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By Stephanie Lim, Mentoring and Volunteer Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Neel Saxena, Development & Communications Director

Hello everyone,

I’m excited to join AALEAD as Mentoring and Volunteer Coordinator. I started in this position on August 24th and I’ve been learning so much! The staff has been so welcoming and kind, and it’s been great working alongside them. I’m especially excited to be working with my manager, Tina.

I want to share what brought me to AALEAD so that you have a better idea of who I am and what my passions are.

I was born in Queens, New York to parents from South Korea. They worked a lot, so I spent a lot of my time reading and going to the local library after school. It kept me out of trouble and nurtured my interests in literature, film, and history. I had two high school English teachers who gave me structure and encouraged me to write. Despite instability and various problems at home, my teachers gave me the space to express myself, be creative, and feel good about something. They provided a consistent adult presence in my life when my parents could not.

I graduated from Hampshire College in 2011, concentrating in American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Asian American Studies. I’d started out wanting to pursue literature and poetry but found myself gravitating toward social science classes. I remember learning about the origins of the US census and US racial category formation during my first year. Many things I could not articulate and didn’t know how to express before suddenly gained language and urgency. My experiences no longer felt isolated and unimportant. My studies brought me to such issues as race and racism, colorism, class, sexual orientation, gender, ability, health disparities, immigration, diaspora, nation-building, and much more.

I thought about what I wanted to do with all of this knowledge I had gained from the world of academia. I felt frustrated with the elitism and inaccessible language I encountered in my classes, and I wanted to find practical ways to use what I had learned. Upon graduation, I realized that I wanted to be in a position to help youth. I looked for jobs at organizations that supported youth through education, outreach, and support. This led me to an after-school teaching position at JHS 189 with the Hodori After-School Program in Flushing, New York, where I taught a class primarily composed of 3rd graders. One of my fondest memories and proudest moments with the program was when a group of students, grades 3-5, participated in a mock trial activity with information from Landmark Supreme Court Case Korematsu vs. US (1944). I guided them in discussions that addressed racism, nation, immigration, and citizenship in ways that made sense to them. They asked questions, argued, and reflected. What more could I have asked for?

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After my time with Hodori, I taught English for a year and a half in Sinnam, Inje County, South Korea. In addition to teaching during regular school hours, I taught supplementary literacy classes, tutored, and held evening classes for adult learners. Being bilingual helped me communicate more precisely with my coworkers and students, but it also helped me cultivate personal relationships with them. My students and I became close, and saying goodbye to them has been one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. After returning to the States last Fall, I worked with AALEAD’s after school program at Thomson Elementary. I was glad to be in a position to help facilitate learning among students again, and it was great seeing them grow and thrive through their enrichment activities. I had a chance to work with some of these students again through AALEAD’s summer literacy program at Walker-Jones Education Campus this past summer. One thing that I have noticed at AALEAD is the strong sense of community and family among the staff and students, so I felt that it was especially fitting that the theme this summer was Ohana.

I’m very much looking forward to working in this new position, and I’m excited to meet many more of you in the weeks and months to come. I feel humbled to be a part of this community organization, and to learn more about how I can best help them and the communities we serve. Before I finish this post, I want to share one of my father’s oft-repeated words of encouragement: “find your passions, chase your dreams.” My father helps me see the light and possibility in all things, and I hope to relay his words to our youth.

A Summer Never To Be Forgotten

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

Have you ever tried to keep 20 youths’ attention during an activity for more than 10 minutes? It’s hard.

My summer with Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) was fantastic, unexpected, and transforming. Seeing the youth interact with each other was fascinating to experience. The true dynamics of what it means to be family were exemplified by those who attended the DC Middle & High School Summer Program. There was never a dull moment with AALEAD. To be able to share this time with the DC middle and high school youth was more than I could have asked for. We grew together as a family. I was taught to be patient, give back to others, and to think outside the box.

But it all started with that first day of meeting the youth…

To step into the room full of youth was terrifying. There were millions of things running through my head – most of which were thoughts of failure, feelings that the youth would not like me, or that I would not be able to complete my role as a support system for the youth. I could not have been more wrong. I stressed, smiled, laughed, and cried. It was incredibly humbling to work with such inspiring youth; to share this time with them and the staff was life-changing. And we had as much fun as we could!

It was a bit of an adjustment on my side. I have never met or interacted with city folk, especially youth from a different background. But as the days and weeks went on, and we developed lessons and workshops together, the feeling of being “new” quickly went away. Each day, I looked forward to seeing everyone’s faces and getting ready to start the day’s work! It was fantastic to see the youth begin to open up and be themselves around me. We began to develop mutual respect, and I will honor that always.

We began to feel more like a family! Something that is hard to do, especially for me.

To witness the incredible work they can conceptualize and then make it a reality was moving. I saw the incredibly huge hearts they each have; when they worked together, they were able to inspire younger youth to think about tough subjects like conflict management, teamwork, identity & race, mental health and how to deal with stress. I was able to learn about their passions, their career pathways, and their favorite activities. To see everyone’s presentations about what their future plans are was inspiring.

One of my favorite memories with the program was when we volunteered and cleaned the streets of Anacostia. I believed it challenged the youth’s views about their community, and they were passionate about making a difference. I have learned so much more from the youth that I would have gotten from a classroom (ironically, we were in a classroom most of the summer). Another great memory was the first time that I saw everyone in the group begin to open up about their feelings: things that made them angry during the summer, things that they felt remorse about, and things that they were able to solve and work through their frustrations as a group.

There is so much love in this group. I felt it. My supervisor felt it. The thing I hope the youth take away from this summer is to never forget what they have and can do for each other. They are a support system for one another, a family outside of their houses. Home is where the heart is. The DC middle and high school youth know exactly how to bring their hearts wherever they go. From their lessons, I know I can do the same.

Thank you for an incredible summer. This won’t be a goodbye. See you soon!

Special Thank You and See You Later!

It has been a wonderful five years at Asian American LEAD.  I have learned so much from AALEAD youth, staff, board members, mentors, and volunteers and I’m so thankful for everyone who has been a part of my AALEAD journey!  When I first started with AALEAD in 2010, I worked with the DC Elementary School Program and I immediately connected with the youth, staff, and AALEAD’s mission.  I knew at that moment that AALEAD would make a significant impact in my life and it definitely has.

I have had so many memorable experiences at AALEAD.  I’ve had the opportunity to lead engaging workshops that allowed AALEAD youth to feel comfortable and feel that they are part of a family.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interview dedicated volunteers and mentors and help them transition into building their mentor-mentee relationships.  I’ve had the opportunity to create funny (I would hope!) raps for AALEAD staff on their birthdays.  I’ve even had the opportunity to speak at AALEAD’s Aspire to LEAD fundraiser event and share my story, which I’m so grateful for.  These are just a few of the memories that I’ll cherish forever.  I’m grateful and thankful for all the opportunities and memories that I’ve gained from AALEAD.

As I move on to the next chapter in my life, this is not a goodbye, this is just a see you later!  To the AALEAD family:  You were the ones that inspired me every day when I came to work and will forever continue to do so.  With everything that is going on in each of your lives, you manage to remain hopeful, happy, and overall inspiring.  I’m looking forward to all the exciting new and grand things that AALEAD will be doing.  And please know that each of you will always be family to me.   I end this post with a quote that some of you may already know is one of my favorites.   I hope for whenever you think of it, you think of me and continue to do great things. J “There is nothing that drives optimism more than passion with a purpose.  Find your purpose.”  Go AALEAD!  I will miss you!

Love,
Melor

So Long for Now, AALEAD!

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

I distinctly remember the emotions that washed over me when I received Tina’s e-mail offer to join the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) team for the summer: shock, excitement, eagerness, and a little bit of nervousness. I was thrilled to accept for so many reasons, but mostly because working with AALEAD would mean combining two of my life goals: youth development through teaching and Asian American issues. In college, I had been feeling incredibly frustrated about the unsustainable nature of the work I was doing in my diversity organizations. All of that changed when I started my summer internship with AALEAD. In the past eight short weeks, my frustration has melted off, and my passions and knowledge have been redirected toward tangible work and community engagement through youth leadership and development. In so many ways, this internship has been more than I could hope for.

The past eight weeks with everyone – from staff to volunteers to the wonderful youth – have been an absolute joy. From the get go, my supervisor, Charles, did a fantastic job of creating and reinforcing the Hawaiian idea of Ohana, or family – both in the familial and community sense. During AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Summer Program orientation, we opened up to each other about personal struggles as well as the kind of people in our Ohana. These simulations proved to be vital during summer programming as a way to relate to the youth as well as remind me of the importance and impact of AALEAD’s work with young people. As is to be expected, not everything was smooth sailing. But what stood out with our Ohana at Walker Jones is that whenever the seas got rough, someone was there for you.

In my work at Walker Jones, I had a blend of both the administrative and teaching side of things. For a person whose previous experience with being responsible for youth had involved being a teacher’s assistant for 9th graders and baby-sitting young children, I often felt like a fish out of water the first few minutes of workshops. But the eagerness of the youth, as well as the warm support from class teachers and volunteers gave me the confidence to lead lesson plans in the classrooms.

The most beautiful part of the whole experience for me came in the last couple of weeks of programming as I interviewed some youth on Ohana. Seeing how the youth really began to embody and internalize the Hawaiian values and concepts made me appreciate the work of our staff in reinforcing these important ideas as well as the openness of our youth in receiving these messages. (Please check out my past blogs as well as our 2015 Summer Newsletter for more information on what we did throughout our elementary school summer program at Walker Jones!)

I’m not sure exactly what the future holds or where I’ll be in the next year, but I do know that I’ll definitely be dropping by for a visit again soon. AALEAD has left a permanent stamp on my heart with loving memories and powerful lessons learned. Thanks everyone – and especially Charles, Mylynh, Tina, and Surjeet – for making me a part of your AALEAD family and gifting me with such a wonderful summer! I’ll definitely be applying what I learned from my time at AALEAD to my student organizations in college and wherever life takes me after graduation.

AALEADers Explore STEM Careers at Verizon

By Yuanlong, AALEAD DC Student
Photos Courtesy of Mario Acosta-Velez, Verizon & Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

Last Tuesday, the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) DC Middle & High School Summer Program had the opportunity to visit one of Verizon’s central DC facilities. We had already kicked off the summer at Verizon’s DC headquarters by learning about Ki Wilson (a Verizon staff member and AALEAD Board Member) and his career pathway and were excited to see all the technology that he mentioned at our first meeting.

At first, I wasn’t sure information technology was what interested me in terms of careers. However, what I experienced at Verizon was truly fascinating! As we walked through all the technology used to allow our internet and phones to work, we learned that there are so many different career opportunities that are available when working with a big company such as Verizon – even if its main focus is on phone and internet services. Through all the new vocabulary words and stories that our tour guides shared, we learned more about them and their journeys to a career at Verizon. We also saw technology such as fiber optics, switchboards, wires, and machines that allow us to communicate with our friends and family in and out of the country.

One of my favorite parts about visiting Verizon was learning more about internet speed and connection. Ki explained to me that internet speed is connected to the amount of bandwidth an internet connection has, which means that sometimes the internet can be slow if the bandwidth has reached its maximum capacity. Learning more about this topic helped me discover my passion for bandwidth and information technology. While I felt unsure at the beginning of this visit, learning more about bandwidth and all of the technology used at Verizon helped me decide that a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is what I want to pursue. This will give me the knowledge and power to improve bandwidth so that the internet will be much faster for others – maybe I’ll even work for Verizon in the future!

Overall, I am truly grateful to have experienced such a great tour and for all that Verizon has done for AALEAD this summer. Thank you to the Verizon team for taking the time to speak with us and for sparking the interest in STEM for many of us through last week’s tour!

By Pallavi Rudraraju, DC Elementary School Intern

Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Our AALEAD Ohana at Walker-Jones just finished our fifth and final week of programming, and we can’t believe the month has passed so quickly! From jam-packed field trips to interactive and multi-facted workshops, we’ve done so much in the past five short weeks.

As a fresh change of pace, Ohana received a visit from the Maryland Summer Serve halfway through our third week. The middle and high school youth from Maryland facilitated storytelling workshops with the younger Ohana program. The goal of the workshop was to strengthen self-identity and increase cultural awareness among our youth.

Over the past two weeks, our focus has been on the Hawaiian values of Ho’omau and Kuleana, perseverance and personal responsibility. Teachers have found ways to seamlessly incorporate these values into lesson plans and activities, whether inside the classroom or out. In Weeks 3 and 4, Ms. Madeline and Mr. Jeremy offered unique workshops to their students that blended current events and movements with our core values of Ho’omau and Kuleana, thus providing outlets and solutions for potentially difficult and emotional topics. Both classes discussed issues of police brutality, race, prejudice, and hate crimes, and learned about some ways in which political dissent is expressed.

Above, the rising 5th-and-6th grade class, Kahoolawe, pulls controversial articles on topics ranging from the offensiveness of the Washington Redskins team name to the heartbreak of the massacre in the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. This workshop followed a graffiti workshop, in which the class learned the expressive and political nature of graffiti. Below, in the rising 3rd grade class, Kauai, youth learned how they can protest actions they think are unfair. In response to the threat of housing closing in Museum Square, they drafted a class letter of concern to the Mayor’s office, stating that “the people need to live in there [sic] house because they have family and they need to eat,” “Please let the people stay because some of my friends live there,” and “Please don’t make me leave my home.”

To round off each week was a fun-filled field trip! At the end of week three, our youth had a 2-in-1 field trip to both the Regal Cinemas and Chinatown Park.  To kick off the day, AALEAD went to see Disney’s recent release, Inside Out. The film grappled with difficult subjects such as mental health, personality, and trauma, and presented them in a relatable manner. To prepare youth for the movie’s nature and subject material, our teachers facilitated workshops on the starring emotions of the film – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear – and had the youth critically engage with their emotions and memories. Despite the serious nature of the film, the movie was very funny and entertaining!

After the film, AALEAD traipsed back to the Chinatown park, where youth drew chalk masterpieces, made foam picture frames, and played relay races, courtesy of the Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs and DC Parks and Recreation.

Last Friday, we ventured out to Great Waves Waterpark in Alexandria, Virginia. We spent hours having a blast at all the attractions, diving into the water to beat the heat. The youth especially enjoyed the Wave Pool, Lagoon Play Pool, and the Speed Slides!

The past five weeks at Walker-Jones have been an absolute blast for all the volunteers, staff, and youth involved. We hope you enjoyed our ending Luau last Friday in which our classes and teachers showed off their final projects to the entire program. From choreographed dances to cooking demonstrations to spoken word poetry, each final product was an amazing culmination of a month’s hard work. Though the program was only for five weeks, we saw many drastic improvements in our youth – from literacy to leadership – and made lasting memories that we will cherish forever.

By Yuanlong, AALEAD Youth
Photos Courtesy of Yingzhi, AALEAD Youth

On the DC Middle & High School Summer Program’s first field trip, we traveled to the Torpedo Factory, located in Alexandria, VA, to learn more about the different variations of art and the people behind all the amazing work. AALEADers explored the factory to experience the wide variety of art and had the opportunity to meet many inspiring artists along the way. We also did a Q&A with artists followed by a scavenger hunt. Through this field trip, AALEADers were inspired to do big things, just like the artists they met.

All youth were separated into teams at the beginning of the summer program, namely: “Team SWAG”, “Furious Five”, “Rice Cookers”, and “Team Sugoi”. Each group was sent to interview different artists and to conduct a Q&A session, where the artists shared with the teams their careers and what inspired them to pursue art.

After the Q&A, , it was time for the SCAVENGER HUNT! In this scavenger hunt, every group was given a list of objectives they must complete, which consisted of photos and videos of certain things around the factory. One of the most embarrassing but fun things the AALEADers had to do was re­enact the Titanic scene: “King of the World” in front of the dock, where there were crowds of people. AALEADers also had to go find the “Fish Advocate”, which is NOT a person (as you may think), but actually a piece of work, which every group had trouble finding. In the end, Team “Rice Cookers” came out victorious and earned themselves a tiny camera! However, it was not only the Rice Cookers that won, but everyone! Everyone [was] a winner because we all had fun! Fun [was] such a great way to end an awesome first week of the DC Middle & High School Summer Program.

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!