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Mentoring: Grow Together, Learn Together

There is no other way to talk about my mentoring experience than to say that I feel like it’s more than being another adult who tells my mentee what to do.

I’ll never forget my first meeting with my mentee.  I knew that I needed to take the lead in getting to know her, and I knew that she expected me to forge that bond. At the same time, I wondered: “Are we going to get along? Are we going to be a good match? Is she going to like me? What if she doesn’t laugh at my jokes?”

I remember just sitting there, asking her all of these questions: What’s your favorite color? What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you like to do? Do you think we’ll get along? *Okay, so I didn’t really ask her that last question.

As my mentee and I spent more and more time together, we discovered a lot about each other. I discovered a lot about her, as much as I’ve discovered a lot about myself. That’s what mentoring does; the process of creating a safe space for a young person to discover who they are, be reaffirmed, and grow, helps you as a mentor to find your own strengths and your own capacity to grow and learn with them.

There are just so many things that I hope my mentee has learned from me: that she can always come to me if she needs someone to talk to; that I will always do my best to create a safe space for her in which she feels like she can make mistakes, learn, and grow; that “knowledge is power and with great power comes great responsibility” (okay, I took that from Spiderman); but ultimately, that we’re in this together.

This process of figuring out my mentee, and asking her what she needs from me, helped me learn the middle ground of being a mentor. I’m not her parent, and I’m not her older sister. I can’t tell her what to do or baby her, but I can treat her as an empowered individual from whom I can learn just as much from as she can learn from me. I think that’s how mentoring most impacted me — through learning that I had a lot to teach her, yes, but also, that I had a lot to learn from her. So really, it’s a win-win situation. I get to have fun, get back in touch with my inner child, and cheer her on when she just gets it.

The best way I can describe being a mentor is this: if a parent is your lead cheerleader, mentors are like the back-up cheerleaders. As a mentor, I can never replace my mentee’s parents, but I can help fill in the gaps and share my experiences. I can help her process her identity, help her process her experiences, and help her use those experiences for the better instead of the worse. Mentors serve as the reinforcements — the additional traffic lights, the Google maps, and the extra stop signs. And reinforcements are pretty nice to have, especially if they take you out for ice cream.

Written by: Jessica Lee, Current Mentor

A Mentorship: Two Is Better Than One

In honor of National Mentoring Month, we will be sharing two of our Mentors’ stories and the experiences that they’ve had with AALEAD’s Mentoring Program. Please help us end National Mentoring Month with a bang by spreading the word about AALEAD’s Mentoring Program and voting for us as “Best Place to Volunteer” for Washington City Paper’s Best of DC 2013! Thank you to all of our Mentors — we are grateful for you and continue to be inspired by all the positive progress that you’ve made with our young people. Please enjoy Ryan’s story, and Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

Being a mentor has changed my life and been an incredibly rewarding experience.

My story is a little different from some as I first got to know my mentee by working with AALEAD, first through the Digital Connectors program and then tutoring nights and youth council meetings.  During that time, my mentee would often reach out to me to talk a little bit and I thought maybe I could help him by making the transition to being his mentor.

When I met my mentee’s family, they seemed happy to meet me but unsure of what exactly I could do to help their son.  I explained the goals my mentee and I had for the time I would spend with him, silently hoping that I could live up to these expectations.

A year has passed and taking time to reflect, I’m so happy with what my mentee has accomplished and the role I was able to play in that.   We worked on college applications and he’s been accepted to at least one.  We also talked a lot about what his passions are and he’s decided he really wants to pursue a career in digital media and video production. When he’s faced the emotional ups and downs of being in high school, I’ve been able to lend my support and talk things through with him.

It’s been a privilege to participate in AALEAD’s Mentoring program.  To be able to look back at this time and know that I made even a small difference in my mentee’s life is something I will treasure forever.

Written by: Ryan Ball, Current Mentor
Photo Credit: Ryan Ball &  AALEAD Youth

AALEAD Celebrates National Mentoring Month

“Every day, mentors help young Americans face the challenges of growing into adulthood. By setting a positive example and sharing their time, knowledge and experience, mentors play an essential role in preparing our Nation’s youth for a bright future. During National Mentoring Month, we celebrate the contributions of all those who cultivate a supportive environment for the next generation, and we recommit to expanding mentorship opportunities across our country.” -President Barack Obama


The hope of a new year is often accompanied with the hope of new and endless possibilities. From deciding to visit the gym three times a week to reading a book once a month, hundreds of thousands of varying resolutions are made and goals are committed to across the nation. One commitment in particular that our community of volunteers has selflessly and caringly dedicated themselves to year after year is AALEAD’s Mentoring Program. Our mentor-mentee pairs are part of the reason why, even on gloomy days such as this, the AALEAD family continues to grow stronger and develop together each and every day, bringing our own unique brand of sunshine with us wherever we go.

“I got the chance to meet a really cool, really special kid.  And the chance to go do some fun things that adults with busy work schedules don’t normally get to do.  I found myself really looking forward to my outings and conversations with my mentee, even if they weren’t always easy!” -Anne, Mentor

“I have much better insights into the challenges facing today’s pre-adolescents.  There are a lot of social, academic, and family pressures on our mentees.  I appreciate her gifts and continue to want to help her face her challenges.” -Beadsie, Mentor

“My mentee is a very energetic, kind hearted, open minded, family oriented young man who was very easy to get along with and try new things with. Glad to have someone I could experience some new foods with and hangout and play basketball.” -Edison, Mentor

“I just had an amazing time being a mentor and acknowledge AALEAD for doing an outstanding job and creating a platform for young people that provides them with support and guidance.” -Krupa, Mentor

“I gained an opportunity to think beyond myself and my life.” -Leena, Mentor

“I feel great about the mentoring program. It makes my life different, since I have a mentor who I can talk with when I am sad. It helps me a lot!” -Yuqiong, Mentee


In honor of National Mentoring Month, an annual media campaign that outreaches for mentor volunteers for young people, we will be highlighting quotes, stories, and photographs submitted by our one and only mentor-mentee pairs. The impacts that our mentors have made on the lives of their mentees have not only pushed our youth to succeed and continue to reach their full potential, but they have also helped cultivate the community that AALEAD is today. We are proud to say that our Mentors have truly set the bar for making a New Year’s resolution and committing to that goal throughout the year and beyond. Even more so, we are thankful for our loving and encouraging Mentors, who have inspired our students with the confidence to share their stories, the strength to create positive change in our communities, and the hope to believe in new and endless possibilities year in and year out.

This post is dedicated to all of our former and current Mentors: AALEAD would not be where we are today without your friendship, brilliance, and support. Thank you, and Happy National Mentoring Month!

Photo Credit: Melor Suhaimi
Photo & Quote Credit: National Mentoring Month Website

This week, at our Bancroft Elementary School Program, AALEADers learned about identifying positive and negative stereotypes. One of the best ways to ensure students truly grasp a concept, is to have them share what they have learned – so our AALEADers put their heads together and brainstormed ways to help other youth understand how harmful stereotypes can be. They came up with this video message. Enjoy!

This past Saturday evening, nine of our mentor-mentee pairs and staff members had the opportunity to visit the White House and see the Residence decorated for the holidays. Prior to entering the House, youth, mentors, and staff met at the Visitor’s Entrance, enjoying one another’s company and sharing our excitement about the tour that was soon to come. As we finally gained entrance, the smell of pine and orange pomander wafted through the Residence, fostering feelings of warmth and the holiday spirit. AALEADers ventured from room to room, learning about interesting historical facts pertaining to each area as well as appreciating the ornamentation adorning each room.

Youth, mentors, and staff also had a fun-filled time searching for the special Bo-ornaments that Bo Obama, the First Family’s dog, left in eight different rooms throughout the White House. After the tour was finished and everyone in our group met outside, all that could be heard throughout the walk back was lots of cheering and laughter. As the end of the year approaches, it is the perfect time to reflect on the goals that we have accomplished, the things and people that we are grateful for, as well as the resolutions that we would like to make for the following year.  Here at AALEAD, we are thankful for every single individual who has played a role in cultivating the community that AALEAD is today. As the feelings of joy and warmth resonate throughout this merry season, we are definitely grateful that our loving and encouraging AALEAD family is a presence that remains throughout the year.

Many thanks to Jason Tengco and Gautam Raghavan from the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for giving us the opportunity to partake in such a wonderful event!

Photo Credit: Friends of AALEAD

HS Volunteer Orientation: AALEADers Give Back

There isn’t a better way to spread holiday cheer… than volunteering throughout the year!

Last night, 21 of our Maryland High School AALEADers participated in the first ever High School Volunteer Orientation. Held in the social hall at the Wheaton Community Recreation Center, the energy and anticipation in the room prior to the orientation was palpable.  In order to encourage active involvement in the community and civic engagement, our high school AALEADers will be assigned to volunteer at one of our five middle school program sites this year. In these roles, our AALEADers will not only be assisting our program coordinators with various activities, but they will also be setting an example for the younger students as well.

As AALEADers were handed their Volunteer Handbooks, they expressed enthusiasm and excitement about volunteering at their former alma maters and serving as role models for our younger AALEADers. After going over AALEAD’s Volunteer Policies, students were eager to hear about their pairings and couldn’t wait to get started.

It is inspiring to see our older youth step up to the plate and dedicate their time to not only the greater APA and DMV communities at large, but also, to their brothers and sisters in our AALEAD family as well. We are proud of our AALEADers for continuing to give back to the community and showing the world what the AALEAD family is all about: compassion, caring, and commitment. Way to go, AALEADers!

Photo Credit: Francine Gorres

This past weekend, AALEADers had the opportunity to watch Mia Chung’s production of “You For Me For You” at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Set in the heart of New York City and North Korea, the play follows two sisters from North Korea who attempt to escape the horrors of an oppressive government. Similar to how “You For Me For You” explores the dual nature of the immigrant experience, our students took the time to reflect upon their own family histories and discuss how appreciative they are of the sacrifices that their own families had to make.

“The play really touched me. It really opened my eyes to how hard people’s lives are compared to ours and how we don’t even think about it.” -Alani

“I thought it was interesting because we learned about how life is in another country and how much they struggle.” -Michelle

“I thought it was inspirational because it showed that the sister would come back, and they still remembered each other throughout their struggles.” –Andrea

This collaborative effort between AALEAD and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company allowed our students to embrace the history behind their own heritages as well as recognize the struggles that many immigrants have to endure on their way to a better life. It also reinforced the importance of identity and being proud of where you or your family came from. Discussions like these help our students foster a positive sense of identity as well as give them the space to develop a shared sense of community, too. What an awesome way to spend the weekend!

Many thanks to Jocelyn Prince and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company for giving our students the unique opportunity to watch such an amazing show!

Photo Credit: Francine Gorres

This past Friday, students from Washington Yu Ying PCS graciously welcomed some of our Thomson Elementary AALEADers to their school campus in Northeast DC. Students spent the afternoon learning and sharing as they raced to complete a challenging scavenger hunt. Washington Yu Ying is a public charter school in DC that offers Mandarin Chinese immersion. This collaborative scavenger hunt event allowed these two  groups of students to come together, share their skills and talents, and grow their leadership and teamwork skills. Our AALEAD students also got to be the experts in the room as they shared their native Mandarin language skills!

To kick off the afternoon and break the ice,  each team, composed of both Yu Ying and AALEAD students,  started off by making team banners. Each team chose an animal from the Chinese Zodiac calendar and came up with a team slogan.  Here are some pictures of students making and presenting their team banners:

Next, it was time to start the competition! Teams tackled challenges like making up a 15-second dance, building a shelter, forming Chinese characters with their bodies, drawing illustrations for each month of the the Chinese zodiac calendar and placing each month in the correct order, shooting some hoops, and more. It was a joy to watch students’ shyness fall away as the afternoon progressed and they worked together to complete the challenges!

A huge thanks to Washington Yu Ying for partnering with us to give students this unique opportunity to learn and grow!

** View more pictures from this event on Flickr! **

Photo Credit: Micah Shearer

AALEAD Youth at Kollaboration D.C.

Earlier this fall a few of our AALEAD High School students were able to volunteer at an event called Kollaboration D.C.  During the event students were able to meet upcoming Asian American musicians, singers, spoken word artists, and other Asian Americans looking to make it in the entertainment industry.

During the intermission of the show, audience members were encouraged to participate in what they called freestyle voice and freestyle dance. In each category audience members would audition in order to sing and dance in-front of the audience after intermission. Many talented AALEAD students were very shy about sharing their musical talents and were hesitant about auditioning.  To try and help them overcome their fear of performing I encouraged them to try out and AGREED to also tryout for the freestyle dance as a gesture of camaraderie . What started out as a fun way to build confidence, turned out to be a memory that I will never forget with some of my students.  We advanced from the audition round to the competition round of freestyle dance and freestyle voice and represented on stage in front of hundreds of people! To make this even more special, one of our AALEAD students won first place in the freestyle voice competition and I placed in second place for the freestyle dance competition (who would have thought!). We had a huge crowd of supporters and very loud and excited AALEAD students cheering for us in the crowd. When we left the stage we were welcomed with such proud and excited AALEAD high school students amazed at our courage to perform!

Moments like these truly illuminate the special student-adult relationships present in AALEAD and the impact it can leave on both the adult and student. For students the positive relationship provides them with a kind of support that helps them to believe that anything is possible even when they are afraid of the outcome. This kind of attitude gives them a sense of positive self-worth and self-resiliency that is important in young adulthood when personal character is tested.  It was truly fun watching students conquer their fears of self-doubt and also overcoming mine as well!

Photo Credit: Francine Gorres, Beau Canlas (from hip hop group SNRG. Twitter/Instagram: @BEAUcanLAST) and Kollaboration D.C. (Twitter: @KollaborationDC)


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The Halloween season is a great time of year for students to get together and create something fun (or frightening) for others to enjoy.  Over the course of the past two weeks, our High School and Middle Students in DC worked together to transform our normally mild-mannered office space into a spectacularly scary Haunted House for the benefit of our Elementary School Program students. This event was a great opportunity for our high school students to mentor our middle schools students and for everyone to bond as  they shared ideas on how to make this year’s haunted house the scariest yet.  Here’s some photos of our Middle and High School students hard at work:

After much preparation, it was time to welcome our Elementary schools students! This event is an elementary school favorite and students were eagerly asking teachers “when is the haunted house!?” weeks in advance.

Before heading upstairs to the Haunted House (or for those who weren’t quite up to braving our secondary school student’s creepy creations), our elementary schoolers enjoyed some food and worked on Halloween themed crafts.

Events where students get to work together to create something are an important part of building a strong foundation for community among our students. Our Secondary School students did an amazing job with this event and succeeded in giving our Elementary School students a Halloween experience they will not soon forget!

Happy Halloween all and stay tuned for more news from DC AALEAD!

Photo Credit: Sharon Choi