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Volunteer Voices: Rhea’s Story

By Rhea Montante, Former AALEAD Volunteer
Photos Courtesy of Sharon Choi, AALEAD Staff

Asian American LEAD’s (AALEAD) Volunteer Program consists of energetic and enthusiastic individuals who dedicate varying amounts of time to our youth and organization. While some of our volunteers  meet with our students on a weekly basis during programs, others help out with some of the administrative work and behind-the-scenes responsibilities. As our school-year programs come to a close, we are so thankful for Rhea and all of our volunteers who have truly made a positive, lasting impact on our youth this year. Please enjoy Rhea’s story, and thank you again to all of our volunteers for all that you do! We truly appreciate you and can’t wait to see what this summer has in store for all of us! -Tina, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

Three weeks ago, I started my first day volunteering with AALEAD. I think in any situation where you’re thrown into a new environment in which you’re not the most familiar with, the first day can be filled with lots of uneasiness. However, on my first day at the AALEAD office, I was welcomed quite warmly, and those first day jitters seemed to dissipate quickly. I was immediately introduced to all of the AALEAD staff, and I knew that this was going to be a great experience working with such awesome people.

Over the next three weeks, I helped out at the office and at AALEAD’s wonderful DC Elementary School Program. From learning more about the administrative side of the organization to interacting with the kids themselves, I learned a lot throughout my time here. I especially had a great time working with all of the youth! Before I volunteered with AALEAD, a career working with students never even crossed my mind, but the hands-on experience I received throughout my short stay definitely opened my eyes. These three weeks passed by so quickly, and it saddens me that I was only able to volunteer for such a short amount of time. I want to say thanks to the entire staff for being such great and marvelous people. Thank you AALEAD for being such an extraordinary organization!

By David Ma, MD Programs Intern
Photo Courtesy of David Ma, MD Programs Intern

Hello, everybody! My name is David Ma, and I am a summer intern for the MD Summer Kinect Program. I am entering my sophomore year at Montgomery College-Rockville this fall and plan to pursue a career in the field of business/accounting. I am a super friendly person, so youth, please don’t be afraid to approach me! I am also very outgoing and not afraid of trying new things. Basketball and writing poems are my favorite things to do. One of the most important things to know about me is that I love food. I think that food is a basic need that everyone needs every day, so all meals should be enjoyed to the fullest.

As an AALEAD alumnus, I have worked with AALEAD youth for the past two summers and had a wonderful experience both times, so I decided to enjoy another summer with the AALEAD family… except as an intern this time around! I think that it will be challenging learning how to balance my roles as a former student and current intern, but I am excited to develop stronger relationships with AALEAD staff and volunteers. I am also looking forward to learning as much as I can and building more career skills and experiences surrounding youth work, education, and nutrition this summer.

**Learn more about our other Summer 2014 Interns here: AlexBhadonHeein, and Laura!**

By Heein Choi, Development & Communications Intern
Photo Courtesy of Heein Choi, Development & Communications Intern

Hey everyone! My name is Heein Choi, and I am from Ellicott City, Maryland. I recently finished my first year at the College of William and Mary and intend to double major in Asian American Studies and Business. Over the summer of 2014, I will be serving as Asian American LEAD’s (AALEAD) Development and Communications Intern. Growing up in an Asian American community, I have been searching for methods to give back to the people that have placed the groundwork for me to succeed.

Hearing the stories of AALEAD students reminded me of my own experience of immigrating from South Korea at the age of five. When I first came to the United States, I struggled to establish my identity as an American. Although I had not been born in the United States, I felt every bit as American as my peers and wrestled with the question: what could I do to become fully American? When I pondered about these types of questions at a young age, I wished I had an organization like AALEAD to support me. With AALEAD’s mentoring and after-school programs set out to guide and nurture Asian American youth, these students know that they are not alone in these internal struggles.

I believe that AALEAD’s goal of serving Asian American youth coincides with my passions. At the College of William and Mary, I currently serve on the Executive Board of the Asian American Student Initiative (AASI), which is a grassroots team that is focused on spreading awareness of Asian Americans on campus. AASI reaches out to the students of William and Mary with innovative photo campaigns such as “Faces of Asian Americans.”

I am excited for the new experiences, people, and youth I will be meeting as an intern at AALEAD. Most of all, I am thrilled to know that I will be in an environment where my passion and dedication will be matched by every staff member.

**Learn more about our other Summer 2014 Interns here: AlexBhadonDavid, and Laura!**

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!