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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 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 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!

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

This year, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) is focusing on three outcomes: Educational Empowerment, Identity, and Leadership. Our Mentoring Program students work towards these outcomes by attending cultural events, working on career development activities, and participating in community service events… all with their amazing Mentors! Outside of planned group outings, youth enrolled in the Mentoring Program don’t often have the opportunity to achieve these goals with their Mentoring Program peers on a regular basis since they come from all across DC and Maryland. With the AALEAD Middle School Youth Council kicking off just this past year, the Mentoring Program students also wanted a space to meet new friends in the Mentoring Program and share their ideas and help plan for Mentoring Program-specific events.

That’s why, on Tuesday, January 28, AALEAD’s first-ever Mentoring Advisory Council (MAC) met for the very first time! Seven middle school youth from varying DC schools met at one of our elementary school program sites, Thomson, to enjoy each other’s company and begin envisioning the year ahead together. There was much excitement and energy in the room as students were reunited with old friends or met for the first time. The meeting began with brief introductions as well as conversation about each student’s favorite healthy snack. Youth then discussed what the Mentoring Program meant to them, what their roles in the Council would be, and what outcome-based events they would like to see in the coming year. Finally, they split off into pairs and volunteered as program aides with our youngest Thomson AALEADers.

By incorporating their individual interests and sharing their opinions, students in the Mentoring Program are truly taking ownership of their program and moving the program up to the next level. They are also setting wonderful examples for our little AALEADers by taking the time to give back to the community and volunteer. We are so excited for our next MAC meeting later this month and can’t wait to see our youth continue to grow and develop to their greatest potential in these leadership roles!

Mentoring Matters: Kamya’s Thoughts

By Kamya Khanna, Current AALEAD Mentor
Photos Courtesy of Kamya Khanna, Current AALEAD Mentor

As the end of National Mentoring Month draws near, we wanted to share Kamya’s story and the experience that she has had with AALEAD’s Mentoring Program. Thank you to all of our Mentors – we are extremely grateful for you and continue to be inspired by you and your dedication every single day. We hope you enjoy Kamya’s story, and Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina Ngo, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

As an undergraduate student, I spent a semester studying language and culture in Shanghai. Once I returned to the United States, I wanted to seek volunteering opportunities that would let me stay connected with Chinese culture. Since I also enjoy working with youth, I found my way to AALEAD, which provided a fantastic opportunity to get involved in DC’s Asian American community and hopefully make a positive contribution. So, in 2012, I decided to sign up as a Mentor.

Before meeting my Mentee for the first time, I was very nervous. Would it be difficult to make conversation with her? Would I have any useful guidance to share with a teenager? Would she trust me? Would I be able to set a good example for a young girl? When we finally met, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she was immediately talkative and excited to make a new connection. Thanks to her friendly demeanor, it did not take long for the two of us to find a comfortable rhythm with each other. Within a few weeks, I got to know all about her favorite school subjects, her friends from her hometown, her family, and her favorite kinds of music.

AALEAD has made it possible for us to continue making great memories together, such as participating in local community service projects and park clean-ups, ice-skating, and even visiting the White House to admire Christmas decorations. Separately, my Mentee and I have formed a solid bond during outings to DC’s art museums, visits to local outdoor markets, homework help sessions, and frequent Skype calls. We have attended cultural events where my Mentee has been able to teach me about Chinese New Year traditions, and in turn I have taken her to cultural functions that have taught her about my Indian heritage. Most importantly, we have reached a place where she is comfortable sharing with me any worries or dilemmas that she is confronting.

Over the past two years, I have aimed to guide my Mentee through her recent transition to high school, navigating the highs and lows of making new friends, being involved in the school community and balancing an ever-increasing workload. As she has opened up to me about her hopes and fears in this new chapter of her life, I am proud to have been able to be an effective listener who is present when she needs to vent frustrations, but also able to relate my own experiences in a way that might help her. I am especially proud of my Mentee and how she has remained a hard-working, well-liked, and fun-loving high schooler.

I have learned that being a good Mentor isn’t necessarily the same thing as having the perfect advice for any situation. Instead, what it really means to me is being available whenever my Mentee needs me. I do not need to have all of the answers to my Mentee’s problems, but I do need to have the willingness to spend time understanding her thoughts and problems so that I may guide her to resources that may be helpful. The mentoring experience has proved to be very rewarding. It has allowed me not only to gain confidence in my own skills as a leader in this way, but it has also allowed me to feel that I am indeed setting a positive example for a wonderful young girl, who will surely continue to blossom.

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Video Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

One of the best things about the beginning of a brand new year is coming up with goals and resolutions for the future, but also remembering all of the achievements that were accomplished during the previous year and recognizing those who helped you along the way.

In honor of National Mentoring Month, AALEAD celebrates all of our amazing mentors and their commitment to and impact on our youth. To date, we currently have 55 pairs matched across both DC and Maryland. Though some of our pairs have just begun their journeys and others have been matched for a record amount of time, we are so grateful for the opportunity to witness and be a part of each mentee-mentor pair’s growth together. Our Mentors have all played a pivotal role in the personal and educational development of our youth, and we appreciate their kindness and willingness to give back to the AALEAD community with all of our hearts.

Today is Thank Your Mentor Day, and we couldn’t think of a better way to share our thanks than by letting you hear and see what some of our very special Mentees had to say about their awesome Mentors themselves. Check it out, and Happy National Mentoring Month!

*Though this video only highlights some of the students involved in AALEAD’s Mentoring Program, all of our Mentees are extremely thankful for their Mentors and all of the wonderful experiences that they have shared together.

Volunteer Voices: Vinh’s Story

By Vinh Tran, Current AALEAD Volunteer
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo & Micah Shearer, AALEAD Staff

The AALEAD Volunteer Program consists of committed and enthusiastic individuals who spend one to two days out of their week helping our after school programs staff manage classroom behavior, teaching lessons, and spending time with our youth. To kick off National Mentoring Month, we would like to recognize our amazing volunteers who not only dedicate their time to our students, but also serve as wonderful mentors and positive role models as well. To our fantastic volunteers, thank you so much for all that you do! We are grateful for you and continue to be inspired by your passion, creativity, and energy every day. Please enjoy Vinh’s story, and Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

From my point of view, everything in the United States was new and extremely different from my country, Vietnam. I wanted to learn everything I could about Americans – not only for my own knowledge, but also, so that I could begin to have meaningful interactions in my new home – which is a feeling I think many of the AALEAD students I’ve worked with can relate to. Additionally, I am especially interested in education, and I love working with kids. Those are some of the reasons why I became a volunteer for AALEAD.

AALEADers are really smart, well-behaved, and eager to learn. I love the environment that AALEAD creates, which definitely encourages me to come back and volunteer every week. The most memorable experience I have had so far was the first time I had a chance to teach the students on my own. I was really excited to be able to step into a teacher’s shoes, even if it was only for one day. Though it was just a simple art lesson, it was wonderful teaching the students how to draw out their own ideas and make their own creations.

Through volunteering for AALEAD, I have gained some very important teaching skills, which are helpful for me because I want to become a teacher in the future. In particular, I learned how to be flexible with unpredictable situations, work in a team with the other teachers, and how to plan engaging lessons. I also had the opportunity to be a kid again by learning how to play with the students and help them develop their own unique abilities.

Working with everyone in AALEAD has been an amazing experience. The teachers are friendly and helpful, and I am thankful for the opportunity to volunteer with such a great organization.

By Janet, AALEAD DC Student
Photos Courtesy of Janet, AALEAD DC Student

Walking to the Lisner Auditorium from the Metro, anxiously looking around at people and guessing who might potentially be going to the Showcase, and running around while asking questions to my supervisor were all things that I was doing on September 28, 2013. It was Kollaboration DC’s 4th Annual Showcase, and I did not want to miss out.

The previous year I, along with my peers, volunteered for the showcase with AALEAD DC’s Secondary School Program; this year, it was up to us to organize it, and we wanted to make it happen due to so many students’ desires to volunteer for the show. Using the lessons we learned from our experiences volunteering with AALEAD, we e-mailed Kollaboration DC’s Volunteer Supervisor and set up arrangements to have a small group of students from both the Maryland High School Program and the DC High School Program participate.

Organizing this opportunity and the students was definitely difficult, especially since the school year had just begun and school work began to pile on. However, we still managed to organize a group of 8 students to attend the event. Once we arrived at the Auditorium, we were given our assigned jobs, taught the process of ushering guests in, and familiarized ourselves with the venue. 7:00 PM (opening time) finally came, and that’s when all of the people came bustling in. The showcase was amazing; there were so many talented artists within five feet of us! There was definitely a rush due to the adrenaline, and we felt happy and blessed to have been a part of this year’s show. We also got to snag photos with some local celebrities such as SNRG (Some Never Really Get), GOWE (Gifted on the West East), Blush, and even AALEAD’s very own Sharon Choi!

Intern Introduction: Greetings from MinhAn!

By MinhAn Nguyen, AALEAD Intern
Photos by MinhAn Nguyen, AALEAD Intern

Hi everyone, my name is MinhAn, and I am super excited to be the new Fall 2013 Elementary School Program Intern! I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and I migrated to the Silicon Valley in 2002 with my family. I am currently pursuing an International Relations degree with UC Davis. Upon graduation, I hope to dedicate my time to assist students from the United States and foreign countries in traveling and studying abroad.  I, myself, love to travel, and my top three destinations are Japan, Egypt, and the Czech Republic! Please let me know if you’re interested in visiting these places; I would love to share my experiences in these amazing countries with you.  However, as much as I love to travel, I have decided to settle in Washington D.C. for the next 3 months.

Despite the large population of Vietnamese people living in Silicon Valley, it was definitely not easy for me to integrate into the schools I attended and the community at first.  It was through the AmeriCorps Young Heroes program that I found  the support I needed to build up my self-esteem,  which helped me to be successful  (academically and socially) throughout  my years in middle school as well as high school. As a result, I want to be able to provide the same guidance and support to the Asian American elementary students living in the area during my time here in Washington D.C. I believe that by working together with AALEAD, I’ll be able to create a big impact on the lives of Asian American students, who will contribute great things to this constantly developing and globalizing world.

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo & Melor Suhaimi, AALEAD Staff

Every year, the Volunteer Program staff search the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia) region far and wide for creative and committed volunteers to join our AALEAD family. We venture across many college campuses and organizational volunteer fairs in the hopes of meeting people who are passionate about youth and interested in making a change.

As summer ends and the new school year begins, the time has come for us to begin reaching out for volunteers once again. This September, we were thrilled to join Montgomery College-Takoma Park/Silver Spring, Montgomery College-Rockville, and the University of Maryland-College Park at their Volunteer Outreach Fairs. Volunteer fairs are a wonderful opportunity to meet a diverse group of people who are truly invested in giving back to their communities, and it is extremely inspiring and encouraging to hear their stories. Additionally, it is a great opportunity for folks who haven’t heard about AALEAD to learn more about our organization and programs as well as the amazing students that we serve.

This year, we were super happy to reunite with some of our recent AALEAD alumni who have just begun their college careers and visited our booths in-between classes. It was empowering to hear about the new experiences that our youth are having as well as catch up on the goings-on in their lives. Check out the photos throughout this post for a glimpse of what the volunteer fairs have looked like as well as photos of very excited staff with our AALEAD alumni!

As AALEAD programs begin to rev up in high gear for the upcoming school year, it is always refreshing to see familiar faces and meet new friends who are just as enthusiastic about AALEAD as we are. We look forward to the year ahead and invite you to be a part of our AALEAD family!

Special shout out to all of the brilliant students, staff, and faculty who coordinated the aforementioned events and stopped by our table. Also, a huge shout out to the awesome AALEAD alumni who visited and helped us reach out for more volunteers. We are all so proud of you and can’t wait to hear more about your college careers!