AALEAD Receives Nancy Dworkin Award!

Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) received the 2014 Nancy Dworkin Oustanding Service to Youth Award in the Organization category at the 28th Annual Nancy Dworkin Outstanding Service to Youth Awards Ceremony last night at the Adventure Theatre-MTC in Glen Echo, Md.

AALEAD is honored to have been selected from among so many other organizations in Montgomery County for our service to youth. We would like to congratulate all other awardees in the various categories presented last night! AALEAD’s Board Members, Executive Director, and Staff are honored to be a part of a community who works tirelessly to provide all we can for our young people.

The program included remarks from Councilmember Nancy Floreen and Director of Department of Health and Human Services Uma Ahluwalia, and community youth who presented awards to each recipient. AALEAD was lucky to have a former AALEAD youth present our award!

This awards program is coordinated by the Montgomery County Commission on Children and Youth, made up of 27 committed volunteers, which advises the County Executive, County Council, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Board of Education on providing services to youth and families. The awards program is named in memory of Nancy Dworkin, the past chairperson of the Commission, who passed in 1987. She was the Director of the Center for Unique Learners, a Rockville school for children with learning disabilities, and was known for her teaching philosophy based on “teaching to strengthen.”

The  ceremony was sponsored by Adventure Theatre-MTC, Corporate Volunteer Council of Montgomery County, and The Gazette.

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

Today we bring you an Alumni Spotlight on one of our former AALEAD alumni AND a former Development & Communications Intern, Lynda Nguyen! Check out my conversation with her below to learn about her journey with AALEAD so far as well as where she is today.

Q:  How long were you in AALEAD and what are you doing now?
A:  That is sort of a hard question.  I have been in and out of AALEAD.  I do not remember the exact time frame but I remember the different buildings AALEAD was in.  I was there in the first, second, and third building.  My family and I have been part of AALEAD for a long time  now. I am currently finishing  a Bachelor of Arts degree in educational studies and I am starting a Masters Program in Urban Policy Analysis and Management in New York.  Also, I am a Program Director at a nonprofit part-time and have a side job in retail.

Q:  How do you think AALEAD has helped you get to where you are now?
A:  I think a lot of it has to do with building leadership skills and opportunities to participate in different activities such as camping, going to the Mayor’s forum, and being part of a national spoken word festival.  I was in the Mt. Pleasant area before all the development happened.  There were a lot of resources that my family and I needed in which AALEAD filled that gap for me.  I was able to develop into the person I wanted to be and and reach my fullest potential because of AALEAD.  AALEAD has expanded my world, which is why I wanted to go back and give back to AALEAD as well!

Q:  Describe AALEAD in 3 words.
A:  Hmm. That is hard! I would say that the first and foremost word is haven. Haven really encapsulates my personal experience with AALEAD.  My entire family has grown up with AALEAD.  I have seen my family develop through AALEAD as well as see AALEAD develop within itself.  It was special being part of AALEAD in which I was able to experience a lot of things as well as meet some great friends.  The next word is empowerment.  AALEAD really built me up to who I am today through various different facets.  Some of these include relationships, advice, and guidance.  AALEAD was able to build me up in a way in which I could speak for myself.  The last word would be altruistic.  AALEAD is built on kindness in which they believe that everyone deserves the same share of the mic.  It asks so little and gives so much.  I think this organization has stayed true to what it was since the beginning and I think that is incredible.

Q:   If you could thank AALEAD for anything, what would it be?
A:  I would have to say that I am most grateful for the gift of curiosity and confidence, mostly.  I think a lot of what I have accomplished so far have stemmed from those two things. My experience at AALEAD has provided me with these two things. All of the contextual experiences that I have gone though with this organization have allowed me to develop those two skills.

Q:  What is your most memorable moment with AALEAD?
A:  It is so hard to think about just one memorable moment because I have been with AALEAD for so long.  One of the most memorable moments was when I was in the Elementary School Program. I think I was in 3rd for 4th grade and I was really into poetry.  I helped plan this open mic type of event at a local eatery.  It was just a couple of kids in my after school class in which we read what we wrote on a nice spring day.  For one, it was a great accomplishment for me because I was able to share something I love with my fellow classmates.  It was also very nice because I was doing something in my own community and starting to see how various structures interacted with one another in the community.

Q:  If you could name a song that describes your life right now, what would it be?
A:  Hmm, I have no idea.  I have been so busy lately.  I think my life song would be something very different from now compared to what it would be in a few weeks.  I would like to give you the song that describes my life in a few weeks if that is okay.  My life song would be “Sleepyhead” by Passion Pit.  The lyrics have a great meaning behind!

Q:  If you could trade places with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
A:  Right now? Currently? Oh. Hmm.  I would say it’s someone who is a leader in Asia, specifically, in Burma.  I read a lot of her work when I was young in which I think she is the forefront of what is going on in Burma.  She has done so much and what she is fighting for is very empowering.  If I could be her for just one day, that would be awesome.  The person I am talking about is Aung San Suu Kyi.  She is a political leader in Burma who is fighting for civil and human rights.

What a great conversation with Lynda! 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 My Nguyen, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

May is International Cultural Awareness Month and Passport DC celebrates this month with more than 100 international events and activities. One of the events is the popular embassy open houses where more than 50 embassies representing six continents open their doors to DC visitors and residents, and DC Middle and High School students were able to journey across the globe to visit these embassies this past weekend without having to leave the city!

The world tour started with the students visiting the Embassy of Malaysia where they were able to get a greater understanding of Malaysia through the country’s cultural performances which include dance ensembles as well as a traditional Malay wedding. The Malaysian Embassy also prepared food stalls that provided samplings of Malaysian cuisine, including demonstrations of the Tarik and roti canai preparation. Their journey ended with the Embassy of Japan which is located in a Neo-Gerogian style mansion. This National Historic Landmark was filled with traditional Japanese culture along with the country’s modern technology displays. As the student enters the embassy, they were immediately fascinated by a model of The Shinkansen High-speed Trains topped off with Godzilla by its side. Other modern displays included the Therapeutic Robotic Seal and the new state of the art Airbus Airplane design.

Other embassies students visited along the way included; Pakistan, Indonesia, and Colombia. For each embassy the students visited, a stamp is put in their souvenir DC Passport.

The performances, lessons about a country’s history, and food samplings not only allowed students to walk away with a better appreciation for other cultures, but also helped them understand that traditions make us who we are. More importantly, it left students yearning to learn more about their roots in order to better understand themselves and their heritage.

Onward to Maryland Day!

By Antwoine Johnson, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Youth

This past Saturday, MD AALEAD youth took a trip to the University of Maryland, College Park, for Maryland Day! Maryland Day is a celebration of the accomplishments and success of the university and their students. The day is devoted to the presentation and entertainment of things and schools that are representative of the UMD culture. High school volunteers and staff guided middle school students around for the day and all partook in learning about activities such as Israeli dancing and occupations like being in the Coast guard. Students were also able to experience the magic of UMD ice cream, the richest ice cream in all of Maryland! It was also an opportunity for the high school and the middle school students get to know each other better, furthering the AALEAD family bond that is so important to all of us. After a day of moon bounces, running around, and learning about UMD and different cultures, we ended the day with an enthusiastic bus ride back home, equipped with memories and the euphoria from the day that they just had.

The Need for Data Disaggregation

Yesterday, the Washington Post published data from Montgomery County Public Schools documenting the academic achievement gap.  Data was published comparing outcomes for White, Asian, Black, and Latino students showing White and Asian academic outcomes stronger than Black and Latino academic outcomes.  This article was published after students in Montgomery County marched last weekend to draw attention to the achievement gap.

I believe drawing attention to differences in outcomes by race is very important given our country’s history.  However, we must continue to also examine outcomes by income. When you look at outcomes for Asians in the aggregate, you miss the differences in outcomes by income in our communities.

Asian American LEAD serves low-income and underserved Asian American youth in the region, including in Montgomery County, through after school, summer, and mentoring programs.  Our youth are in schools in the Silver Spring and Wheaton area that have higher populations of low-income youth of many backgrounds.  I would like to see academic achievement data broken down by school, by race, and by income to help us develop the most effective strategies for supporting all of our students.

Surjeet Ahluwalia
Executive Director
Asian American LEAD

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!


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)!