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AALEAD Launches in Northern Virginia!

By Tina Ngo & Sharon Choi, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) has officially launched in Northern Virginia–we are now serving low-income and underserved Asian American youth regionally! AALEAD first publicly announced the official launch of our programming in Northern Virginia at the 15th Annual Dinner in March. Thank you to all of our supporters for helping AALEAD be able to extend our reach in serving youth. A special thank you to CareFirst, who awarded AALEAD our first official grant to help with our expansion into Virginia, starting with our AALEAD Mentoring Program.

AALEAD staff have been meeting with youth from Annandale High School, once a week during lunch, since March. We have learned more about the backgrounds, experiences, and interests of our new AALEAD youth. From family to favorite subjects, staff have engaged in informal conversations with the youth to understand more about who they are and what goals they would like to achieve. Though the youth were initially reserved, they slowly opened up through icebreakers and team-building activities, and were eager to share more about themselves and learn more about AALEAD and our programming.

Youth were introduced to our Mentoring Program as well as events that AALEAD holds throughout the year. Many of them were enthusiastic about being paired with a Mentor who would serve as a big brother or big sister that they could share experiences and accomplish their goals with!

Last weekend, our new Virginia students had their first opportunity to meet other AALEAD youth from DC at our annual DC Park Clean up. They expressed lots of excitement about riding the Metro together for the first time, getting to meet their fellow AALEADers, and exploring DC afterwards.

We are thrilled to welcome students from Annandale High School into our AALEAD family and look forward to spending more time together with them. Go AALEAD VA!

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

This past weekend, AALEADers joined mentors, volunteers, staff members, and our friends at CAPAL (Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership) in cleaning up Piney Branch-Crestwood Park during the 26th Annual Potomac River Watershed Clean Up. This was an especially wonderful event because three of our students from Annandale High School were able to join us for the first time! Despite the windy weather, all of our students braved the cold and did an awesome job in doing their parts to help keep our Earth clean. As they made their way over to the meeting area, excited cheers and laughter could be heard from all around.

After listening to a brief orientation by our site coordinator, AALEADers broke off into teams and gathered their materials (gloves, trash bags, and recycling bags). Venturing across creeks, over grassy hillsides, and through some underbrush, our youth discovered countless interesting items along the way. From an entire outfit (jeans and a T-shirt!) to a skateboard, a motor, and even a few coconuts, many random items were simply discarded or forgotten in the park. Quite the hard-working adventurers, AALEAD youth continued to separate the recyclables and trash even as they made their impressive findings throughout the area.

Lunch time quickly approached, and the students were ready to gather as a larger group again. As they feasted on granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers, and fruit, youth chatted with the other AALEADers, mentors, volunteers, and staff who they had not had a chance to meet prior to the event. Students who currently attend different schools also reunited and had a fantastic time catching up!

Events like the park clean-up teach our youth important leadership skills such as teamwork and giving back to the community. As AALEADers reflected on the day, they mentioned how surprised they were that so much trash and odds and ends could end up in such an important part of their community. All of them vowed to continue making the world a better place by recycling and making sure to throw their trash away.

Thank you to all of the youth, mentors, volunteers, staff, and CAPAL members who joined us! Also, special shout out to our friends at CAPAL for providing the snacks for our youth and Doug Barker, Margo Reid, and Karen Zeiter from  the Rock Creek Conservancy for helping us coordinate the event. We had a blast this year and can’t wait to work together with all of you again next year!

By Francine Gorres, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff and Students, Chris Gamboa, CAAM Staff, and friendly residents and tourists of San Francisco

This past weekend AALEAD participated in a program called “Young Historians, Living Histories” organized by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Smithsonian Affiliations and Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). This project allowed underserved middle and high school youth across the country to deepen their understanding of the Asian Pacific American experience and enabled them to use the foundations of community storytelling and digital technologies to unearth the histories in their community.  AALEAD was one of many Smithsonian Affiliates that participated in this project last summer and had the opportunity to fly out one staff member and one student representative to San Francisco, California to screen the projects at the 32nd Annual CAAM Film Festival!

Scene 1 – The Golden Gate Bridge

For Liza and I, this was our first time to travel to the West Coast and to get a “taste” of sunny California. From the minute we got off of the 8 hour flight, we commuted everywhere we went. We rode the BART and the Muni buses through the city and headed straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. For a brief moment, Liza and I soaked it all in. We were just amazed that we were standing in front of the iconic bridge. It was truly breath taking!

After spending some time at the Bridge, we took the Muni bus to Ghirardelli Square and visited the famous Boudin’s at the Fisherman’s Wharf to meet our sourdough friends.  We ended our first day with a celebratory Ghirardelli ice cream!

Scene 2 – The Screening


Rise and shine! Saturday was our big day…The Screening. Before meeting guests at the New People Cinema for the screening, Liza and I gathered with other Smithsonian Affiliates for breakfast. From Ohio to North Carolina to Arkansas, youth gathered from different parts of the country to meet one another and to talk about their videos and projects. It was amazing to see the youth engaged in dialogues about Asian American history and to share how this project made an impact on themselves as Asian Americans.

Shortly after, we walked over to the New People Cinema to view the different projects and then went to a nice reception for the young filmmakers. At the reception, all of the Smithsonian Affiliates and organizations received a “Certificate of Appreciation”. Woohoo! Go AALEAD!

After the reception, Liza and I decided to change and explore the city via trolley! When we boarded the trolley, it seemed a bit intimidating to be riding on the side of the trolley, but also such an adventure. Liza decided to stand inside of the trolley, while I rode on the side to get the “real” San Francisco experience. We went up and down the hills, passed streets overlooking marinas and boats, and even saw people gathered outside for a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It was super fun! Our final stop was at the Fisherman’s Wharf to visit the sea lions.

Scene 3 – Meeting the Brahmin Bulls

After a full day, Liza and I decided to immerse ourselves into the CAAMFest experience and bought tickets to see Brahmin Bulls. In this film about an Indian father and son, we see the complexities that exist in their relationship. From living up to high expectations, seeking love, and learning how to talk to parents, it featured a lot of different South Asian American experiences that exist today. The film even featured the story of the widowed father that is often unseen or unheard. It was such a great film, and Liza noticed that the main character, Sid also known as Sendhil Ramamurthy, was a star in one of her favorite TV shows “Beauty and the Beast” on CW.  Sendhil plays the role of Gabriel Lowen, an assistant district attorney. She was excited to meet him and even got a picture with him!

Scene 4 – Epilogue

Throughout the whole trip, Liza and I were able to see so many new things together and had some very special conversations about life, career, school, and some of her favorite TV shows.  I asked her what she thought of the trip and what she liked the most. Here is what she had to say, “The trip was life-changing. I had a fun time going everywhere in San Francisco and participating in CAAMFest.  I even learned a few geography lessons flying over different states. When we got up in front of everyone to speak at the screening, I was really nervous at first. I had been at other speaking opportunities with AALEAD before, but not like this. After we shared our films it was just..awesome to feel like wow, they bought tickets to see our films. It felt good to see that people actually cared to come. And then when I saw producers and actors stand up to talk about Brahmin Bulls, it was like man..I was just up there like them earlier today! Amazing. There’s not one moment that was my favorite. I really liked everything. Who knows maybe I’ll get into film one day!” And I…could not have said it better myself. As a coordinator, it was a special moment to watch it all click and make sense.  I was grateful to just be there to hear and see it happen.

Credits and Special Thank You’s

Special thank you to Konrad Ng, Robert Johnson, Caroline Mah, Gina Inocencio, and all of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center representatives for helping to coordinate this project! Thank you to Stephen Gong, Donald Young, Hardeep Jandu, and CAAM for helping to make this trip and project possible! Thank you to Southwest Airlines for your kind generosity in getting students to San Francisco. Thank you to Wyman Lee and Amy Hosseinnian from DC APA Film for all of your help and film-making guidance you gave to students during the project. Thank you to Surjeet and the AALEAD Board for all of your support.  It has truly been an honor to witness the success of all of our incredible youth from around the country and to share this special experience with Liza.

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

Last week, the AALEAD Mentoring Advisory Council (MAC) met for the second time! After everyone had a chance to settle in, the meeting began with a brief discussion on the role of mentors and how to maximize your time with your mentor. This portion of the meeting was led by Bhadon, an AALEAD student who has been matched with his mentor for almost three years. Since MAC is composed of youth who are both new to and familiar with the Mentoring Program, many of the newer students had questions, while the veteran students were eager to share their insights. This part of the session set a really great tone for what the remainder of the year will look like as youth were engaged and excited to talk about their experiences with their peers.

After everyone’s questions were answered, students began to jot down suggestions about events that they would like to have later in the year. From writing about the importance of holding a park clean-up and keeping our Earth clean to listing potential universities to check out for a college visit, youth were enthusiastic about taking ownership of their program and had many wonderful ideas. Youth then volunteered with our younger Thomson AALEADers! They helped read to the little ones, participated in a group activity, and assisted some of the students with their homework. Volunteering with the younger AALEADers is the part of the day that the MAC students look forward to the most as many of them have siblings who are still enrolled in our after-school programs, and many of the MAC youth themselves also attended our Thomson Elementary School Program when they were younger.

We are so proud of our MAC students who continue to challenge themselves and play an active role in making our community a better place. Until next time!

By Melor Suhaimi, AALEAD Staff
Video by Melor Suhaimi, AALEAD Staff

On Thursday, February 13th, David, our Development and Communications Intern reported on our MD MS AALEADers hard at work making Vietnamese Banh Mi and planning for their Vietnamese water puppet shows. Leading up to this day, Eastern and Loiederman AALEADers learned about Vietnam and a traditional art form of water puppetry. Our Vietnamese AALEADers even shared their experiences in Vietnam. A few of our AALEAD youth were born in Vietnam and many were born here in the United States and has visited the country. From both perspectives, it was interesting to hear what they knew about Vietnam. Youth discussed how jam-packed the roads of Vietnam are with motorcycles taking over every lane to the many delicious Vietnamese dishes, like Pho and Banh Mi!

As youth began planning their Vietnamese water puppet shows, ideas for a theme were being thrown around and discussed. One group decided on recreating the Chinese zodiac story, which was mentioned in a previous program day a couple of weeks ago. Another group decided on doing a similar story to Finding Nemo with having the moral of the story as, “Never give up!” All youth worked together collaboratively and creatively to design their water puppets as well. Youth were given limited supplies, but the puppets turned out great. Below is a video of photos and clips of a few of the group performances of the Vietnamese water puppet shows from Loiederman and Eastern Middle Schools.

Enjoy!

By Francine Gorres, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff and Students

This past weekend AALEAD High School Students participated in one the most historic events involving Asian American college youth, the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) Conference. You may have heard about AALEAD participating in ECAASU last year, where we brought a few of our AALEAD youth to New York City to participate in the Conference at Columbia University.  This year, the ECAASU Conference was hosted by a group of colleges in the Washington D.C. area and had over 1,000 attendees registered!

So why was this year so special for our students?

This year we had AALEAD students represented in several different aspects of this Conference. From volunteers, to participants, to members of the National Board, it was truly great to see our youth engaged in different levels. We even ran into AALEAD Alumni at the Conference!  On the volunteer side, 13 AALEAD youth, participated and assisted ECAASU Directors with various tasks. They helped set up for workshops, assisted with crowd control, distributed lunches to attendees, and even helped sell some t-shirts. On the participant side, 4 AALEAD youth were represented in ECAASU’s newly launched High School Leadership Ambassadors Program where they are able to connect with other Asian American youth from New York and discuss Asian American issues. And finally, we had one AALEAD student represented on the ECAASU National Board who had been working so very hard with the ECAASU Directors to make this conference possible.

As I watched the students engage with facilitators, speakers, and other college students, it was truly remarkable to watch our students take full advantage of the opportunity and begin to fit in with the crowd.  We had two main goals for this field trip: 1. Give AALEAD students the opportunity to experience College Student Leadership, and 2. Allow students to process and reflect on how they can take this experience back to plan their Annual Summer APA Youth Summit.

In the morning, I challenged each of the students to at least chat with some of the workshop facilitators and to get their contact information in-case we wanted to invite them to the Youth Summit. Each student participated in one workshop and included topics such as the Bamboo Ceiling, Asian Americans and Law, Mental Health, Leadership, Passions vs. Career, Hepatitis B, and Asian American Identity.  I’m proud to say that every AALEAD student spoke to a facilitator and over half of our students asked and received business cards!

Out of the 18 students that attended ECAASU, 15 students had never attended an Asian American conference of this magnitude. Majority of these young students are sophomores, very quiet, come from immigrant families, and are only beginning to scrape the surface of their leadership potential. Our hope is that with opportunities like this and more experiential learning, students will become more exposed, inspired, and will attain some important skills that will make them successful students, leaders, and ultimately better people.

Special thank you to the 2014 ECAASU Conference Committee, especially Christina Bui, Annie and Bonnie Yan, Aneena Sin, and Linh Tran, for being so hospitable to our high school youth and for making this conference possible! You ladies rock!

On a warm sunny day like this, I think a jumping photo is in order to celebrate the success of the 2014 ECAASU Conference, Washington D.C.

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!

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!

Mentoring Matters: Kamya’s Thoughts

By Kamya Khanna, Current AALEAD Mentor
Photos Courtesy of Kamya Khanna, Current AALEAD Mentor

As the end of National Mentoring Month draws near, we wanted to share Kamya’s story and the experience that she has had with AALEAD’s Mentoring Program. Thank you to all of our Mentors – we are extremely grateful for you and continue to be inspired by you and your dedication every single day. We hope you enjoy Kamya’s story, and Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina Ngo, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

As an undergraduate student, I spent a semester studying language and culture in Shanghai. Once I returned to the United States, I wanted to seek volunteering opportunities that would let me stay connected with Chinese culture. Since I also enjoy working with youth, I found my way to AALEAD, which provided a fantastic opportunity to get involved in DC’s Asian American community and hopefully make a positive contribution. So, in 2012, I decided to sign up as a Mentor.

Before meeting my Mentee for the first time, I was very nervous. Would it be difficult to make conversation with her? Would I have any useful guidance to share with a teenager? Would she trust me? Would I be able to set a good example for a young girl? When we finally met, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she was immediately talkative and excited to make a new connection. Thanks to her friendly demeanor, it did not take long for the two of us to find a comfortable rhythm with each other. Within a few weeks, I got to know all about her favorite school subjects, her friends from her hometown, her family, and her favorite kinds of music.

AALEAD has made it possible for us to continue making great memories together, such as participating in local community service projects and park clean-ups, ice-skating, and even visiting the White House to admire Christmas decorations. Separately, my Mentee and I have formed a solid bond during outings to DC’s art museums, visits to local outdoor markets, homework help sessions, and frequent Skype calls. We have attended cultural events where my Mentee has been able to teach me about Chinese New Year traditions, and in turn I have taken her to cultural functions that have taught her about my Indian heritage. Most importantly, we have reached a place where she is comfortable sharing with me any worries or dilemmas that she is confronting.

Over the past two years, I have aimed to guide my Mentee through her recent transition to high school, navigating the highs and lows of making new friends, being involved in the school community and balancing an ever-increasing workload. As she has opened up to me about her hopes and fears in this new chapter of her life, I am proud to have been able to be an effective listener who is present when she needs to vent frustrations, but also able to relate my own experiences in a way that might help her. I am especially proud of my Mentee and how she has remained a hard-working, well-liked, and fun-loving high schooler.

I have learned that being a good Mentor isn’t necessarily the same thing as having the perfect advice for any situation. Instead, what it really means to me is being available whenever my Mentee needs me. I do not need to have all of the answers to my Mentee’s problems, but I do need to have the willingness to spend time understanding her thoughts and problems so that I may guide her to resources that may be helpful. The mentoring experience has proved to be very rewarding. It has allowed me not only to gain confidence in my own skills as a leader in this way, but it has also allowed me to feel that I am indeed setting a positive example for a wonderful young girl, who will surely continue to blossom.

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

One of the best things about the beginning of a brand new year is coming up with goals and resolutions for the future, but also remembering all of the achievements that were accomplished during the previous year and recognizing those who helped you along the way.

In honor of National Mentoring Month, AALEAD celebrates all of our amazing mentors and their commitment to and impact on our youth. To date, we currently have 55 pairs matched across both DC and Maryland. Though some of our pairs have just begun their journeys and others have been matched for a record amount of time, we are so grateful for the opportunity to witness and be a part of each mentee-mentor pair’s growth together. Our Mentors have all played a pivotal role in the personal and educational development of our youth, and we appreciate their kindness and willingness to give back to the AALEAD community with all of our hearts.

Today is Thank Your Mentor Day, and we couldn’t think of a better way to share our thanks than by letting you hear and see what some of our very special Mentees had to say about their awesome Mentors themselves. Check it out, and Happy National Mentoring Month!

*Though this video only highlights some of the students involved in AALEAD’s Mentoring Program, all of our Mentees are extremely thankful for their Mentors and all of the wonderful experiences that they have shared together.