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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!**

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!

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!

Back at AALEAD!

By Neel Saxena, Development & Communications Director
Photos Courtesy of Neel Saxena

Hello AALEAD family, I am excited to be back after a ten year stint in the DC Mayor’s Office, rejoining as the Development & Communications Director. I have seen AALEAD grow and thrive during my time away and will bring my energy and experience to continue the wonderful work.

I am the son of two immigrant parents who came to the US to study in the 1960s and went back to India to have me in 1978. We came back to the US shortly after I was born and spent a few years in upstate New York before settling locally in Montgomery County, MD. I went to undergrad at the University of Maryland, College Park where I also gained a better sense of what it was to be Asian American and the struggles faced by people of color. I was involved in many advocacy initiatives at UMD and served as an AALEAD mentor during my senior year. After college, I went on to work at the Gates Millennium Scholars, followed by a brief stint at AALEAD, and then ten years with the DC Mayor’s Office.

Through my personal and professional experiences I developed a belief in and witnessed that building capacity leads to long term success. As AALEAD builds the capacity of young people, I look to contribute by building the organizational capacity of AALEAD to expand and improve the programs. I approach work and life by looking at big picture and filling it in as I go along, seeking support and guidance from those around me. I bring this philosophy to AALEAD in my role to build upon the great work that has already been done.

I am excited to join AALEAD not only because of the work but because of the people. I believe the people who make up an organization are where its key strength lies. The AALEAD family has welcomed me with open arms and I believe we will accomplish great things together. I can’t wait to share what people have told me is a boisterous laugh with the youth, staff, and board – if you’re going to laugh and enjoy life I think you must do it 110%. I also subscribe to the idea Pablo Neruda once said that “laughter is the language of the soul”.

In my time away from work, I love spending time with my wife, two boys, and dog. I also fashion myself as a weekend mechanic and handyman, although some in my family think otherwise. You can probably find me with grease or paint on my hands come Monday from a weekend full of projects.  Currently, I’m finishing a second story addition to our house which I am super excited to finish!

DC MS/HS Update: The Past Six Months

By Shobana Modur, DC Middle and High School Program Coordinator
Photos by AALEAD staff

In December 2014, I was brought on as the new DC Middle and High School Program Coordinator.  Almost immediately, I was thrown into all the holiday party craziness, met AALEAD’s dedicated staff and board members, and was introduced to the DC AALEAD youth.  What struck me instantly was how they all took me in like family!

Over the course of six months, DC Middle and High School youth and I have been busy exploring colleges, talking about how to cope with our everyday stresses, dancing and creating art in Malcolm X park, reflecting on community service and its impact through volunteering with DC Central Kitchen, the Park Clean up, and Comcast Cares Day. Most importantly, we have created a strong AALEAD community through all of these activities during programs.

For the next few weeks, DC AALEADers and I will be wrapping up the end of programs, talking about sports and youth empowerment, and reflecting on this past year. The DC Youth Council will also be planning our end of the year celebration, combining both the Chinatown and Columbia Heights programs.  It’s been a busy six months with AALEAD and will be even busier once summer rolls around, but everyday spent with youth and staff have been rewarding, fulfilling, and thought-provoking.  I’m looking forward to the months and years to come!

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

The Kindergarten through second grade AALEAD team earned artistic accolades for the class submission to the 15th Annual Mt. Pleasant Youth Arts Fair. At a special reception held at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library, judges announced that the AALEAD artwork had earned 15 out of 15 possible points and a prominent display in the children’s section of the library.

This year’s theme encouraged young artists from seven different local schools or school-based organizations to find inspiration in the heroes of Mt. Pleasant. Participants had the freedom to define how to accomplish this mission. Real-life heroes such as police officers, nurses, and principals entered the contest alongside fantastic superheroes with special powers.

The AALEAD team chose to make a comic strip with a twist: their hero story took the form of an Asian-style scroll measuring several feet in length.  Youth learned the value of taking time and care to make a public exhibit. The process had several stages: planning the story, sketching each scene in pencil, inking and erasing the pencil marks, coloring, and gluing together the components of the scroll. Kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders conceptualized and drew themselves as regular students by day who transform into nocturnal warriors in order to save Bancroft Elementary School. Together, they fight the nefarious Zack the Electro-Elephant, a bad apple second-grader who wants to steal the smartness of Bancroft’s best. Each superhero persona reflects qualities of the actual AALEAD youth. Want to find out what happens? Take a trip to the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library—the scroll will be on display through May 31!

AALEAD at Fiesta Asia DC 2015!

By Chelsea Iorlano, Development & Communications Associate
Photos Courtesy of Chelsea Iorlano

This past Saturday, May 16, Asian American LEAD joined the festivities at Fiesta Asia DC.  161 youth, staff, and mentors came out to represent AALEAD and celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at the 10th annual Fiesta Asia street festival!

The day began bright and early as our AALEADers from elementary, middle, and high school gathered at the East Stage and performed our 4th annual Asian Fusion modern dance, choreographed by our 6 AALEAD lead choreographers.  The dance was an exciting opportunity for our youth across programs to meet one another, work together, and continue to strengthen the bonds of the AALEAD family.  Our youth showcased their talent and hard work through the performance; some youth even had the opportunity to highlight their passion for dance with a solo spotlight during the performance!

The MD Middle School Youth Council stepped up their leadership by preparing and operating the AALEAD booth as part of the street festival.  AALEADers drew in curious members of the crowd with a trivia board about Asian culture and traditions, a photo both, and face-in-the-hole stand-ins that showcased traditional Asian attire.

Youth also had free time to walk around and explore the festival, learn about other Asian cultures and organizations at a variety of booths, try different Asian cuisines and cool down with bubble tea and sugar cane juice, and watch performances at any of the 5 stages.  After a full morning of dancing, picture taking, and exploring Fiesta Asia, our youth came together once again to represent AALEAD during the Fiesta Asia Culture Parade.  AALEADers celebrated their community, carrying signs they made for the parade and chanting and cheering to express what AALEAD means to them.

A special thank you to everyone who came out to support our youth and made the event a fun and rewarding experience!