11 Days Until the First Day!

By Melor Suhaimi, AALEAD Staff
Photo Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Summer has flown by and the 2013 – 2014 school year has begun.  That means that there are only 11 more days left until the first day of the start of AALEAD’s MD Middle School Program. Keo and I have anxiously and excitedly been planning for the 2013 – 2014 Middle School curriculum and we are both excited for what’s to come! In the past week, the start of AALEAD lunch informational sessions have been held at the five Middle Schools; Eastern, Argyle, Loiederman, Parkland, and Newport Mill. AALEAD lunch informational sessions provide an overview of AALEAD for new interested youth and to provide information for current AALEAD youth with upcoming plans for the school year.

Eastern Middle School’s lunch session was the first and was held this past Monday. The table was set with sandwiches and snacks as youth entered the room; old and new faces. Current AALEAD youth shared their AALEAD past experiences to new students to give a little sneak peek as to what AALEAD entails. Keo and I shared all the different things that AALEAD participants will do at our after-school program, as well. AALEADers will continue to learn about different Asian countries and cultures, cook dishes and try different foods and fruits from Asia, participate in community service projects to earn community service hours, attend field trips, and youth could be part of the very first AALEAD MD Middle School Youth Council. In the next week, Keo and I will continue to hold these lunch informational sessions for the rest of our Middle Schools and we’re very excited to meet new faces and reunite with our current youth!

As the week of September 30 rolls around, I am anxious to start the program and get our AALEAD Middle School youth excited for the school year. Like last year’s program and even recently with AALEAD’s Summer Fusion Program, I hope our youth start the program year with high energy, enthusiasm, and are overall excited to be part of the AALEAD family!

AALEAD’s Loiederman Middle School After-School Program from last year!

It’s sad to be saying goodbye to summer so soon, but I’m looking forward to everything AALEAD has coming up this fall!

AALEAD Staff had an extremely productive staff retreat earlier in August to prepare for the next year.  We focused on tightening our outcomes and measurements (more on that soon), planning activities for next year, and addressing the mental health needs of our students.

After Labor Day, AALEAD After-school resumes at Thomson and Bancroft Elementary Schools in DC.  Our Montgomery County After-school programs will resume at the end of September as after-school programming and late buses get going in our partner schools.

We have a new batch of Elementary School Teachers and Teaching Assistants joining us, as well as several returning staff!  And you have already been introduced to Keo Xiong, our new Middle School Program Coordinator.

We are also busy preparing for our upcoming Aspire to LEAD Lunch on Thursday, October 17!  This promises to be a very inspiring event.  I’m really looking forward to seeing our community grow stronger together.  See you there!


By Marierose, AALEAD MD Middle School Program
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

My name is Marierose. I’m 13 years old and I am going to be an 8th grader at Loiederman Middle School. I’ve been part of Asian American LEAD (AALEAD), since the start of middle school. When I first joined AALEAD in 6th grade, I didn’t really know what kind of group I was joining. My god sister was already in AALEAD, so this reassured me that I was about to join an awesome group. Soon after, my friends joined too. It was exciting! I still remember when I went to my first AALEAD event. I was a little nervous to see who was there. When I walked in, there were a lot of unfamiliar and new faces. But by the end of the event, I was relieved. I made friends with most of the people at the event. Over the years, I’ve been growing with AALEAD. AALEAD has made me feel comfortable and safe. For every program time, every meeting, every event, AALEAD has made me who I am today. The people that I’ve made friends in this program have helped me through a lot in my life. I have no regrets joining AALEAD. AALEAD is my second family.

This Summer, I decided to join AALEAD’s Summer Fusion Program. There are so many reasons why I wanted to join AALEAD’s Summer Fusion Program. One reason is that there were very interesting activities and workshops at Summer Fusion. For example, we had a dance workshop! It was really exciting and fun! Everyone learned different types of dance like Ballroom, Step and Hip Hop. AALEAD High School students were part of the Summer Fusion program as well. Some of the High School students were known as “workshop leaders” who led workshops for the group. A memorable workshop was when two of the High School workshop leaders created a game called “Pac-Man.” There was a twist! To move to the next station, groups had to sing a tune together assigned by the workshop leader. It was fun to see people singing and even practice our singing! My favorite part of Summer Fusion was when our Coordinators and High School workshop leaders led stretches to help us loosen our muscles. This even encouraged me to stretch at home!

One thing I learned at Summer Fusion is that you shouldn’t judge someone based on how they look. It’s like the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I learned this through my experience at Summer Fusion. One of my closest friends now, was one of the students I first looked at with confusion; and I even thought she was strange. But even in the short five weeks of the Summer Fusion Program, I got to know this person and she’s one of my closest friends now. The Summer Fusion Program has changed me so much and it only lasted for five weeks. Now, I feel more confident in showing and accepting my talents (I sing and play the ukulele). This confidence has made me realize that I could really become a musician in the future and make it my career. I am more open and I don’t feel uncomfortable around a group of strangers. AALEAD and Summer Fusion has made a big impact on my life!

“Till I See You Again”

“I used to tell people that I found this job by accident… but I don’t think it was an accident. I was meant to be here!”

In the summer of 2009, I moved to DC without a job or clue of what I would do next. While I was attending a fellowship through the Center for Progressive Leadership, I decided to volunteer in the DC community. I happened across the AALEAD website and thought that I could help out while searching for a job. The day before my volunteer interview, I got a call asking if I wanted to apply for the SSP coordinator position. I immediately told them “yes!” The next four years flew by in a heartbeat.

Looking back, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this experience. All I knew is that I loved community work and I loved working with youth. In many ways this was my dream job and I never believed that I could make a living doing this kind of work. My first day was a blur. I just remember Kendra Lee (past programs director) bringing me down to a room full of students and asking if I would be okay. So there I was, standing in front of 20+ students and it had begun.

There were so many things that happened in the first year. There were many challenges and many heart-wrenching moments.  Yet, all I can remember now are the good times. I remember playing basketball before programs at the courts on 14th Street. I remember staying till 10 pm to work on lessons for the Secondary School Program. I remember the impromptu life conversations and the infinite number of inside jokes.

These past four years have left me with life altering experiences and many people who I humbly call family. It is not every day that you find a job that feels more like home.  To the staff that I have had the honor of working with over the years, you all have taught me so much.  I am a better person because of all of you.

To all the students who have allowed me to be part of their amazing lives, I’ll miss you and thank you for always being there for me.

“One day, we won’t be able to sit here like this.

In this room, we dared to master the alchemy of tomorrow.

We, the misfiring jukeboxes rewriting

history to the tune of our favorite songs.

We, the renegade anthems hurling caution into the wind.

We chase stardust and promises.

We are the last ones to grow up and we’ve never stopped dreaming.”

Till I see you again,

Alex Cena

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

As August is coming to an end and school is starting up again soon, it is hard not to remember all the memories made during the five weeks of the MD Summer Fusion Program.  July 25 was the last day of the Summer Fusion Program and the feeling of a bittersweet goodbye filled the room.  AALEADers were anxious to enjoy the rest of their summer, yet held on to the many memories we made in a short period of time.

During the five weeks, high school workshop leaders, guest workshop leaders, and AALEAD staff took the lead in providing our middle and high school youth with a variety of workshops.  AALEADers learned to see the art of making people laugh in an improvisation workshop, to learning the moves of stomping and stepping in a dance workshop, and the art of making snacks using healthy foods.  Even though five weeks came and went, AALEADers definitely had the opportunity to experience the fusion of music, dance, and the arts during our Summer Fusion Program.

Following last summer’s MD Summer Me Program’s tradition, AALEAD youth planned a potluck for the last day to showcase all the projects they made and to share final individual and group performances.  AALEAD staff, family, and friends were invited to see the projects, performances, and to enjoy the food (there was a lot of food!).  And of course, Francine and I expressed how much our youth continue to inspire us everyday! It was definitely a bittersweet goodbye, but we are looking forward for our After School Programs (and next summer!)

Here are a few pictures from AALEAD’s  MD Summer Fusion Program’s last day:

Lastly, check out the video that was shown to our youth on the last day of Summer Fusion Program!

**Please check back for more updates and details to come!**
Last Updated: October 14, 2013

Hello, Friends! Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) is excited to announce our FREE fundraising lunch, Aspire to LEAD, on October 17, 2013, from 12 to 1 p.m., in the Silver Spring Civic Building in Downtown Silver Spring! Please join us for an inspiring and empowering hour-long program over lunch. Please RSVP to Please plan to arrive early as we will start on time! We look forward to seeing you!

RSVP/Contact: Sharon Choi
(202) 884-0322 x 104

Directions | For travel instructions and a map of the Civic Building, please click HERE.
GPS address: 8525 Fenton Street, Silver Spring, MD, 20910.

Parking | Please park in the Town Square Garage, which is located directly across the building. It is a Pay On Foot garage, so please bring your ticket with you. Rate: $0.75 per hour.

By Keo Xiong, MD Middle School Program Coordinator

“Nyob zoo!” That means “hello” in Hmong (literally translates as “live well”). I’m Keo (pronounced “key-ow”) and I just joined Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) as a MD Middle School Program Coordinator. After a hectic summer of many closures and new beginnings, between ending one job and starting another, and packing up and driving halfway across the country, I am living in a bubble of mixed feelings and emotions. Hailing from the vibrant, diverse Twin Cities in Minnesota, home to the largest concentration of the Hmong population in the United States, I already miss the familiar faces of Hmong friends, the large standing-room only family gatherings and food-coma-inducing meals, and the bustling growth of small businesses by Hmong immigrant and refugee individuals. With my recent move out of Minnesota, I leave behind a tight-knit family and community related by ethnic background but join another family here in the DC. metropolitan area connected by shared macro experiences as Asian Americans.

As a first generation Hmong American growing up in a neighborhood where Hmong made up the majority of the Asian and Pacific Islander population, I had few direct contact with the larger API community, except through food when eating out at small, family-owned restaurants around the city. As I got older and ventured away from home for college, I met many individuals of various multi-Asian ethnic backgrounds and learned about the rich history and vastness of Asia and Asian America. Naturally, my journey of self-exploration led me home after college to reconnect with and strengthen my Hmong roots.

Now here I am in DC, ready and excited to begin working with AALEAD – both colleagues and students – and looking forward to learning more about the DC and Montgomery County areas, schools and communities where we serve, and resources available. I am still settling in to my new residence but I already feel at home here. Well, not quite yet. Home is not home without my all-time favorite food dish. When I’m not busy learning the ins and outs of AALEAD and the metro system, you can be sure to find me seeking out and trying all the pho spots in town. If you know of any particularly great pho restaurants, please let me know!

A Guest of A Guest: An AALEAD Reunion

*Guest Blog Post

By Son Luu, AALEAD Alumnus
Photos Courtesy of Maria Carzon (former AALEAD staff), Nam Nguyen (AALEAD alumnus), and Lynda Nguyen (summer intern/alumnus)

On Saturday, August 3, a group of Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) alumni met up for a long overdue reunion. Alumni, along with Ms. Sandy Dang (founder and former Executive Director of AALEAD) and Maria Carzon (former staff member), came together for a morning of Dim Sum at the Good Fortune Chinese Restaurant in Wheaton, MD.

Alumni with Sandy Dang and Maria Carzon (and her kids!)

Two Saturdays ago, I had the honor of being invited to a reunion.  It was such a great surprise when I heard about it. I was going to see friends and people that I haven’t seen in years. I didn’t know what to expect and was quite nervous.  Saturday morning finally came. I arrived at Good Fortune after picking up two friends.  As we approached our table, people saw us and started getting up to hug and shake hands. I recognized most, if not all, of them.  Some looked the same and some looked a little different. Seeing these familiar faces, I started to have flashbacks of my own experience with AALEAD.

As an immigrant family, my parents were constantly working. So, I often found myself alone. During my childhood, AALEAD was my safe haven. Once I joined AAALEAD, I had a place to go after school and people to call friends.  AALEAD became an important part of my life. It wasn’t just a place for me to hang out, it was more than that. AALEAD helped me find myself.

AALEAD Dance Troupe performers pose for a picture before the Summer Talent Show

I started becoming more interactive with AALEAD. I was a part of the dance troop and the AALEAD family. I continued to be with AALEAD throughout my high school years. One of my most memorable moments was during my senior year of high school. After studying abroad, I was inspired to give back to the community, my community. I organized a whole campaign that did just that. I, along with my fellow Youth Council members, ran a clothing and toy drive for under privileged children in Washington, DC. We collected a surprisingly large amount of donations, so much so, that we didn’t know what to do with it — or how to distribute it. After some brainstorming we contacted Martha’s Table and initiated a collaborative effort to both collect a distribute the clothes and toys.

This experience was really special to me. It was not only a cause that was important to me, it was also the first time I was able to organize and rally my peers. It taught me how to be a leader and how powerful a tool encouragement really is. These skills have helped me up to this day. I will always have fond memories of the drive and my AALEAD days.

AALEADers on a fieldtrip

By Yenling Yang, AALEAD Elementary Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff & Interns

The DC Summer Elementary School Program has officially ended. As I hurried around the cafeteria, clearing the last of the tables where we held our closing celebration, I was sad to know that I had to say goodbye to these amazing kids. Their excited, loud screams, their light-hearted giggles, and the knowledge that they spread through each classroom will sorely be missed. As I turn to exit the doors of Thomson Elementary for the last time, their laughs are still ringing in my ears. I am sad also that all the friendships and mentorships that were formed with staff members must take an indefinite break as I venture off into another city to continue my own education. I already miss our 19 staff members. I already miss our 115 kids. And I already miss our fabulous DC Elementary School Program manager, Ms. Micah.

Despite heartbreak or goodbyes, it has been a solid 5 weeks here at AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Summer Program! So much movement has flowed in and out of these halls over the past few weeks, as we headed out for field trips to museums, farms, and Six Flags; then, we scuttled back in for workshops on health or identity or service; afterwards, we whisked back out again for trips to the library to further expand our minds; and then we sprinted back in to meet our Tai Chi instructor and one of our favorite authors (Wendy Shang, author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu)! Trampling over summer learning loss, no one missed a beat the entire summer!

We took a moment to celebrate this great program on Friday, August 2, with a variety of acts (plays, dancing, rapping) and displays (portfolios, painted flower pots, stories). The energy in the room, filled with students, staff, volunteers, and family members, was boundless. Kids could hardly keep still in between acts! There were cheers for fellow peers, laughter (when appropriate), and such an eagerness to see what the kids have been working on for the past 5 weeks!  As an intern, primarily placed in the AALEAD office at Thomson, to get to see the kids interacting with each other is a blessing. To see students put on funky shades and rap with their teacher or wear a mask to pretend to be a ballerina or do kicks off a wall to promote a health drink inspires me to work hard too! It’s obvious that these kids have so much potential and I can’t wait to see where it will take them!

As the doors for AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Summer Program closes for summer, the doors of AALEAD will be closing for me as well. The internship is officially over and as I pack my bags and prepare to leave the city, I will be thinking of the fond memories and lessons that I have made here at AALEAD. The biggest lesson that I have learned is that when working with kids, in order to have the greatest impact, one must build and maintain solid relationships with them over time. Face-to-face interaction is particularly necessary in learning how to socialize, work as a team, and sustain friendships among their peers. After all, communication is more than just words; it’s about body language and tone and attitude. Kids can tell if you’re not interested in them – even if you say you are. They can see that your body is not facing theirs or that your eyes are wandering elsewhere or that your voice is dreary. To let them know that you care, you have to feel it! Relationships are a two-way street. If you love them, they’ll love you back!

Well, that’s all from me for now. So long AALEAD! Hope to see you again in the future!

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

This past weekend, both our DC and MD mentors and mentees participated in a potluck and scavenger hunt at Meridian Hill Park. It was a gorgeous day filled with clear blue skies, and our mentoring pairs were ready to chow down on some delicious food and exercise their critical thinking skills during the hunt. From homemade yakisoba to crispy fried chicken and an array of fresh fruits, the dishes our mentoring pairs shared were super tasty and bursting with flavor. Not only did our meal span the colors of the rainbow, but the energy that the students displayed filled the park with a special kind of vibrancy as well.

After the pairs had the chance to fill their bellies and meet their fellow mentoring pairs, it was time to begin the scavenger hunt! DC AALEADers were paired with MD AALEADers in teams of four and then asked to take photos with statues, tell silly jokes, and demonstrate their creativity through a variety of tasks. As the students ran through the terraces of Meridian Hill Park and explored the historical area of the U Street Corridor with their mentors, lots of laughter, cheers, and encouragement could be heard throughout the course of the activity.

By participating in the scavenger hunt, our mentees not only learned about the importance of teamwork and how to rely on their team members’ strengths, but also, how to take the lead and share one’s knowledge with others. As the event came to an end, DC AALEADers reflected on how much they learned about their community and the neighborhood surrounding the AALEAD Community Center, while MD AALEADers enthusiastically expressed how fun it was to learn more about some of the landmarks and history in DC. These conversations highlight the significance of exposing our youth to new experiences, but also, remembering to have fun along the way as well.

Special shout out to all of the mentors and mentees who joined us at the potluck and scavenger hunt! We truly enjoyed seeing you all and are so happy that we were able to share such a beautiful day with such great company. Thanks so much, and can’t wait to see everyone again soon!