By Francine Gorres, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

In honor of Martin Luther King’s Birthday, students in the AALEAD HS Program reflected on the Civil Rights Movement and what Martin Luther King’s dream meant for the people of the United States. Students participated in a timeline activity and were able to learn more about what happened in the 1960s for Asian Americans, and boy were they surprised! From Yuri Kochiyama to the Immmigration Act of 1965 to fighting for Ethnic Studies programs, the 1960s were full of events directly affecting and including Asian Americans.  Here is what one of our students had to say about the activity:

“It was a usual school day and the last period of the bell rang. I met up with my best friend and we headed to the room where AALEAD would be held. Our topic that day was the Civil Rights Movement and Asians. We were told to stand under a year which represented when our parents were born. Francine told us [to imagine what life was like when] all of this was going on and I was pretty surprised because I had never thought about it.  I learned a lot about the people from my continent that school doesn’t teach! I learned so much in such a short amount of time. What angers me is the fact I don’t get to learn about Asians in the Civil Rights Movement [in school]. Asians are [part of American] history. They were there and they should be acknowledged.”

Students were then asked, “Imagine that it’s the 1960s and you are surrounded by people who want to create change. What are some things you would want to change with the help of your peers?” Students talked about the challenges of bullying and how mental health is becoming an issue for many of their peers. They said that many students struggle with depression and stress, but rarely seek help or tell their friends. Students also wanted to change the college admissions process and wished that more opportunities could be given to students to attend 4 year universities. It was great to see our students come alive through learning about Asian American history. They even wanted to learn more! Activities like this truly help our students to think critically not only about Education & History, but also about their own personal identities, values, and beliefs.

By My Nguyen, DC Program Coordinator

Hello everyone!

I am My Nguyen and I am joining Asian American ALEAD (AALEAD) as the new DC Program Coordinator.

I have to admit, I am extremely excited to write this introduction blog. Perhaps my energy is due to the fact that I was able to sleep in this morning because of the snow. With that, I hope this introduction finds everyone well and not too exhausted from all the shoveling. Of course, everyone has been asking me about my name. It is spelled Mỹ, which means America in Vietnamese. The pronunciation I prefer is “My” unless I am introducing myself to a Vietnamese speaker, then I would pronounce my name the way that it is pronounced in Vietnamese, which sounds similar to (Mee).

I am the second of four children. I am very close with my siblings and we are in constant communication no matter where we are. I am a huge fan of the tv show, “The Voice”. My other hobbies and interests include: history, running, spending quality time with my family and friends, concocting new Starbucks drinks, and supporting the Philadelphia Eagles. (BOOO Washington Redskins!)

And now, I like to explain how my journey has led me to AALEAD.

A little bit over 5 years ago, I was entering college to be a health sciences major and had internalized the idea that I would be the next Dr. Gregory House (Fictional TV character). Then something unexpected happened when I joined Students4Haiti and became a Resident Assistant for The Upward Bound Program. I dived into a whole new world, totally unknown and unfamiliar, and many aspects of my life began to change. I met new people who stretched my mind. Gradually, my career views began to alter. Instead of wanting to be the center of attention, I became intrigued by the process of transforming my efforts into helping others, which led me to have an ambitious goal of one day starting my own non-profit organization.

After receiving my Bachelor’s Degree from University of Delaware, I moved to Connecticut for grad school and joined a local AmeriCorps program in New Haven, CT. During my time in AmeriCorps, I served as an Academic Coach for LEAP, a non-profit organization that provides after-school programming for children living in high poverty urban neighborhoods. I managed over twenty children and mentored senior counselors at an after-school program site. Seeing students appreciate my academic and cultural lessons as a form of support for their success in school and beyond, has been extremely rewarding. Recently, I did an internship with American Red Cross Delmarva Region, where I was mentored by some very amazing non-profit executives and given opportunities to hone my abilities. I look forward to continuing to work with children at AALEAD and to grow in the non-profit sector.

P.S. I love to explore, so if anyone has any suggestions for the DC area for me to tackle, please let me know.

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

This past Saturday, 14 of our mentoring pairs went ice skating at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink. Despite the cold temperatures outside, all of our mentoring pairs had bright smiles on their faces and contributed to the warm energy felt by everyone. A joyous mix of jitters and laughter permeated the atmosphere as Mentors helped their Mentees lace up their skates.

After watching the ice resurfacer make its rounds around the rink, Mentors and Mentees were finally ready to hit the ice! Some pairs showed off their slick moves by gliding across the ice and striking notable poses. Other students held on tightly to their Mentors’ hands as they learned how to ice skate for the very first time.

Over the course of the session, pairs had the opportunity to meet new faces, catch up with old friends, and enjoy one another’s company. As the last hour of the event drew near, all of our pairs gathered together for a group photo on the ice. At that very moment, snow flurries fluttered down for the first time that day, making for the perfect backdrop and creating lasting, magical memories for all.

Our annual Mentoring Ice Skating is an event that our pairs and staff look forward to year after year. Not only has the occasion become an enjoyable tradition, but it also allows for pairs to continue building upon their mentorships and have fun with other mentoring pairs along the way.

Many thanks to all of the Mentors and Mentees who braved the chilly weather and joined us at the rink this year! We hope you had a blast and can’t wait until next year’s event!

Eastern MS AALEADers Make Vietnamese Banh Mi!

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

Tuesday after school was a busy afternoon for the AALEADers at Eastern Middle School. Students were actively engaged in groups trying to come up with the best script for their Vietnamese water puppet plays. Students were on a roll! They had great team chemistry as they were bouncing ideas off one another.

After the students completed their scripts, they gathered around to recap on what they had learned so far this week about the country of Vietnam. It was awesome to hear how much they learned about the country’s history and culture.

But most importantly, students were able to get a taste of Vietnamese cuisine by making their own Vietnamese sandwiches called banh mi! Students lined up with such excitement ready to make their own personalized sandwiches.

Continue to check out our blog for more updates!

MD High School AALEADers Tackle Program Goals!

By Francine Gorres, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

In the world of after school programming, we understand that students are attracted by many different extra-curricular activities. From sports to arts to engineering every student has different interests and reasons for why they join different activities. For the AALEAD MD High School Program we try to re-engage youth by giving them an active role in planning programs. Last month we worked with students to take a look at some of our goals for the year, some of the challenges, and some action steps we can take as a group to accomplish these goals by the end of the year.  For some of our youth, this was the first time they had ever been involved in program planning and was a true test to some critical thinking skills. We asked students to be very honest and to work in groups  to address some of the challenges they face in achieving the goals.

Here are some quotes from their Leadership reflections:

“Providing feedback and suggestions made me feel involved in the program, more in control of what is happening.”

“Today, I have provided a substantial amount of suggestions in solving some problems associated with programs.”

“The most important thing I learned from today’s activity was learning how to identify problems in reaching a goal so you can change to better reach your goal.”

“Providing personal feedback to ways to help reach goals made me feel involved and able to actually make a change in the way things work.”

“I was able to talk to new people. Also, I was able to listen to my partner’s ideas and build upon them. I feel like I was, in total, successful in being an active listener.”

Though the activity was fairly simple, it helped students to practice some key elements of communication: listening, providing feedback, and compromising, all important things leaders need to have in order to create effective positive change. As an observer and youth mentor, it’s truly a remarkable experience to see planted seeds begin to sprout. Watching youth grow has a way of bringing light and warmth to the room even on the coldest day of winter. Stay WARM everyone!

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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