Senior at the University of Maryland, College Park pursuing a degree in Public Health.  I am looking to expand my experience in the Public Health field and I thought AALEAD was a great opportunity to do so.  I thought it would be a great opportunity because they serve youth in the Asian American community and I really enjoy working with kids and the Asian American community.

Summer Youth Retreat. The top left is me.

In addition, here are some fun facts about myself.  First,  I have never traveled outside of the country since I was 5.  I would really like to visit South Korea within the next year or so to visit relatives and eat.  Also, I am a big sports person.  I really enjoy playing different sports such as basketball and football.  But one of the more interesting things is that I like to eat.  I like to travel to different places with my friends and try places that are known for a certain food specialty.

I am looking forward to this internship opportunity.  I hope that it would be a very fruitful experience in which I would be able to grow as well as contribute to AALEAD.

Happy 2014!  I hope the New Year has started off well for all of you.  And happy National Mentoring Month!

All of us at AALEAD enjoyed a rejuvenating holiday break and have returned excited and energized for the year ahead.  It’s been great to kick-off the New Year celebrating National Mentoring Month and our incredible mentors.  We have 60 adults who have been trained as mentors and who work one-on-one with one of our youth – having fun, guiding, and helping with school and college prep.  With spending at least 6 hours a month with their mentees, this amounts to well over 4,000 volunteer hours each year!  If you haven’t already, I strongly urge you to watch the beautiful video our Mentoring & Volunteer Coordinator, Tina, made with our youth thanking their mentors.  And if you are interested in becoming a mentor, please reach out to Tina!

As you may know, the next AALEAD community event coming up soon is our 15th Annual Dinner!  We are very proud to be approaching this milestone and will be celebrating AALEAD’s past, present, and future on March 26.  I hope you can join us!

By Francine Gorres, AALEAD Staff
Photo Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

During this time of the year students return back to school after a long break and prepare for one their most favorite things…..EXAMS.  If you can remember back to when you were in college or high school..we spent many hours studying and writing papers and it was a very stressful time of the year.  AALEAD was able to meet with High School students last week before exams and provided different lessons to help students as they prepared for exams.

Students learned about how yoga helps to stretch and energize the body in addition to helping the body relax through deep breathing exercises.  Students also learned about the benefits of making juice filled with vegetables and fruits. We made different smoothies out of spinach, apples, blueberries, strawberries, carrots, and other “brain food” ingredients! Students were amazed that it tasted delicious and how fast and easy it was to make with a blender or Nutribullet! It was a great first week back and we are looking forward to meeting with students next week!