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Some of our AALEAD students have been hard at work these past few months creating original works of art for submission to the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA) 2015 National Art Competition.

The theme of this year’s contest is a student’s favorite Chinese food memories and  this has provided a great platform for students to reflect on their own experience with Chinese food and Chinese Americans. Students have drawn pictures of hotpot feasts, new year’s banquets, a special ice cream Sunday served on a third birthday in China, and more. Students in third grade and older also wrote short paragraphs describing their work of art and what it represents to them.

A huge thanks to the Chinese American Citizens Alliance for providing this fantastic opportunity and impetus for students to reflect on their own identity and experiences through art!

By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photo Courtesy of Ari Pak

What did you do this past weekend? When asked this question, the first thing that comes to my mind is the inspiring and energizing AALEAD MD High School Youth Council meeting that I attended. I know what you’re thinking; how could a meeting be inspiring and energizing? Aren’t meetings usually filled with monotonous lists and reports, pencil tapping, and clock-watching? Let me tell you, I left this meeting filled with excitement, gratitude, and pride in the work that the AALEADers had accomplished and would have loved to stay for longer if only to see them work their magic more.

I’ll give you a few snapshots of the day, in the hopes that you can share in some of the excitement and pride in the work that the young people on MD High School Youth Council accomplished.

11:12 a.m. Marierose, a freshman in the AALEAD MD High School program, is leading a teambuilding and leadership activity with the group. Everyone is gathered around in a group, working collaboratively to accomplish a shared task. The room is filled with laughter, suspense, and group bonding. It is already clear that everyone has come dedicated and ready to engage fully in every portion of the agenda.

11:45 a.m. Eljoy, a junior who has been with AALEAD since middle school, is the lead facilitator of the meeting, ensuring that all agenda points are addressed. He facilitates a discussion with the group around how to continue improving AALEAD programs. They elect to include a study hall and homework help portion time into program days to support each other’s academic success. They discuss the importance of all AALEADers holding a responsibility to attend AALEAD and contribute to the AALEAD community. The group comes away with an action plan to ensure the success of program engagement. Anyone in the room can feel the determination to create better, more engaging, and more sustainable programs emanating from each Youth Council member present.

12:38 p.m. Youth Council members share activities they have just finished planning and will facilitate over the remainder of the semester. Youth council member Ram shares his group’s plan to host an AALEAD Alumni College Panel in programs. Aisha, another member, shares about the mental health activities her group has planned to hold during the AP Exam weeks. These activities will support AALEADers in caring for their overall wellness during the stressful periods of testing. All members excitedly share feedback and suggestions for how to improve and execute all ideas. The end of the year curriculum is quickly becoming exactly what the AALEADers want for it to be: their own, engaging, meaningful, and dynamic.

1:14 p.m. The Youth Council has just finished creating drafts of the mission and vision statements for the Asian Pacific American Youth Summit. They recognize that a mission and vision statement will create an even more powerful, impactful, and sustainable APA Youth Summit, which they are all dedicated to creating. Their desire to empower their community, within and beyond AALEAD, rings true in their discussion around the APA Youth Summit, just as it does in their Youth Council vision board. Their motto sums it up: “LEAD by Youth for the Youth: One step at a time.”

1:25 p.m. The meeting is wrapping up and everyone goes around sharing one-word reflections from the meeting. “Productive,” “exciting,” “really-good!” “inspired” are a few of the feelings shared by individuals, and clearly held by all.

1:35 p.m. As I leave with Shobana, DC High School and Middle School Program Coordinator, we reflect on how efficient, productive, and positive the meeting was. Not only was the meeting run completely by the young people themselves, but they were also able to keep their energy and creativity high the entire time! How amazing is it to see what folks can do when we give them the space to expand?

This sort of work, the work that allows young people to step into generative and innovative leadership roles, is why AALEAD is so special to me and to so many other people. The MD High School Youth Council meeting serves as a snapshot of the ways in which AALEAD allows young people to grow into leadership roles in ways that matter to them. I am grateful and proud to have the opportunity to work with such inspiring and dedicated young people daily.

DC Park Clean-up: Doing Our Share

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

This past Saturday, DC AALEAD youth, mentors, volunteers, staff, and our friends at CAPAL (Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership) participated in the Rock Creek Conservancy’s 7th Annual Rock Creek Extreme Cleanup at Piney Branch-Crestwood Park. It was a gorgeous day to be outside and kick off the start of spring! Our youth had lots of fun as they helped clean up the park while interacting with other volunteers and community members.

The event began with a short introduction and orientation from our site coordinator. Everyone was excited to see that lots of trees had been planted since we were here last year! Youth then gathered their clean-up materials (gloves, trash bags, and recycling bags) and broke off into teams, where they explored the short stretch of Rock Creek Park we were assigned. As AALEADers cleaned their way around the park, they discovered lots of interesting items throughout the morning, such as a bicycle tire, various articles of clothing, and even a deer skull! Youth also made it a point to separate trash from recyclables as they made their impressive findings.

Though our clean-up team was only at the park for about 2.5 hours, the grassy area that AALEADers helped clean was spotless by the time everyone was done! After youth collected all of the trash and recycling bags into piles along the road, it was time to replenish their energy. AALEADers snacked on crackers, fruit snacks, juice, and water while spending time with youth from other DC programs, mentors, volunteers, and staff.

The annual DC Park Clean-up is a great opportunity for AALEAD youth to not only learn about the importance of giving back to the community, but also, the significance of teamwork and building relationships with one another. Additionally, youth develop goals with their teams on how many items or trash bags they want to collect, helping them learn more about setting goals and accomplishing them as well.

Many thanks to all of our youth, mentors, volunteers, and staff who participated in this year’s clean-up! A special thank you to our friends at CAPAL who joined us for the third year in a row and provided the snacks for our youth as well as Doug Barker, Matthew Fleischer, and Karen Zeiter from the Rock Creek Conservancy for helping us coordinate the event and turning our plans into actions. We all had a wonderful time and look forward to seeing everyone again next year!

Put On Your Dancing Shoes!

By Chelsea Iorlano, Development & Communications Associate
Photos by AALEAD Staff

AALEAD Youth Performing at Fiesta Asia 2014

Fiesta Asia is right around the corner and our youth are ready to show off their moves!  Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) has participated in DC’s Fiesta Asia Street Festival for many years, and for the past 3 years, our participation has included an Asian Fusion dance routine.  This year will be AALEAD’s 4th year creating and performing an Asian Fusion modern dance for Fiesta Asia.

The first year we performed, AALEAD Staff led the efforts in creating and choreographing the performance.  Over the years, we have seen the Fiesta Asia Asian Fusion modern dance performance transform into an opportunity for leadership and identity development for our youth.  Whether in middle school or high school, our youth have been able to step into leadership roles by being involved with choreography and teaching their fellow AALEADers and AALEAD Staff the dance moves during programs to prepare for the street festival.  Choreographing and participating in the dance has also given youth the opportunity to develop their cultural identities.  Through the years, dance moves and music from different Asian cultures have been incorporated, from Korean pop to Bollywood, giving youth a chance to interact with different cultural influences and adapt them to their vision for the Asian Fusion modern dance.  Now, the dance is entirely youth-led.

Fiesta Asia Lead Choreographers Rehearse for Fiesta Asia

This year, we had 7 AALEADers step up to be our Fiesta Asia Lead Choreographers: Darlene R. from DC, Eljoy T. and Vicky M. from MD, and Angela M., Eugene K., Angel L., and Guliana N from VA.  Last month, we posted an update about our Fiesta Asia Lead Choreographers coming together to practice the dance that they choreographed themselves for the Fiesta Asia Street Festival.  Now, with Fiesta Asia a little more than a month away, our Fiesta Asia Lead Choreographers are ready to see their vision become a reality.

Today is the first of several Fiesta Asia full-program rehearsals.  Our Lead Choreographers will work with AALEAD Staff to make sure all youth who are participating in the dance have learned the choreography and begin to choreograph the formations and transitions for the performance.  Youth from elementary school through high school are invited to participate in the dance, as well as AALEAD Staff.  For the next several weeks, everyone at AALEAD will be busy polishing their moves and preparing to wow everyone who comes to celebrate at Fiesta Asia – we can’t wait to see you there!

VA High School Youth Practice for Fiesta Asia

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

This past weekend, eight AALEAD mentoring pairs joined us for a wonderful day filled with ice skating, fun, and friendship at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink! It was a gorgeous day to be outside, and mentors and mentees were all smiles as they laced up their skates and enjoyed a beautiful day on the ice.

Since mentoring pairs across the DC Metro area were invited and some mentors and mentees were meeting each other for the first time, we kicked off the event with an interactive ice breaker. Mentors and mentees were each given a set of six questions and asked to get to know as many people as they could. Lots of laughter and conversation could be heard across the rink as youth and mentors learned more about one another and created new friendships along the way.

It was finally time for our mentors and mentees to make their rounds around the rink! Some mentors and mentees showed off their skills and glided gracefully across the ice, while other pairs held on tightly to each other’s hands. Though it was the first time some of our mentees had ever gone ice skating, they all made so much progress over the course of our session! By the end of the event, all mentees were able to skate on their own, and a few of them were even able to skate backwards and do cool spins and twirls, too!

AALEAD’s Mentoring Ice Skating is an annual event that our pairs and staff look forward to year after year. Aside from simply enjoying one another’s company and sharing fun moments together, pairs have the opportunity to continue building community while also being present for some of the mentees’ first “steps” – literally and figuratively. Ice skating truly highlights what it means to be in a mentorship – mentors are not only there when their mentees fall, but most importantly, they’re oftentimes the first to help pick them up.

Thank you to all of our mentors and mentees who were able to share in this amazing, sunny day with us. We hope you had fun and look forward to seeing you again soon!

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Angela B., CSF-DC

Every January, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) celebrates National Mentoring Month in honor of our committed mentors and the positive impact that they have on our youth. Last week, we held our second annual Mentor Appreciation Month Celebration at the Verizon Center Dewar’s 12 Coaches Club with five partner organizations: Capital Partners for Education (CPE), the DC College Success Foundation (CSF-DC), For Love of Children (FLOC-DC), the Mentor Foundation USA, and Mentors, Inc.

This was a great opportunity to collaborate with other community-based organizations doing wonderful work in the greater DC Metro area. In addition to celebrating all of our amazing mentors, we were also honored to announce AALEAD’s Mentoring Hero of the Year, Jessica L. We are so proud of all of our AALEAD mentors and the accomplishments that they have made with our youth over the past year!

As we wrap up National Mentoring Month, we wanted to give a shout out to all of our current and former mentors who have made and continue to make a difference in the lives of our young people and community. The work that we do is not possible without you, and we truly appreciate all of your efforts in ensuring that our youth have opportunities to succeed. Happy National Mentoring Month, and we can’t wait to celebrate with all of you again next year!

Interested in reading more? Check out our mentors’ stories here: Elizabeth, Su, and Tippa!

Mentoring Matters: Su’s Story

By Su L., Current AALEAD Mentor
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

Thank you all for celebrating National Mentoring Month with us! A huge shout out to Su and all of our former and current mentors and volunteers who have invested their time and energy into our youth. The impact that you have made on our students is immeasurable, and we can’t wait to celebrate again with you next year! Thank you so much for all that you do. We hope you enjoyed this series, and Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina Ngo, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

In 2013, I found myself in a great position to be a volunteer: I had a strong commitment to give back to a community in need and the time to do so.  While I always had the former, the latter always seemed to be out of reach for one reason or another.  Through the company I worked for then, Deloitte, I found Asian American LEAD (AALEAD).  Their mission resonated with me, and I signed up to be a mentor.  I knew I wanted to be a mentor because I have seen the value of mentoring first hand—a cousin-turned mentor who guided me through my first year of college and a supervisor-turned mentor that exemplified what a leader should be.

Li is my mentee.  She is an intelligent, sweet, fun, and driven 17-year-old.  Since Li is an excellent student, our goals have geared towards doing community service together, trying new things (we are currently trying to tackle a list of ethnic foods we haven’t tried before), and working towards Li’s next exciting milestone: college.  We’ve also spent many times talking over frozen yogurt or hot chocolate—some of my favorite moments with her because we can simply catch up, listen to each other’s stories, and relax.  It’s also these moments where I feel humbled to have a mentee— especially that she can come to me and share what’s on her mind.

Before I met Li, I certainly had my doubts in my ability to be a good mentor.  I like to think that our time together has proven me wrong—we’ve managed to learn together what works for us.  Collectively, Li and the AALEAD Mentoring Program have given me the opportunity to work with great people, have some fun (of course!), make new connections, and strengthen my confidence as an effective helper.  I’ve also watched Li grow personally and couldn’t be more proud of the young adult she is becoming.  It has been a wonderful experience thus far, and I look forward to all that’s in store for us in the upcoming year.

Check out Elizabeth’s story here and Tippa’s story here!

Mentoring Matters: Elizabeth’s Story

By Elizabeth S., Current AALEAD Mentor
Photos Courtesy of Elizabeth S., Current AALEAD Mentor & Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

As we near the end of National Mentoring Month, check out Elizabeth’s great story and inspiring words below. Thank you to Elizabeth and all of our wonderful mentors – we are so grateful for you and honored to have you in our Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) family and community! Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina Ngo, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

I first heard about AALEAD around the end of 2010 from a roommate of mine who had participated in the program as a mentor a couple years before.  As a second-generation Asian American (child of immigrants), I felt that this program was for me because second-generation Asian Americans are exactly who AALEAD serves.

Growing up, I felt that my parents had a hard time empathizing with the fact that I had one foot in their culture and the other foot in another culture.  Daily, I felt torn between the norms and expectations of my household and of the world outside and never felt like I could fully relate to any of my friends or family.  As a result, it took me a while to understand my identity and be comfortable with who I was.  I joined AALEAD hopeful that maybe I could be someone a second-generation child could relate to.  After seeing the Mentoring Program at work, I couldn’t be more impressed with the AALEAD Mentoring Program and how AALEAD staff foster the confidence and sense of identity of each AALEADer.

I joined AALEAD in March 2011 and expected to get paired up with a pre-teen.  I showed up to meet Tender, my mentee, at her house, thought she looked very small for her age, and finally asked how old she was. She was eight! Today, that little girl is now 12. Wow, how time flies! Also, lo and behold, Tender is the little sister of my now former roommate’s former mentee.  Small world!

Being Tender’s mentor has taught me so much, and has given me a different perspective about my own life and childhood.  Mentoring Tender has taught me more about patience, communication, relationship building, and having an open mind than any other experience I’ve had.  Seeing life through her eyes helps me understand what is going on with her and how I can help foster her growth.  We have been paired up through major transitions of Tender’s childhood – through her elementary years, her pre-teen years, and we are now about to enter her teen years – so truthfully, mentoring has not been the easiest ride as her needs were always changing.

Through the years, I have had to learn how to balance the “big sister” role, which was probably because she was so young when we began, and “trustworthy friend,” now that she is developing and figuring out her own identity.  Watching Tender grow from a shy and timid 8-year-old into the witty, confident, and intelligent person she has become has been and is the most rewarding aspect of being her mentor.  I hope that I have had even a fraction of the positive impact on Tender that she has had on me.  I am excited for Tender’s future and hope for her to know the world of possibilities she has in front of her.  As we enter another phase of Tender’s life, I look forward to sharing more memories with her, being there for her, and us growing together.

Check out Su’s story here and Tippa’s story here!

Mentoring Matters: Tippa’s Story

By Tippa C., Current AALEAD Mentor
Photos Courtesy of Tippa C., Current AALEAD Mentor

Every January, the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) Mentoring Program celebrates National Mentoring Month. National Mentoring Month is not only a time for us to honor all of our mentors and how incredible they are, but also a time for them to reflect on their experiences and how much they and their mentees have grown over the past year. Though it is only National Mentoring Month once a year, we are thankful for our mentors year-round and could not do the work that we do without their support and commitment. As the end of the month draws near, we wanted to highlight a few of their stories and the impact that they have made on our youth.  Check out Tippa’s story below! Thank you to Tippa and all of our amazing mentors – you continue to inspire us every single day. We hope you enjoy, and Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina Ngo, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

I began mentoring with AALEAD in 2011, and the experience has been rewarding from the moment my mentee, Shirley, and I first met!  Initially, I was looking to be a tutor for students that needed some help in school, but I stumbled upon AALEAD’s Mentoring Program which sounded even better and has exceeded my expectations of what mentoring programs can do (even I get excited about tours at the Capitol and Kennedy Center concerts!).  In all seriousness, I am amazed at the AALEAD staff and how they run the program while still making it fun and flexible for mentors, mentees, and their families.  What really appealed to me were the efforts to include families (especially parents) into the program so that collectively we can all be advocates for youth development.

I feel as if I’ve known Shirley for such a long time. Shirley is soft-spoken, silly, passionate, and caring. We’ve shared stories of each other’s families, our goals that we aspire to achieve, milestones that make us nearly sisters, and silly moments of touring Marco, the piñata (see photo below), around DC before he was sacrificed to a group of young girls for candy.

Whether it’s today or 10 years from now, I hope that Shirley is able to look back and know that she has a community behind her and someone that she can call to chat or hang out with.  I hope that I have given her encouragement to pursue her dreams, the insight to value family and relationships, but above all, the belief that she should feel proud of who she is and who she will become.

Through AALEAD, I have met some incredible people and have learned so much about myself as well.  It’s great to be a part of an organization that fosters culture and growth, and I couldn’t have found a better organization than AALEAD to share these moments with.

Check out Elizabeth’s story here and Su’s story here!

By Shobana Modur, DC Middle and High School Program Coordinator

Photos courtesy of AALEAD staff

Last Wednesday evening, a couple of DC AALEAD students and staff were invited to attend a special screening of the upcoming television series, “Fresh off the Boat” at the Newseum.  It is the first Asian-American sitcom in 20 years! Based off Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same title, “Fresh off the Boat” tells the story of a Taiwanese family moving from their home in Washington, D.C. to Orlando, FL and their struggles of assimilating.

This hilarious comedy hits issues that AALEADers often explore, such as embracing their identity and finding a balance between American and our family’s culture.  After the preview, a few members of the cast and Eddie Huang took the stage to discuss the origins of the show, the challenges faced by AAPI actors, and how this story will hopefully break Asian-American stereotypes.  Shortly afterwards, it was time for the reception where our starstruck AALEADers took pictures with Eddie Huang.  It was a very fun night!

Make sure to watch Fresh off the Boat airing Tuesday, February 10th at 8 pm on ABC!