Tag Archive: Leadership

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!


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!

AALEAD Takes On Camping

By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Chelsea Iorlano, Development & Communications Associate

Summer break means six weeks of engaging and fun summer programs for MD AALEADers! Before MD summer programs started, high school youth applied for the position of High School Leader (HS Leader) to serve in the MD summer program as group leaders for the middle school youth. Thirty one youth were selected to serve as HS Leaders. HS Leaders work in small teams to guide groups of middle school-aged youth throughout the six weeks of summer programming. They provide peer leadership, guidance, and mentorship to middle school-aged youth, allowing all AALEAD youth get to step into leadership roles.

Last week, HS Leaders attended a Camping Training Retreat in Northern Maryland  in order to build their skills to serve as leaders for their summer groups. The three-day trip kicked off with some of the more seasoned campers taking the lead and helping the rest of the group build the six tents that would be our shelter for the next two nights. The excitement, teamwork, and positive energy that everyone brought set the tone for the rest of the retreat: everyone was all-in the entire time, whether it was giving 100% to a Facilitation Skills Workshop, going all-in on a friendly yet competitive game of Taboo, or cooking breakfast, the positive spirit and energy was contagious.

Youth engaged in structured workshops to build their skills as group leaders, workshop facilitators, and discussion leaders. They were able to work together to learn new skills for creating effective, engaging, and exciting activities to ensure that all middle school youth in summer programs would get the most out of their experience. Youth worked together to set and reflect on personal leadership goals, present to the group, plan and execute workshops, and support their peers in building their capacities. HS Leaders put their training into practice, planning workshops they will be leading alongside their middle school AALEADers during the MD summer program, Summer Serve.

In addition to the leadership and facilitation skills, what felt most special was that HS Leaders came away with a deeper understanding of themselves and each other. Through stepping out of their comfort zones, getting to know new people, and sharing their stories with each other, they created bonds across their differences through understanding and compassion. I remain inspired by how much they are willing to open up and create community and family with each other. I am left touched by how much they are willing to envision a world that can hold the complexities of life with the importance of love and support; a world that can hold silly and fun games, deep and powerful stories, a willingness to listen to and see others as their full selves, and a world where they can create space to step into their most powerful versions of themselves.

Here’s to a powerful weekend retreat, the inspiration and care that the HS Leaders shared with one another, and the hope that I could share a glimpse of that with you.

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!

Thomson Tales: AALEAD Flea Market

By Justin Fogata, Elementary Program Teacher
Photos Courtesy of Justin Fogata

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which [youth can] deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”  -Paulo Freire

The 4th and 5th grade youth at Thomson Elementary recently launched their first AALEAD Flea Market.  Throughout the school year, the youth have been directly involved in the lesson planning process in an effort to encourage ownership and empowerment in their education.  After brainstorming potential experiential classroom projects, the youth mentioned their interest in starting their own businesses.  This educational venture was more than just “playing store.”  Youth split into groups and discussed the potential steps for a successful start-up business.

For the past month, the class has been hard at work; from drafting business plans to organizing inventory lists and item prices.  To tie in the concept of “one’s trash is another’s treasure,” the youth also had the opportunity to find items from home to sell in their stores. “XTSD” (Xtreme Thrift Store Deluxe), a business led by 4th graders, added toys in good condition, school supplies and comic books to their “inventory list.”  A few groups incorporated our “Earth Week” unit into their businesses, creating sellable items out of recycled materials.  “Tic Toc Shop,” established by 5th grade girls, created hand-made origami crafts, necklaces and bracelets.  “The Sugar Shack,” a business developed by a creative and resourceful group of 4th graders, brought candies and treats left over from Easter to sell in their store.  Youth assigned job responsibilities as well, including positions such as store manager, accountant, marketing executive and customer service representative.

Lisa is her store’s “accountant” – she is writing
receipts and calculating the change for Ricky.

“Marketing executives” were hard at work, creating and designing fliers on the AALEAD class computers.  Student accountants determined prices and monitored the store budget.  Customer service representatives practiced elevator speeches and sale pitches to prepare for opening day. For our official opening, the youth transformed the classroom.  Groups arranged the desks and incorporated student-made store decorations/fliers to create a true-to-life shopping experience for our 2nd and 3rd graders.  The AALEAD Flea Market ended up being a huge success.  The 2nd and 3rd graders had a blast “window shopping” and purchasing items.  The 4th and 5th graders did an amazing job, from keeping their stores clean and organized to providing excellent customer service.

Once we closed shop, our youth debriefed and reflected on their experience.  The class did not expect it to “feel like the real-thing,” and one student added “that was stressful but fun too!”  Groups felt accomplished and proud of their work, the majority of the class asking if we can open our doors one more time.  On a future Friday, the 4th and 5th graders will open and expand their business to the Kindergarten and 1st grade classes.  Youth are currently revamping their business plans and brainstorming on how to make AALEAD Flea Market 2.0 bigger and better.

AALEADers Meet with Varun Ram!

By Sharon Choi & Chelsea Iorlano, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Last Friday, May 8, AALEADers had an amazing opportunity to meet with the University of Maryland Men’s Basketball Team’s Varun Ram. Varun, a guard for the Maryland Terps, received media attention during the NCAA Tournament in March where he made a crucial defensive play, allowing the team to make a 65-62 win against Valparaiso. While he has received attention for being 1 of 5 Indian Americans in the nation to play for a Division 1 basketball team, Varun said in a Washington Post article that “…in terms of the way I train and my outlook, I really don’t like to think about it. Race is only skin-deep.”

We were inspired by his story and journey as a basketball player who overcame the challenges and pressures of being Asian American as he pursued his dreams. Many of us are able to relate to the challenges that come with the model minority stereotype cast against Asian Pacific Americans. With May being National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, this event provided an opportunity to examine and discuss how Asian Pacific American identity and representation in basketball has impacted Varun’s experience.

AALEAD youth learned about Varun during programs and had a chance to submit questions for a question and answer session during the event on Friday. Varun was able to share his experiences and give the youth valuable insight about working hard, setting high standards and expectations for oneself, regardless of what the outside pressures and expectations may be, and staying motivated and passionate along the way.

Everyone was excited to hear from Varun, who emanated positivity and humility. Youth also had a chance to shoot hoops with Varun and a fellow teammate, center Damonte Dodd, following the Q&A session right on the Xfinity Center Court!  The event allowed our youth to interact with someone that they can look up to as a role model and inspiration for how to pursue their own dreams without other people’s perceptions or expectations limiting what our youth can dream for their futures.

A special thank you to Varun, Damonte, Jamal, and Jonathan from the UMD basketball team, Janelle and UMD’s Asian American Studies Program, and our alumni hosts Marjan and Jackey, for helping to make this event a success for our young people!

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

The Bancroft Kindergarten through second grade crew learned that the smallest creatures do some of the most important jobs on the planet. We kicked off the unit with an April Fools Day gag. I taught a mini lesson on earthworms—how these animals help make good soil by ingesting soil and enriching the soil with their excrement. Then I brought out some little cups filled with dirt and told the class that they would pretend to be earthworms by eating it (dirt, after all, has more nutrients than your average bag of potato chips). Youth dug in after getting a good sniff of the “dirt”—it smelled a lot like Oreos—and enjoyed the spoonfuls of yogurt and gummy worms hidden beneath the cookie crust.

Youth also learned about honeybees and their essential role as pollinators. Without these little gals, we wouldn’t have enough food to feed all the hungry animals. Herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, detritivores—all depend on honey bees (a keystone species) to help plants produce the seeds that keep things growing. The class learned that honeybees are in danger: they’re dying off for mysterious reasons and because of predators, parasites, and habitat destruction. Youth learned the round dance and the waggle dance that bees use to communicate to their hive members where to find food. To test their knowledge, the class divided into teams to play Bee Bingo. Finally, youth made their own little hives, made out of paper boxes that they covered with honeybee facts, and sculpted honeybees out of clay. Youth wore their finished bees to remind everyone that these tiny creatures are capable of amazing things and deserve all the respect and help that we can give them.

By Yuqiong L., Current AALEAD Youth
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

At the end of last month, I went on the White House Spring Garden Tour and visited the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the Rose Garden, the White House Kitchen Garden, and the South Lawn of the White House with two other Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) mentoring pairs. The gardens were very pretty and huge! I used to think the White House was small, but now, I know the White House isn’t small at all. The first thing I saw was the back of the White House and the podium where President Obama makes his speeches about important topics in the United States. It was awesome to see the gardens at the White House!

What I liked most about the White House gardens was the porcelain water, especially how it goes up in the fountains and the ducks that live in the pond. It’s so pretty and gorgeous! President Obama also planted vegetables in the White House Kitchen Garden so he can make salad. It was really fun to be out during that weekend since the weather was awesome and nice. I’m glad I got to spend the day with my mentor, Nancy, and the other mentors and mentees.

My experience with my mentor has been great so far. We have been matched for three months. Nancy is really nice, friendly and helpful. During this event with AALEAD’s Mentoring Program, I got to know her better and spend time with her. It was really hard for me to talk with Nancy at first because we just met. Lots of things were very different since I have had one other mentor before, but I am getting to know her better and better as time goes on. I also like that Nancy knows Cantonese because it helps my parents when they try to speak with her. Nancy always hangs out with me, and we have lots in common. She has taught me a lot about leadership skills and shared her own life with me. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to go on the White House Spring Garden Tour, hang out with my mentor, and meet some new AALEADers during this event. I am also thankful for both my former mentor and Nancy because without them, I wouldn’t be a great leader now.

DC Park Clean-up: Doing Our Share

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

This past Saturday, DC AALEAD youth, mentors, volunteers, staff, and our friends at CAPAL (Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership) participated in the Rock Creek Conservancy’s 7th Annual Rock Creek Extreme Cleanup at Piney Branch-Crestwood Park. It was a gorgeous day to be outside and kick off the start of spring! Our youth had lots of fun as they helped clean up the park while interacting with other volunteers and community members.

The event began with a short introduction and orientation from our site coordinator. Everyone was excited to see that lots of trees had been planted since we were here last year! Youth then gathered their clean-up materials (gloves, trash bags, and recycling bags) and broke off into teams, where they explored the short stretch of Rock Creek Park we were assigned. As AALEADers cleaned their way around the park, they discovered lots of interesting items throughout the morning, such as a bicycle tire, various articles of clothing, and even a deer skull! Youth also made it a point to separate trash from recyclables as they made their impressive findings.

Though our clean-up team was only at the park for about 2.5 hours, the grassy area that AALEADers helped clean was spotless by the time everyone was done! After youth collected all of the trash and recycling bags into piles along the road, it was time to replenish their energy. AALEADers snacked on crackers, fruit snacks, juice, and water while spending time with youth from other DC programs, mentors, volunteers, and staff.

The annual DC Park Clean-up is a great opportunity for AALEAD youth to not only learn about the importance of giving back to the community, but also, the significance of teamwork and building relationships with one another. Additionally, youth develop goals with their teams on how many items or trash bags they want to collect, helping them learn more about setting goals and accomplishing them as well.

Many thanks to all of our youth, mentors, volunteers, and staff who participated in this year’s clean-up! A special thank you to our friends at CAPAL who joined us for the third year in a row and provided the snacks for our youth as well as Doug Barker, Matthew Fleischer, and Karen Zeiter from the Rock Creek Conservancy for helping us coordinate the event and turning our plans into actions. We all had a wonderful time and look forward to seeing everyone again next year!

Gifts for the Homeless Clothing Drive

By Keo Xiong, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

In the United States, 2.5 million children under 18 years old were homeless in 2013, according to a new report, “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” published by the National Center on Family Homelessness. To put that number into perspective, it means 1 in every 30 children is homeless. The most prevalent causes of homelessness include high rates of child and family poverty, the lack of affordable housing, continuing impacts of the Great Recession, racial/ethnic disparities among people experiencing homelessness, challenges of single parenting, and trauma. This statistic is a historic high for the nation, and a jarring reminder of the wealth, health, and ethno-racial disparities in America. How does this affect your communities, and how can you help?

This past weekend, AALEAD MD High School and Middle School youth spent their Saturday volunteering at Gifts for the Homeless’ annual clothing drive. Gifts for the Homeless, a nonprofit in the District of Columbia, collects donated new and used clothing and other essential items to distribute to over 70 shelters in the area. Twenty-six AALEAD youth, along with Gifts for the Homeless staff and other volunteers, helped sort clothing for distribution. AALEAD youth remained behind after the clothes sorting to clean the warehouse and help with recycling efforts.

After AALEAD youth finished their volunteer shift for the day, they participated in a reflection about their volunteerism and homelessness. The youth provided insightful answers and thoughts about the causes of homelessness, challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness, and their own positions and relative privileges. We are proud of AALEAD youth and their continuous commitment to giving back to the community by volunteering their time, not only during the holidays, but all throughout the year.

As the winter holidays approach and the temperatures continue to plummet, please take the time to reflect on your own position in this community and identify how you can support those in need. Whether you donate essential items like coats and toiletries, money, food, or even your time, every contribution helps.

To learn more about youth homelessness in America and download the report, visit

To learn more about Gifts for the Homeless and how you can help, visit