By Heein Choi, Development & Communications Intern
Photo Courtesy of Heein Choi, Development & Communications Intern

Hey everyone! My name is Heein Choi, and I am from Ellicott City, Maryland. I recently finished my first year at the College of William and Mary and intend to double major in Asian American Studies and Business. Over the summer of 2014, I will be serving as Asian American LEAD’s (AALEAD) Development and Communications Intern. Growing up in an Asian American community, I have been searching for methods to give back to the people that have placed the groundwork for me to succeed.

Hearing the stories of AALEAD students reminded me of my own experience of immigrating from South Korea at the age of five. When I first came to the United States, I struggled to establish my identity as an American. Although I had not been born in the United States, I felt every bit as American as my peers and wrestled with the question: what could I do to become fully American? When I pondered about these types of questions at a young age, I wished I had an organization like AALEAD to support me. With AALEAD’s mentoring and after-school programs set out to guide and nurture Asian American youth, these students know that they are not alone in these internal struggles.

I believe that AALEAD’s goal of serving Asian American youth coincides with my passions. At the College of William and Mary, I currently serve on the Executive Board of the Asian American Student Initiative (AASI), which is a grassroots team that is focused on spreading awareness of Asian Americans on campus. AASI reaches out to the students of William and Mary with innovative photo campaigns such as “Faces of Asian Americans.”

I am excited for the new experiences, people, and youth I will be meeting as an intern at AALEAD. Most of all, I am thrilled to know that I will be in an environment where my passion and dedication will be matched by every staff member.

**Learn more about our other Summer 2014 Interns here: AlexBhadonDavid, and Laura!**

And That’s a Wrap!

Last Friday, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) held our annual End of the Year BBQ at Wheaton Forest Park, Md. We had over 100 youth, mentors, family members, and AALEAD staff gather for an afternoon of reflection and celebration.

After enjoying food, mingling with AALEADers from different schools, and some games of basketball and volleyball, everyone gathered together. AALEAD staff recognized 8th graders moving on to high school and recently graduated high school seniors who will be attending college in the fall. We are so proud of all the accomplishments of our youth and cannot wait to see where their futures take them.

As we wrap up another school year, we look forward to an inspiring and eventful summer ahead! Stay tuned!

Please see below for some photos of the event:

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)!

Alumni Spotlight: Fear the Turtle!

By David Oh, former AALEAD Development & Communication Intern
Photos Courtesy of Janet L., AALEAD Youth

Today we bring you an Alumni Spotlight on a recent AALEAD graduate, Jackey!  Jackey has successfully completed his first year of college at the University of Maryland, College Park.  He is currently seeking a degree in Computer Science.  Check out the Q & A below to get all the details on what he has been up to!

Q: How long has it been since you were in AALEAD and what are you doing now?
A: It has been approximately one year since I graduated from AALEAD. I am now a college freshmen at the University of Maryland, College Park.  I am currently pursing a degree in Computer Science and a minor in  Asian American studies.

Q: What made you decide to pursue a degree in Computer Science?
A: My overall passion for computers started from when I was little.  I always thought computers were so interesting and fun to play with.  You can do all sorts of things with it!  Another reason is because my uncle has been a big influence and a role model in my life.  He actually got me really interested and involved with computers in which I was able to learn about what a hard drive, RAM, and other things are.

Q: Has AALEAD made an impact on your life?  If so, how?
A: AALEAD has made a HUGE impact on my life.  I have been with them for about 5 to 6 years.  During those years, I have been able to meet great friends such as Marjan who came to UMD with me as well.  AALEAD has taught me great skills such as speaking properly and various leadership skills.  AALEAD has taught me to become a good advocate for Asian Americans.

Q: If you could describe AALEAD in one word to someone, what would it be?
A: FAMILY! AALEAD has such a great family environment.  You can joke around with people and have fun with others.  It is all about support and I love that!  It is great having people to consider family around you.

Q: If you could describe yourself as any part of a computer, what would it be?
A: I would be the secondary memory.  The main memory of the computer is the RAM but that is just the temporary memory part.  I am more of the secondary memory because that is where you keep most and all of your files.  I am the type of person that likes to hold on to memories in my head.  I want to always remember the memories from AALEAD and experiences that I have had.  I want to remember these memories so that I can keep track of how far I have come and the things I can improve on.  I am the hard drive!

Q: What is your most memorable memory from AALEAD?
A: Hmm. This is a very hard question.  I guess the most memorable memory for me was camping that was a few years ago.  I don’t remember the exact year.  It was the first time that I went camping and it was a new experience for me.  I was surrounded by the people that I knew and loved.  It was really great that I went camping with the people I knew such as the AALEAD staff and friends. I have developed a stronger relationship with these people.  Overall, it was really fun especially playing the human capture the flag game.  It was really fun because an actual person was the flag and we had to get them.

It was such a great time catching up with Jackey! Thank you for checking out our Alumni Spotlight! 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)!

By Melor Suhaimi & Keo Xiong
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

The 2013-2014 school year has gone by so quickly! Even though time flew by, many activities took place throughout the school year and especially during the last few weeks. The end of the year is always a bittersweet time because we are all excited for the summer, but it is also time to say goodbye to our youth until the Fall (or until the start of the Summer Kinect, AALEAD’s MD Middle and High School Summer Program!)

At Argyle and Parkland Middle schools, youth learned about Asian countries of their choice, including Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and Vietnam. For each unit, the country’s history, culture, and people were highlighted. Other aspects of the country were highlighted such as arts and crafts, pop culture, and famous people, as well as everyone’s favorite: food. Making food and eating food was a common goal throughout all Middle School Programs! MD Middle School AALEADers made sushi (Japan), bibimbap and bulgogi (South Korea), halo-halo (Phillipines), and spring rolls and banh mi sandwiches (Vietnam), among other dishes. The highlight of the year at Argyle was when youth created their own dish – from the name to the recipe – which incorporated ingredients from each youth’s cultural dishes, and which they named Halo-ritto (a play on the words halo-halo, a dessert from the Philippines, and burrito bowls from one of their favorite restaurants, Chipotle). It was great to see youth engaged and interested in learning about cultures different from their own.

AALEADers also took on many leadership roles, teaching their peers about their favorite topics and interests. AALEAD staff took part in thoughtful lessons planned and taught by Argyle and Parkland youth. Topics included how to draw manga, how to play basketball, Korean pop music, how to dance, and the significance of Indian mehndi tattoos.  Leadership and maturity were just a few qualities that AALEADers displayed in front of the classroom as they taught and directed their peers through these lessons.

At Loiederman and Eastern Middle Schools, AALEADers reflected on the school year and wrote special goodbye notes to each individual youth.  Loiederman and Eastern AALEADers created and customized their own envelope where the special notes were placed and read on the very last day of programs.  In a time of reflection and goodbyes, it is always rewarding to see the strong family bond that AALEAD creates!

Field trips were also a highlight this school year!  AALEADers youth had the opportunity to go to Manna Food Center, Fiesta Asia, Maryland Day, and the DC Central Kitchen, among others.  This past Saturday, AALEAD staff took AALEAD youth who worked on the Youth Media project to the movies in Downtown Silver Spring. Youth enjoyed watching Maleficent and after, spent quality time together on a beautiful sunny day!  Field trips throughout the year led to youth earning student service learning hours to providing youth from all programs to spend a day together outside of school.  Here are pictures from this past Saturday’s trip to the movies:

As the academic year draws to a close, we celebrate and congratulate all of our AALEAD youth and their accomplishments, from our sixth graders who have transitioned well into middle school from elementary school, to our seventh graders who continue exploring their interests, and finally, to the eighth graders who have grown to become role models for their younger AALEAD peers and are moving on to the next chapter in their lives: high school.

Youth Media Festival a Success!

Last Saturday, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) middle and high school youth gathered at the Silver Spring Civic Building in downtown Silver Spring to participate in the Gandhi Brigade Youth Media Festival. AALEADers had the opportunity to screen one of our two youth-produced films and volunteered to help make the event a success. With support from the Gandhi Brigade, AALEADers were able to create and produce their own short 3-minute films–our youth chose to focus on the theme of identity.

High school AALEADers arrived on site early to set up and table for the event while middle school youth went around the square to flier and spread the word on the youth media screenings in the afternoon.

Our AALEAD youth were excited and eager to see their hard work be shown on a big screen at the event, along with films from other youth focused organizations from the community.

Our high school youth, whose video was selected to be screened, had the opportunity to get up in front of the audience and share about AALEAD and the process of selecting the theme of identity and producing the video. AALEADers spoke so confidently and it was evident they were passionate about their film’s take away message. Youth shared that they wanted the audience to leave with knowing the importance of not conforming to who or what society tells you you are and should be, but striving to be your own unique person and pursuing your passion and dreams. Check out our middle school video here.

We would like to thank Richard Jaeggi, a friend and supporter, and the Gandhi Brigade for believing in our community’s youth. We will always remember Richard as a leader and light in our community who truly gave his heart to empower and equip our youth to share their voice with the world. We are so empowered by the voices of our young people and look forward to more youth-led and produced projects.

Staff Spotlight: Meet Coach Franny!

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

Welcome to our Staff Spotlight for the month of May on our MD Programs Manager, Francine Gorres!  Read the Q & A below to find out more about AALEAD’s star athlete staff member!

Farthest on the right

Q: How long have you been with AALEAD and what is your specific role?
A: So, I have been with AALEAD for about five years now.  I am on my fifth year.  I started off as a Teaching Assistant for the DC Elementary School Program at Bancroft Elementary School. About nine months later, there was an opening for a Program Coordinator for the MD High School Program.  I applied for that and I have been in that role for about four years.  Recently, I have become the MD Programs Manager since last October.

Q: How do you think working for AALEAD has impacted you personally?
A: This is such a tough question to summarize! There’s so many great things happening at AALEAD that it’s hard not to grow as a person. As a youth worker, I’ve learned so much about how to support youth, but also learned how to let go and watch them grow into young adults. I’ve seen young elementary school students grow into high school students and high school students grow into college students. In a few years, I’ll see our alumni graduate college and enter the work field! I consider myself blessed to be able to witness some of these milestones in their lives and to share with their families their successes and challenges.  I also think that I’ve grown into a better leader and a better coach because of AALEAD. Our AALEAD team is truly talented and I have a unique experience where I get to be on the ground, in the trenches with staff, but also in a leadership role where I get to see a lot of the big picture elements of the organization. It’s made me realize that our organization truly tries to develop its students and staff into better leaders in order to make an impact in the community. I’ve always had a big heart for helping others and AALEAD has not only given me the tools, but also real confidence in my ability to make a difference.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your role at AALEAD?
A: I think for me the most rewarding part is really getting to see the students grow.  In high school, their growth is so rapid because there are so many things going on.  They may be facing certain problems one year and then the next year they have become successful in doing what they are really passionate about or getting good grades or even do something they have never imagined themselves doing before.  Those are some of the short term things that are very rewarding.  Something long term I really enjoy is seeing students graduate because you get to see their journey through high school.  You get to see a lot of their falls, mistakes, and struggles but most importantly you get to see their victories, improvements, and growth.

Q: Favorite hobby?
A: My favorite hobby?  I have a lot of hobbies!  I am very active so my favorite hobby I would say is playing sports.  I really like football!  I love watching and playing football.  I have coached for the University of Maryland Filipino Cultural Association. They have a Turkey Bowl event every year. I have been coaching them for the past two years and I have also played as the quarterback. We have won the championship for the past four years.  I just really love football!

Q: What is the most unique thing about you?
A: I think that I am unique because I have several passions, hidden and evident, that make up who I am and I try to incorporate into my life. I’ll give you three. I’m very passionate about being physically active. Whether it’s through sports, playing games with students, or going to the gym, I always try to make sure that I’m staying active and fit. Another passion of mine is family. I am very close to my family and I always try to make sure that I carve out time for them by having family dinners, going to church, and just supporting each of my siblings in their individual passions. Finally, I’m very passionate about music and dance. I love listening to music and learning about all different types of dances. I used to take ballroom dancing, but decided to take a break and come back to it later in life.

Q: If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
A: If I were to go back to my high school self, I would tell her that it is okay to have fun sometimes. I would tell her to let go of what people are going to think about you, what your parents expect of you, and what your teacher think about you. I think it is important to set goals for yourself and set the bar high but at the same time enjoy being young. Just being able to enjoy having fun with friends and appreciating that part of your life. Don’t be too serious all the time is another one as well.

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)!

By Keo Xiong, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

This past Monday, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) at Argyle and Loiederman Middle Schools collaborated with the African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation (AIRF) to host a community screening of the youth videos created with support from the Gandhi Brigade. AALEAD and AIRF youth have been looking forward to sharing their videos and all the hard work put into creating them with others. This screening, held at Argyle Middle School, was open to members of the Argyle community, as well as members of AALEAD at Loiederman Middle School.

As the host of the community screening, Argyle AALEADers spent a week planning and prepping for the event. They wrote and delivered personal invitations to teachers and staff; created visuals, including an Asian American history timeline and poster for APIA Heritage Month; selected items for food and drinks; and created the agenda and icebreaker activity. Argyle AALEADers were nervous but excited to host an event at their school and meet other AALEAD and AIRF peers.

On Monday after school, AALEADers from Loiederman traveled to from their school to join AIRF and Argyle AALEAD youth, teachers, a counselor, and AALEAD staff at Argyle’s cafeteria to network over great food, watch the youth-produced videos, and participate in a diversity and cross-cultural activity and dialogue.

With a focus on identity in each video, AALEAD and AIRF youth discovered that, despite coming from different cultures and backgrounds, they faced similar challenges, such as parents wanting their children to be doctors, and navigating bi- or multicultural homes and families. Additionally, youth also saw that they share similar interests, including basketball, dance, and wanting to rise above stereotypes. Youth had the opportunity to share their stories and connect across cultures and backgrounds to realize that their experiences, after all, are not so different from one another. Whether their families came from Vietnam, speak French, recently arrived in Maryland, or grew up in the United States, AALEAD and AIRF youth found that they could relate to one another.

The youth further discussed diversity through an activity and discussion, in which they shared more information about themselves, like their favorite native dish and what languages they spoke at home, as well as what they learned about each other.

This is the first time that AALEAD and AIRF have worked together on an event and we hope to continue developing this partnership. By recognizing, celebrating, and reflecting on differences and similarities between cultures and peoples, we hope our youth will become more aware of others in their schools and communities, and seek to learn and grow from these cross-cultural experiences.

Hope you have had the chance to do something to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!  Here at Asian American LEAD, we have had a lot of excitement.

As you may have seen, AALEAD had the honor of being featured as part of NBC4’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month special.  I am so proud of our youth sharing their stories on TV!  Check it out here.  Thank you Eun Yang and NBC4 for making this happen.

We had a great time at Fiesta Asia this year with 111 youth, staff, and mentors participating, in addition to many of our supporters!  It was great to see our middle school youth take the lead this time doing the choreography for the dance and sharing with their peers.

Also exciting this month were two cross-cultural dialogues between AALEAD youth and youth from the African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation.  The youth screened videos and then engaged in great discussions about stereotypes and who they are as individuals.  I hope we can continue to do more of this work to build understanding and coalitions across communities!

AALEADers at Fiesta Asia DC 2014!

Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) participated in Fiesta Asia DC this past Saturday, May 17. AALEAD had 111 youth, staff, and mentors from DC, MD and VA celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at Fiesta Asia this year! We were especially excited to have our new VA AALEADers join us.

AALEADers, from elementary, middle, and high school, took the East Cultural Stage bright and early and performed our third annual Asian Fusion modern dance to music mixed by our friend Alex from Allkpop. What made this year’s performance even more special was that we got to see our middle school youth sharpen their leadership skills through organizing and event planning. The newly launched MD Middle School Youth Council took the lead on selecting music and creating and organizing choreography. With staff support, youth even created a tutorial video on YouTube so all our AALEADers in DC, MD and VA could learn for Fiesta Asia DC! Our youth also prepared a trivia wheel with prizes for any guests who came by our booth. More about event prep here.

After our morning performance, youth were able to spend time visiting the different booths and learning about other cultures and groups. They also got to see various talents being performed at Fiesta Asia’s two other stage areas. AALEADers grouped together for lunch, snacks, and beverages, before having more free time and then preparing for the cultural parade. AALEAD youth represent more than 14 different Asian ethnic backgrounds. For the parade, our AALEADers celebrated our diversity as one. During the parade, AALEADers held our AALEAD signs and chanted cheers proudly!

A huge thank you to our friends at Arnold & Porter LLP who graciously supported our youth with snacks, lunches, and beverages! Another thank you to the Taiwanese Association of America – Greater Washington Chapter (TAA-GWC) for allowing us to share a booth space this year.

Thank you to ALL who came out to support youth and also helped to make this year’s Fiesta Asia DC experience so memorable for all our AALEADers. Youth, staff, and mentors are already looking forward to next year’s event!

Be sure to check out our videos from the performance below:

Farewell AALEAD

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

It has been a pleasure to work for AALEAD during the spring semester.  Time has passed so quickly.  It feels as though it was just last week that I started interning for AALEAD.  I remember it like it was yesterday when I was getting interviewed by Tina and Sharon for the Development and Communications Intern position.  From the very first day, I have learned so much from working with AALEAD!  Whether it was posting on social media websites or assisting with the 15th Annual Dinner, it has been such a great learning experience.  I was able to learn how to hone in on my creativity and express it in a professional manner.  It has been such a great journey filled with challenges  and accomplishments.

Overall, it was a great pleasure working with AALEAD.  It was a great opportunity in which I was able to experience different areas of work.  I hope that AALEAD will continue to grow and make a positive impact in the community!  It is never easy to say goodbye, so farewell for now, until next time.