Intern Introduction: Greetings from Dong!

By Dong Zhou, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photo Courtesy of Dong Zhou, DC Elementary School Program Intern

Hello everyone, my name is Dong Zhou, and I am Asian American LEAD’s (AALEAD) Fall 2014 DC Elementary School Program Intern! I am currently a college student studying Education at American University. This fall, I am a part of the Washington Mentorship Program, which gives me the chance to intern twice a week to explore my interests and get experiences outside of the classroom.

I have been in the United States for four years now. I went to high school in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Louisiana. I know it sounds a bit weird that I went to high school in three different states, so if you want to know the reason why, don’t be afraid to ask! I love playing ping pong (table tennis) and I also enjoy cross-country skiing. I played ping pong for seven years in China, and I also participated in cross-country skiing for two years when I was in high school. If you’re interested in these sports as well, let me know and maybe we can play together sometime!

I applied for this internship with AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Program because I am interested in education and understanding more about youth development. I also personally identify with many of these children and am eager to use my Mandarin language skills to learn more about this population in DC. I am excited to get to know all of the students soon!

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

This past Saturday, the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) Mentoring Program held our first ever Bowling Social! Ten of our mentoring pairs gathered at Lucky Strike DC for an afternoon filled with fun, food, and friendship. After introductions were made, youth and mentors laced up their bowling shoes and put their game faces on; it was finally time to begin!

As pairs walked towards their respective lanes, they also engaged in some friendly, competitive banter. Youth enthusiastically praised their mentors’ skills to their peers, while mentors were eager and excited to share a favorite pastime with their mentees (some of whom have never been bowling before!). As mentors helped youth enter their names onto the screens, some pairs set goals for the scores that they wanted to achieve, while others excitedly caught up on each other’s lives.

After about an hour or so of bowling, mentoring pairs regained their energy by chowing down on yummy snacks such as chicken tenders, mac and cheese bites, chips and salsa, and pretzel sticks! Students were eager to begin bowling again after the break and even began to cheer on their fellow mentor-mentee pairs each time someone bowled a spare or a strike. As the Bowling Social came to an end, a strong sense of community could definitely be felt as pairs enjoyed one another’s company and continued to build on each other’s strengths and skills.

Events such as the Bowling Social serve as a great opportunity to not only team build, but also teach our youth that leadership can be comprised of a multitude of things. Sometimes being a leader means speaking in public or leading a larger group, but being a leader can also mean: trying something (like bowling) that you’ve never done before, being persistent and patient when you are learning something new (like bowling) for the first time, or even encouraging and cheering on your fellow peers.

We had an awesome time kicking off the new school year at Lucky Strike DC and look forward to what the rest of the year has in store for all of us. Thanks to all of the mentor-mentee pairs who participated — hope you had a blast and can’t wait to see all of you again soon!

By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

AALEAD’s MD High School Program kicked off last week and the generative momentum for the coming year is already impressive. On our first day of programs at both Einstein and Blair High School, youth participated in a contest focusing on teamwork and leadership skills. They were tasked to work together to build a tall structure with a limited number of building materials.

After the energetic competition—filled with laughter, the sound of popping balloons, encouragement, and inventive techniques—youth had a chance to discuss what the activity meant to them. The insights drawn from this activity exemplified everyone’s eagerness to engage in building their own and each other’s leadership skills as well as creating a team-oriented atmosphere. One youth reflected that “It was all about the base. You have to build a strong foundation. When you have a solid base, you can build anything on top of that,” connecting our activity to building skill sets and accomplishing goals in life. Youth talked about setting a strong foundation for the new school year.

We wrapped up our exercise with “Shout Outs.” A “Shout Out” is when one person shares something they appreciate about another person in the group. This could be an idea that they thought was great, a strength or skill that was helpful, or anything to acknowledge and affirm another person in the room. The ease with which youth were able to relate to their peers and see their many strengths was inspiring. Holding in theme with our building activity, the “Shout Outs” created our base for building on those strengths moving forward in the year. After the activity was finished, the teams created so much more than a simple balloon tower: the room was filled with a sense of camaraderie, support, and excitement.

Youth also got a chance to generate goals for the year moving forward. Conversations varied from the reasons youth came to AALEAD, to the types of experiences and skills youth were looking forward to have together. I was warmly surprised by the mixed variety of responses. There were many new ideas for projects, events, and workshop topics. Some youth goals focused on acquiring specific skills such as leadership experience in leading groups and public speaking. Other goals focused on developing a sense of friendship and family within AALEAD. The varied responses about why youth came to AALEAD echo why I was drawn to AALEAD: we are learning and gaining new skills together while remaining centered in a sense of family and community.

Looking at all of the youth’s goals, I can confidently say that this year will be one to remember. Everyone is equipped with goals in mind as well as an open mind to try new things. There was one word that was shared in most reflections: Fun! We will be sure to have immeasurable amounts of fun with all of the events, projects and experiences we have to look forward to.

By Francine Gorres, MD Programs Manager
Photo Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Before the start of Summer Programs, High School students applied and were interviewed to become group leaders and mentors for Middle School youth in the AALEAD Summer Kinect Program.  As part of the experience, High School youth participated in daily de-brief meetings to process their leadership development and to formulate action steps for improvement.  This past month we were able to review and analyze some End of the Summer surveys and reflections from our High School youth about their leadership experience. Have a look about how they have processed their experience.

“I learned a lot about myself throughout the summer. Summer Kinect helped me develop better leadership skills. Before this I also didn’t realize how big of an impact I could be on people younger than me, so I took that as motivation to become a positive role model. Through this experience, I also learned that teamwork is essential to make things like this happen. The idea of teamwork is something that applies to life in general as well and Summer Kinect opened me up to be able to work with others in a timely and productive manner. This journey was overall a great one for me and it’s great that we combined having fun and learning to work hand-in-hand.” (Female,17)

“I really enjoyed my summer with Summer Kinect, and I am glad to have been a part of it this summer. This was my first summer to have really connected with middle school students. I really enjoyed being a high school leader and it makes me happy to know that some middle school students enjoyed spending time with me. I learned that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Each strength and weakness is essential to create a cohesive group. I also learned that each leader is different from one another and it’s just a matter of how a leader handles things that makes them unique and different from each other. Having to spend so much time with both high school and middle school leaders definitely opened up my vision of what family is. I cannot emphasize enough the bond and quality of the relationships between staff, leaders, and students; and I thank AALEAD for continuing doing an awesome job in orchestrating it. Lastly, I learned how confident I am with other people than I am alone. Thank you so much staff for all the work you put in the program!” (Female,17)

“I learned how to deal with kids, speak out and not be shy and quiet, express myself in music, dance, and talking, how to encourage kids, mediate my group members when they had problems and didn’t like each other at first. This experience taught me how to be a way stronger leader than before. I learned how to lead and rise up to the occasion and be a true leader to lead my team to victory as well as speaking out and taking the role to lead and knowing I can do it.” (Male,16)

“In Summer Kinect I have learned a lot about myself. I learned that I’m not very open with others and that being open is a good thing. I learned that I’m more inclined to try new things with friends and people I trust around. I learned I can make friends better if I just be myself. I learned about service too. Service to those in need helps so many more people than you think. The car wash told this and that something small can really make a big difference. Even service to one person is equal to service to hundreds. I also learned a lot about leadership. Leadership is difficult and not just something anyone can do. Leadership is very important and the best way to learn is to try. I learned that I could be a good leader, but I would need to have experience. I have made many good friends and a great summer.” (Male, 15)

Mid and End of Summer Reflection, Male, 17

Mid Summer Reflection – “My experience about my Summer Kinect this far is good. This experience is very important to me because this is my first time joining AALEAD. Last summer it is not that fun and active to me because I only stayed in my room to play games and do my work which is not that fun. But this time since I joined AALEAD I learned a lot of new things example are have to be a leader and how being a participant can be a leader too by setting an example. In this last three weeks of Summer Kinect I want to be more confident and open to others. Right now I’m on my way to on succeeding in my goal, but fear of rejection or being ignored is holding me back. This is why I will keep challenging myself to be more confident on myself. This SSL experience is different from others because this teaches how friendship and leadership works. It also creates a special bond between students that can last maybe forever.”

End of Summer Reflection – “During AALEAD my experience is great. I met new friends from different groups and schools. Before going to this program my first thought was this going to be boring and I will quit in the week, but as the day goes on it keeps on getting funner and funner. This program made me build my confidence in front of people. I learned how to be patient and take care of people.  Thanks to AALEAD that I did not spend my summer doing nothing just sitting down on my desk and play computer. I had a lot of fun this summer. I’m hoping that I will be able to come back next summer. Thank you AALEAD!!”

We are so proud and happy to hear such positive feedback from our youth. It is truly a privilege to be part of their personal development and self discovery. Congratulations to all of the Summer Kinect High School youth and to all of the Staff involved for creating such a wonderful experience for our youth! Thank you to all of you for supporting AALEAD Programs.

By Sharon Choi, Development & Communications Manager
Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff & Youth

Keo joined the AALEAD family in August 2013, hailing all the way from Minnesota. When she’s not busy supporting AALEADers and running our MD Middle School Programs at Argyle and Parkland Middle Schools, you will find her being extremely creative and crafty, exploring DC, and hunting for good pho! She brings an awesome energy to our team, so we are excited for this month’s Staff Spotlight! Still trying to figure out how to pronounce her name? As the title of this post suggests, Keo rhymes with “meow!”

Q: So, tell us a little about yourself!
A: So weird talking about myself! But…I really enjoy food. So any city that I move to needs to have really good pho, or just, you know, food in general! Especially food I grew up with because it’s comfort food and if I’m away from home, that’s the one thing that can always bring me back or give me that sense of home. Really good Thai/Vietnamese food because that’s my favorite thing and I love it!

Q: Awesome! What about nicknames? Have AALEADers given you any yet?
A: Yes, I shared with them [when I first started at AALEAD,] the whole “Keo Meow” thing to be able to get them to pronounce my name. Now the kids have gotten really used to that, so they like to sing songs about my name. It’s so funny!

Q: Can you share a little bit about your background before coming to AALEAD?
A: I grew up in St. Paul, MN, where there’s a huge Hmong population. [Editor’s Note: Keo is of Hmong descent.] There, I didn’t interact with the Asian American community that much, even though I was in it. When I went away to college and I was with very few Asian Americans, I really missed that. So when I went back home after college, I worked for an organization that actually helped me get into college. It worked with low-income students–a lot of them in the city were Asian American, so that was really nice. It was a way of giving back to an organization that helped me get so far. I did that for a year and then I found AALEAD. I wanted to work specifically with Asian American youth because I was really detached from it and I really wanted to get back into the community.

Q: So how did you exactly end up at AALEAD? Why AALEAD?
A: I was actually looking to move out of Minnesota for a while, just to kind of see what other Asian communities were like. DC kind of felt like the right fit just because there are so many different types of people here and also having the backdrop of DC itself; the energy here and all of the different organizations, seeing all the different aspects that go into nonprofits and go into working with communities. That, I found really interesting. It just kind of has everything. People here are very active. It was a different feel from the community back in Minnesota and I wanted that change. The youth here seem very involved. I was looking for a job in DC and I came across the posting online and instantly started researching it. I didn’t look at anything else after that. AALEAD stuck out the most. I wanted to be at this organization because it meant a lot for me to work with Asian American youth in a different city and what different needs there are in different communities.

Q: What is the best part about the AALEAD MD Middle School Program?
A: I love that it allows Asian American youth to really explore their interests and have an outlet for things that maybe they may not be able to talk about with their parents their friends or their families that are related to being Asian and Asian American. Having them be around people who, you know, enjoy KPOP, and someone that they can share their interests with one another in a way that isn’t looked down upon or made fun of. I think that’s really powerful because it helps affirm who they are and allows them to appreciate themselves and their culture a lot more.

Q: What’s your favorite part about being a Coordinator?
A: I love working with middle school youth. I had worked with high school youth before and college students, so I had to step back a little bit and look at how different it was to work with middle school youth. My little sister is in middle school. She’s a 7th grader now, back home in Minnesota and I miss her. I think it’s great to work with that age group. They’re in an interesting place, so they’re trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and I get to see that. And that’s the best part. They’re kind of an extension of my little sister in some ways. I see them help each other grow. I’m really excited to see the 6th graders become confident 7th graders, and see the former 7th graders be mentors as 8th graders. So that’s, I think, the most rewarding part for me.

Q: Can you share your favorite quote?
A: So I really like this quote: “I am because you are” or “because you were.” That for me, means a lot because, I’m here because the people before me made that possible. So whether that was the women who were in the women’s rights movements, or those who were participating in the civil rights movement to allow people of color to be able to do everything and anything. I love history and I love knowing about all of those who came before me because it really puts my life into perspective and how we can do that for the future generations.

Q: What is one unique thing about you?
A: That’s so hard! I don’t know if I’m that interesting! Okay, so I have this thing, where, I really like lists, like making to-do lists; but only because I need to know what I need to do. But after, that I never look back at the list. I need to be organized to get my mind set on things. I need to have lists just to make the lists, but I never refer back to the lists! Like it goes out the window, but I know I wrote it down.

Q: If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?
A: I think I would be the person in that motorcycle that rides around in the circle only because I don’t have a bone of being a daredevil in my body. It sounds like it would be really cool if I could do that. It seems like a weird thing, someone being in a ball, riding around in a motorcycle, but it seems like you are a daredevil!

Q: I can’t believe I once…
A: I can’t believe I…can I not do the “once?” I can’t believe I chose a country to study abroad in which I knew nothing about before applying. I studied abroad in Amsterdam. A lot of my friends were researching countries that they wanted to go to and why they wanted to go there and I just randomly picked a country. It turned out to be the Netherlands, and that’s where I was for five months. I had the time of my life getting to know about a culture and people that I had never really thought about before. I did that my junior year, spring semester of college. That was kind of crazy, a spur of the moment, “let’s pick a country and go!” I really knew nothing about Amsterdam!

Thanks for reading! Remember to check back on our blog weekly for program and staff updates. Like us Facebook (AALEAD) and follow us on Instagram (@AALEAD) and Twitter (@AALEAD) for daily updates!

Summer Memories and New Beginnings!

By Melor Suhaimi, MD Programs Manager
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Summer unofficially ended in Maryland during the last week of August with many Maryland students going back to school.  However, with the heat and humidity, it still feels like summer and it made me feel a bit nostalgic. This summer was filled with great memories in Maryland’s Summer Kinect program, a bittersweet goodbye for our colleague, Francine Gorres, and a huge welcoming for 2 brand new staff members, Ari Pak and Shaima Ahmad. As mentioned in previous AALEAD blog posts, Summer Kinect provided AALEAD youth with an opportunity to build lasting relationships, discuss issues on mental health, and overall provide a safe and fun setting for our youth!

Our MD High School youth even planned a special goodbye for AALEAD staff member, Francine Gorres. Francine has worked with AALEAD for many years and will be moving on to her next chapter in New York City! Francine’s dedication and passion to AALEAD has shown in the growth of AALEAD’s MD High School Program. We are very thankful and grateful for Francine being part of the AALEAD team and are also very excited for Francine’s next chapter! On the second to last day of the Summer Kinect program, our MD High School youth surprised Francine with a goodbye video, a serenade, and a gift for her to remember AALEAD forever. It was a special moment for all of us and we will truly miss you Francine!

With the bittersweet goodbye for Francine, there was also a welcoming for 2 new staff members, Ari and Shaima.  Ari is part of the AALEAD team as MD’s High School Program Coordinator and Shaima is VA’s High School Program Coordinator.   Ari and Shaima started their first few weeks with introductions to all of AALEAD programs and attending the Advanced Youth Development (AYD) training in Maryland.  The training, attended by most of AALEAD staff, provides an in-depth understanding of youth development.  This training is critical for all staff because it provides a foundation as to why we work with youth and the importance of understanding where youth are coming from.  Below is a picture of Ari and Shaima’s AYD graduation day.  Congratulations Ari and Shaima!

This summer will always be memorable, but it is also a reminder that the 2014-2015 school year is beginning.  The first few weeks of the school year are usually a time for MD staff to schedule recruitment dates to encourage returning AALEAD youth and new AALEAD youth to join AALEAD after-school programs.  In the next two weeks, recruitment meetings at our MD High Schools and Middle Schools will take place:  Einstein HS, Blair HS, Wheaton HS , Loiederman MS, Argyle MS, Parkland MS, Newport Mill MS, and Eastern MS.  Please contact me at if you are interested in attending one of these recruitment meetings to learn more about our MD programs. AALEAD’s MD staff are excited for the school year and we are looking forward to seeing our youth again!

Summer Kinect: A Special Thank You!

By Francine Gorres, MD Programs Manager
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Even though Summer is coming to an end, we are still remembering fond memories about our Summer Kinect program. As part of the Summer High School Program, high school students received workshops on college resources, college tours, and financial aid.

Students learned about net price calculators, campus life, classes and scheduling, student groups, and campus resources. Students also attended college visits to the University of Maryland College Park, George Washington University, Haverford College, Villanova University, and Johns Hopkins University. Students really enjoyed seeing the different colleges and started to compare the pros and cons of each school. For some students it was their first time participating in an official college tour! It was great to see them ask questions and engage with each of the tour guides during the college visits.

Last but not least, students also learned about financial aid through some really engaging and informative guest speakers:

We would like to thank Atin Mittra and his team from MADE Microfinance for coming out to teach our youth about personal budgeting! Many of the youth participated in a game that simulated budgeting with real life events such as losing a job, getting a raise, and paying students loans! The game was very interactive and even generated some very passionate responses from youth about how to spend and earn money. Overall, students had a great time and learned some lessons in how to implement smart spending habits to pay off student loans and expenses.

We would also like to thank  Joy Yoo, Kevin Hirano, and Cecilia Marshall from the Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund for coming in to teach our youth about student loans, scholarships, and the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Many of our youth are looking for scholarships to fund their college education and the workshop helped students to understand the basic elements of different kinds of financial aid. Students even participated in an essay writing workshop to help them prepare responses for scholarship applications!

This summer was jam-packed with fun, education, college, and leadership. To get an inside look, please stay tuned for a future blog on students’ reflections about their summer leadership journey with AALEAD!

AALEAD’s DC Office Moves!

Our AALEAD DC Office has officially moved!

We are now located just outside of Chinatown at 1029 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 810. AALEAD’s new DC office is now at a more permanent and traditional office space as all of our programs are offsite and in the schools and community. Through this major transition, we are committed as ever in our ongoing support of low-income and underserved Asian American youth in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. None of our programming, services, and support to youth have been disrupted in any way.

We are excited to kick off the fall in our new space and look forward to having everyone visit soon! Until then, please make sure to stay connected with us by checking back on our blog. Questions? Please feel free to reach out to our Development & Communications Manager, Sharon Choi, at

August is when the DC region slows down.  But not totally at AALEAD!  Our staff do get to take a break between summer and school-year programs, but August is also always a busy time with transitions and organization-building activities.

This August, we continued to work on our next 3-year strategic plan for FY15 – FY17.  We will be sharing more on that in the fall once our plan is finalized.

We held our Annual Staff Retreat August 5-7.  We had a very productive retreat with all staff participating in the planning and activities of the retreat.  We had some fun teambuilding, reviewed our previous year, set program goals for next year, and brainstormed around strengthening AALEAD systems for curriculum and achieving our goals.

We wrapped up our retreat with visiting our new DC office!  In September, AALEAD will begin working out of our new office space just 2 blocks from our largest program site.  We are really looking forward to our new, more permanent space!

August is also a time for staff transitions before the school year begins.  Our wonderful MD Programs Manager, Francine Gorres, is moving to New York City after 4 years with AALEAD.  We are sad to see Francine go, but are excited about our new staff member, Ari Pak.  Ari joins us full-time as the MD High School Program Coordinator; she was previously one of our part-time Elementary School program teachers.  Melor Suhaimi has been promoted to the MD Programs Manager position.

We are also launching after-school programs at Annandale High School this September!  Shaima Ahmad, one of our part-time staff for our Elementary School Programs, has joined us full-time as our first ever VA High School Program Coordinator!

Thank you for your continued support, and I hope you enjoy these remaining days of summer!


By My Nguyen, DC Middle & High School Program Coordinator
Photo Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

For the past few months, I’ve been working with a group of middle and high school students, and during my time with them, I have been able to witness the growth that some of these students displayed through programs. I have been consistently impressed with all of our youth, and would like to mention three high school students who have emerged as leaders of our program and serve as role models to our middle school students. Not only are they leaders of our program, but they continuously display their commitments to our program and AALEAD by being actively involved with all events and activities. If you ask me, I would say that AALEAD is an important aspect of their lives and that they all love AALEAD. What better way to confirm my belief than to hear it from the student themselves?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Vy , Edward, Tommy, and their perspectives on AALEAD.

“My name is Vy, a rising sophomore who has been in AALEAD for about 3 and half years. As you know, AALEAD means Asian-American Leadership, Empowerment and Development for the Youth and Family, but there are many other definitions of what AALEAD is and what it means to us, AAleaders. I have learned that AALEAD is an organization that focuses on the Asian American in the fields of education and much more to help youth develop together which creates a special bond in becoming one big family. For me, AALEAD means another family that I can be extremely comfortable with, make new friends, experience new things (attending a conference held by President Obama, taking part in planning the API Annual Youth Summit, dancing on Pennsylvania Ave. for Fiesta Asia, just to name a few), and to be able give back to the community by volunteering with other non-profit organizations such as SOME (So Others Might Eat). Being in AALEAD has created many unforgettable memories such as the Annual Youth Summits, making great friends, and becoming a part of an amazing and huge family. AALEAD is something that I cherish a lot because it has been involved in my life for a couple of years which gave so many great opportunities and experiences, this is why AALEAD is very significant in my life.”

“My Name is Tommy, I will be a sophomore this coming school year, and I have been with AALEAD since Elementary School. AALEAD has helped me spend my time more efficiently by planning meetings and field trips for me to go to. Without AALEAD, I would be staying at home not doing anything, but watching TV. The field trips that I had fun going to were Homestead Farm, college visits, and the Air and Space Museum where we were able to view a demonstration about what it’s like to be an Astronaut in space. I am thankful to be a part of the AALEAD program and for providing me with great opportunities to broaden my horizons.”

“My name is Edward, I am a rising sophomore at Woodrow Wilson High School, and my journey with AALEAD has benefited me in many ways. I can say that I’ve learned a lot during the time I was with AAEAD. I’ve learned about many countries in Asia, which allowed me to know a whole new part of the world so well that I’ve never been there before. AALEAD has many exciting events and activities for me to participate in like field trips to museums and embassies to learn about its history and functions as well as non-educational field trips to places like six-flags and baseball games. AALEAD is a big part of my life and I feel very fortunate to be involved with this great organization.”

In closing this blog, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Vy, Edward, and Tommy for always willing to help as needed and for sharing your thoughts and feelings about AALEAD with the community!