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Thank You

Thank you for this amazing journey (of almost five years!) with the AALEAD family! While I am no longer officially an AALEAD staff member, I will never stop being a part of the AALEAD family. I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to meet, get to know, and serve/support our young people with each of you I have met along the way. AALEAD is so unique in that not only is it a place of work and community, it is truly a place that attracts individuals with passion, commitment, drive, and those who are wild about serving our young people. I am and always will be inspired by AALEAD’s mission, work, impact, young people, mentors/volunteers, and all of you who work tirelessly for our youth and community.

Thank you AALEADers, for allowing me to experience the AALEAD family and for helping me to develop into the person I am today. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives, your laughter, your tears, your accomplishments, your journeys. You have all been such bright lights in my time here and I can’t wait to see what life has in store for each of you. Please continue to inspire, empower, support, and love each other, your younger and older AALEAD brothers and sisters, your AALEAD staff, Board members, mentors, and volunteers. Most importantly, please continue to believe in yourselves and your abilities.

AALEAD is such a special place and although I am very sad about leaving, I am ready to discover, learn, and challenge myself in the next phase of my career. Thank you for your support, leadership, and guidance throughout my time here, everyone. Thank you for sharing your light, hope, encouragement, and energy with me. I can’t wait to see what AALEAD is going to accomplish next! Go AALEAD!

Love,

Sharon Choi

By Charles Kuo, DC Elementary School Program Coordinator and Pallavi Rudraraju, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

‘Ohana: family, derived from oha (taro plant); ohana refers to how we all come from the same root

Summer has arrived and the DC Elementary School  Summer Program is underway! This year the DC Elementary School will be celebrating the meaning of Ohana. Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family. It means family in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related and adoptive. The word emphasizes that families are bound together and members must cooperate and remember one another (no one gets left behind). This theme embodies intentional community, which is valuable for an individual’s identity and leadership development.

This year our program is at Walker-Jones Education Campus with a diverse population of 100 young people. To prepare beforehand, our staff members participated in an two-day orientation filled with logistical training but also meaningful sharing. During one part of our training, staff members brought in “artifacts” and shared how certain ohanas have impacted their lives.

Artifacts from "My Ohana" Sharing

This summer, our AALEAD DC elementary youth have multiple workshops each day dedicated to a variety of subjects critical to their early leadership and identity development: art, culture, service, and health. In addition, the rising 5th/6th grade class, Kahoolawe, has weekly middle school transition and newsletter workshops. This week, Kahoolawe brainstormed the format of the newsletter and topics they wish to incorporate into it. The 5th/6th grade newsletter should be up and running on Tumblr in about a week! Check back next week for more updates on their dynamic ideas on empowerment, education, and community building through the AALEAD newsletter.

Second grade youth from Ms. Jade's class proudly display their emotional literacy Beyblade wheels during their workshop with Mr. Jeremy.

A glimpse of some of Kahoolawe's great ideas for the DC elementary school newsletter!

Yet, of course, if there’s one thing the DC elementary school youth know how to do, it’s how to have a blast! Yesterday, the entire program bused over to Homestead Farm, where we met the friendly farm animals, took a hayride in the Homestead tractor, and picked blueberries in endless green fields.

It’s hard to believe that one busy, exciting, and fun-filled week has already passed. Team Ohana can’t wait for even more more fun-filled weeks at Walker-Jones!

Bancroft Bulletin: Looking Back

By Madeline Sumida, Elementary Program Teacher & Site Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Madeline Sumida

As the year comes to a close, the Bancroft AALEADers are taking time to celebrate, reflect upon what they’ve experienced, and express anxieties and hopes for the future. Both classes have explored the theme of super powers and using fantasy to identify individual students’ strengths and interests. We’ve looked at heroic narratives and developed our own epic stories to illustrate and discuss how leadership, empowerment, and development relate to our own lives.

Our youth council gave quieter or more spontaneous students an opportunity to develop their abilities to plan and focus their attention. Youth council members performed tasks such as budgeting for the end of the year party and developing activities for our final week of AALEAD Olympics. Shy students on the council found their voices and shared their ideas during Carpet Time. Fifth grade council members took notes and made agendas, good practice for their oncoming middle school lives.

The end of the year party started with a respectful tribute to our departing fifth graders and a class photograph signing activity. Students wrote affectionate messages and expressed their good wishes for the summer and next school year. Then came the highlight of the party—the food! As planned by the youth council, the cross-cultural menu included sushi, tamales, and Vietnamese spring rolls. And despite the best efforts of our adult staffers, an excess of sugar also fueled the partiers!

The third through fifth grade class took on the Herculean task of cleaning the AALEAD classroom—clearing out old projects and organizing the chaos of mixed-up materials. For their parts, younger students put into practice their learning about responsible consumerism.

After lessons about reusing, reducing, and recycling, students held a market day with tables displaying their own artwork, used plastic toys, and crafts made from recycled materials. A final round of games and art during the AALEAD Olympics will send the students off to summer break with happy memories of this 2014-2015 year!

By Victor Romos, DC Middle & High School Summer Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of Victor Romos

Greetings! My name is Victor Romos, and I am this year’s DC Middle & High School Summer Program Intern. I am a Communications student at the University of California, Davis. I am originally from Santa Rosa, California, but I love Washington, DC, so I am thrilled to be working with the community in the area.

In high school, I played football, wrestled for a few years, and ran cross country. I love spending time talking to people, getting to know them, and making them smile. I also enjoy acting and singing. You can always find me either trying to make someone laugh or singing musical theater songs!

One of my biggest inspirations in life is my high school mentor who helped me develop a love for leadership and personal development, especially through public speaking. I hope to bring that same experience to all the youth that I will be working with this summer. I am very excited to get to know all the youth and help them get to know themselves! I believe that knowing yourself and being confident is key to developing the strong leadership skills everyone is capable of. I’m looking forward to an unforgettable and incredible summer with Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) youth and staff!

**Learn more about our other Summer 2015 Interns here: Hiba and Pallavi!**

By Pallavi Rudraraju, DC Elementary School Summer Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of Pallavi Rudraraju, DC Elementary School Summer Program Intern

Hi, all!

I’m Pallavi Rudraraju, a rising junior at the College of William and Mary. I have self-designed an Asian American Studies major and am considering double majoring in South Asian Studies as well. As important as studies are to me, I consider my extracurricular activities to be an integral aspect of my college experience. As president of the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain Students Association and an active member of many of my school’s student and administrative organizations geared toward cultural, religious, racial, and gender and sexuality diversity, I hope to bring my personal leadership experience as well as diverse background to the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) DC Elementary School Summer Program.

Here are some fun facts about me:

1.  I am actually part rainbow. Just kidding! Here’s a picture of me from my university’s annual Holi celebration, which we at the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain Students Association organized this past spring. I love any opportunity to celebrate South Asian traditions, whether they’re familiar to me or brand new!

2. I absolutely love dancing! I don’t think I’ve gone a day without dancing over the past fifteen years. I’ve been dancing Bharatanatyam, a Tamil form of classical Hindu dance, since age five and just recently picked up Bhangra, a Punjabi folk dance, during my sophomore year of college. Here’s a glimpse of my Bhangra team and me right before one of our competitions last semester!

3. I am very passionate about racial and social justice, particularly as they pertain to the Asian American, South Asian American, and LGBTIQA* communities. Ever since high school, I’ve wanted to find a career that allows me to work toward comprehensive and intersectional justice in any of these areas. I hope that my work with AALEAD this summer will help turn these passions and dreams into tangible realities!

While it’s evident from these pictures that I am incredibly happy with many aspects of my identity, there have been countless times throughout my childhood that I was not as happy and was even ashamed of parts of myself. Looking back, I feel regret that I ever felt shame over the identities which I now revel in and embrace. What I hope to accomplish at AALEAD is to allow the youth to associate positivity with all aspects of their identities and to instill a sense of pride toward their unique identities within them. I know that once they are comfortable with their identities, they can move on to become the inspirational and productive young leaders they all have the potential to be.

I cannot wait for the DC Elementary School Summer Program to begin! I know that I am in good hands with the wonderful people working at AALEAD and am so thrilled to be working with everyone for the next few months.

**Learn more about our other Summer 2015 Interns here: Hiba and Victor!**

By Hiba Ahmed, MD Summer Program Intern
Photo Courtesy of Hiba Ahmed, MD Summer Program Intern

Hello!

My name is Hiba Ahmed, and I am the new MD Summer Program Intern! Already feeling very welcomed and excited to join the team, I cannot wait to learn and make progress in such a strong team environment in the upcoming months.

I am currently a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park working to complete my double undergraduate degrees in English Language and Literature and Family Science.

Youth development has always been an extremely important focus and interest of mine since I was in middle school. Often, I was involved with various volunteer and after school activities growing up that allowed me to interact with youth as they reached major milestones of their lives. As youth grow and develop, they are exposed to a variety of environmental, societal, and cultural influences. While they learn to adapt to these factors of life and become successful and productive members of society, it is crucial that each and every member of the newer generations is exposed to the best opportunities available to reach their highest potential.

Among the youth, the Asian American community certainly has a special place in my heart. Coming from an Asian American background myself, I often found myself feeling unrecognized – not in my achievements – but in my need for help as I navigated my way through transitioning periods of my life.  Through this internship, I hope to gain an abundance of leadership experience that will help me develop and strengthen my voice for my future aspirations and also overall movement into adulthood. I also look forward to gaining exposure to the workings of non-profit organizations and all of the work, values, and planning involved with organizing events and promoting a mission that serves to improve the community. Above all else, I look forward to helping the youth of the Asian American community find their way as they transition into other phases of their lives while building their confidence and encouraging their strengths along the way.

I am thrilled to be working with the brilliant youth of our current generation and an amazing team that fights for these necessities. I cannot wait to get started to absorb and learn everything that I can along the way. Let the summer festivities begin!

**Learn more about our other Summer 2015 Interns here: Pallavi and Victor!**

The Art of Painting and Mentoring

By Christina L., Current AALEAD Youth
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

A couple of weeks ago, I had the wonderful chance to go to the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) DC Office on the Metro and do therapeutic painting with my mentor and other mentee/mentor pairs. We had pizza, which was SO good, and other snacks.

Painting was a lot of fun and very relaxing for me considering all the testing that I had going on. We sat in a comfortable silence, and I decided to paint something related to my identity. I did a blend of colors on a rainbow. It represented all of my different shades of personality such as sass, humor, friendship, charisma, loyalty, charm, etc. My mentor and I did paintings for each other where we picked our own quotes for each other’s paintings and gave it to one another. In the future, when we do this again, I would like to personally choose a quote that I think represents my mentor well and give that to her as a gift.

Having a mentor has been really great so far. My mentor, Ha, is really helpful, and she really understands me. We talk all the time, and we have so much in common! Since she is older and also went to the same high school as I do, it helps that she understands and knows about what I have learned. I can share everything that’s going on at school with Ha, and she helps me focus on my studies. We also watch a lot of the same TV shows and are into the same hobbies, such as movies and music. Since I’ve gotten to know her, I’ve really benefited from everything she has taught me, and I’m excited to participate in more activities with her this year.

Overall, we had a successful afternoon that helped me to calm and ready myself for my exams and breathe. I had a great time and am even buying my own painting supplies so that I can paint on my own. I can’t wait for the next art event!

This Is How It’s Done!

By Shaima Ahmad, VA High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Shaima Ahmad

Brainstorming, planning, voting, and most of all, listening to their peers, is what went into throwing an awesome Va High School Program End of the Year Party. For the past few weeks our youth have been working together and within their individual committees to party plan.  The youth divided into food, entertainment, and decorations committees and delegated a group leaders for each group. In this whole process, I provided a budget for my youth who in turn allocated how much would be needed by each committee and gave me a list of items they wanted me to purchase.  The day before the party the group came together and transformed our space from drab to fab!

Highlights of the party consisted of karaoke, the whisper challenge, yummy food – especially a beautiful AALEAD cake baked by our very own Christina L. – and the piece de resistance, a photo booth equipped with creative props. But for me the real highlight of this event was seeing our youth work together showing immense responsibility and initiative. The Annandale crew has truly earned this awesome celebration… Job well done!

By Antwoine Johnson, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Chelsea Iorlano, Development & Communications Associate

All good things must come to an end and that is exactly what this year was…..a good thing.

Filled with memories, trials, ups and downs, strengthened friendships, amazing food, and a plethora of events, AALEAD bid farewell to the 2014-2015 school year and wrapped it up with the End of the Year BBQ.

80 youth, parents and staff attended this past Friday’s event, which was riddled with games, laughter, and tears as we began the transition from one year to the next.

The youth and adults started off with some group activities that loosened them up, creating a dance that mimicked the action of creating some favored foods like sushi, pho, hallo hallo, and fried rice. Combining their wit, talent, and killer dance moves, AALEADers came up with awesome ways to display how to create their food using their bodies, sense of rhythm and imaginations.

Then, as the evening went on, it came time to share and bid farewell to the 8th and 12th grades as they began the next stages of their lives. The eighth graders are moving on to high school and finishing off the final chapters of their public schools lives, with some going to Blair, some Einstein, some Wheaton, and some into other schools. The 12th graders are closing up that same chapter, ready to tackle the world in college or in the workforce, boldly moving forward and taking what AALEAD had taught them in regards to education, leadership, and identity, and applying it to where they are going.

It was a heartfelt ceremony as each 8th and 12th grader came up and shared a moment with their coordinator and reflected on the past they have shared with them. Each received words of encouragement or, for the seniors, a scrapbook, but all received precious moments that would follow them until then end.

While the year is over, there is still much to be done as AALEAD looks forward to summer and making memories there as well. Tune in next time to see what surprises await us in AALEAD summer programs!

By Mylynh Nguyen, Program Director
Photos courtesy of Mylynh Nguyen

Dear Friends and Families of AALEAD,
I am delighted to join the AALEAD team to serve as the new Program Director. I started in this new role on June 9th, and just within a few short days, I have had the honor of witnessing the sincere dedication of the AALEAD staff and the exuberance of our some of our youngest elementary school youth. I have also already had the great pleasure of meeting some AALEAD parents and guardians. I am excited to have the opportunity to meet many more of you in the coming weeks.

This position of Program Director attracted me for many reasons. The mission of AALEAD is very aligned with my own passion to carry out work that contributes toward social justice and improving the lives of others. In particular, I have a deep interest in programs that empower youth through education and leadership, while also allowing them to develop their own identities so that they feel more comfortable sharing knowledge and ideas among individuals of similar and of diverse backgrounds. My entire professional career has been dedicated to youth development, education, and multicultural understanding, and I am grateful for the opportunity to expand upon this through my work managing programs and teams at AALEAD.

As the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, I faced similar challenges and share in many of the same experiences of our AALEAD youth. My family arrived to the United States in 1979 as Vietnamese refugees and settled in a small suburban town in western Maryland, called Hagerstown, where my parents still currently live. Growing up in a low-income and Vietnamese-speaking household, I had to quickly adapt to the challenges of being one of very few Asian Americans living in a predominately white community. The conundrum of balancing how much I was willing to assimilate to my surrounding environment versus how much I wanted to embrace my own cultural identity was something I faced often. Early on, I learned about the value that I could contribute to the global understanding of others by sharing my family’s story, but unfortunately, I also experienced the close-mindedness of individuals who were unwilling to understand why I chose to be different. Throughout it all, I had the support of a great family and great mentors who injected me with the confidence to be proud of who I am and to continue working toward my personal goals.

The community in which I grew up had a low college-going culture, which became increasingly apparent while I was trying to navigate the college application process as a first-generation college student. Few students in my community were choosing to attend colleges and universities, but I knew that the opportunity to continue my education beyond high school would greatly benefit me and my family. My parents, having little experience with the American education system, were unable to advise me through this process, so I relied primarily on my own research and conversations with friends who came from more privileged backgrounds. Due to these struggles I personally faced with higher education equity, I knew I would eventually want to return to my home community to give back. I attended the University of Maryland, College Park which proved to be a very trans-formative experience for me, as it allowed me to more deeply investigate my own cultural heritage and learn from others. After completing my undergraduate studies, I returned to Hagerstown to serve an eight year career at the local community college where I worked with many first-generation college students to assist them in successfully completing their degrees. I taught college-level biology courses, advised students interested in STEM disciplines, and directed a pre-college program called TRIO Upward Bound. These wonderful experiences allowed me to transition my skills to a new professional opportunity at Georgetown University, where I most recently served as Assistant Director at the Center for Multicultural Equity & Access and Program Manager for the Institute for College Preparation. I worked very closely with Washington D.C. area middle and high school students to inspire interest and hope in higher education, which blends so beautifully with some of the work that I will be doing with AALEAD.

I am very excited to join the AALEAD family, and look forward to getting to know many of you through many upcoming visits to AALEAD programs. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I can support you in any way. During my free time, I enjoy going to concerts, trying new foods, exploring museums in the city, and spending time outside. In particular, I like taking part in outdoor adventures, such as hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and even hang-gliding!