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By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Angela B., CSF-DC

Every January, Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) celebrates National Mentoring Month in honor of our committed mentors and the positive impact that they have on our youth. Last week, we held our second annual Mentor Appreciation Month Celebration at the Verizon Center Dewar’s 12 Coaches Club with five partner organizations: Capital Partners for Education (CPE), the DC College Success Foundation (CSF-DC), For Love of Children (FLOC-DC), the Mentor Foundation USA, and Mentors, Inc.

This was a great opportunity to collaborate with other community-based organizations doing wonderful work in the greater DC Metro area. In addition to celebrating all of our amazing mentors, we were also honored to announce AALEAD’s Mentoring Hero of the Year, Jessica L. We are so proud of all of our AALEAD mentors and the accomplishments that they have made with our youth over the past year!

As we wrap up National Mentoring Month, we wanted to give a shout out to all of our current and former mentors who have made and continue to make a difference in the lives of our young people and community. The work that we do is not possible without you, and we truly appreciate all of your efforts in ensuring that our youth have opportunities to succeed. Happy National Mentoring Month, and we can’t wait to celebrate with all of you again next year!

Interested in reading more? Check out our mentors’ stories here: Elizabeth, Su, and Tippa!

Mentoring Matters: Su’s Story

By Su L., Current AALEAD Mentor
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

Thank you all for celebrating National Mentoring Month with us! A huge shout out to Su and all of our former and current mentors and volunteers who have invested their time and energy into our youth. The impact that you have made on our students is immeasurable, and we can’t wait to celebrate again with you next year! Thank you so much for all that you do. We hope you enjoyed this series, and Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina Ngo, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

In 2013, I found myself in a great position to be a volunteer: I had a strong commitment to give back to a community in need and the time to do so.  While I always had the former, the latter always seemed to be out of reach for one reason or another.  Through the company I worked for then, Deloitte, I found Asian American LEAD (AALEAD).  Their mission resonated with me, and I signed up to be a mentor.  I knew I wanted to be a mentor because I have seen the value of mentoring first hand—a cousin-turned mentor who guided me through my first year of college and a supervisor-turned mentor that exemplified what a leader should be.

Li is my mentee.  She is an intelligent, sweet, fun, and driven 17-year-old.  Since Li is an excellent student, our goals have geared towards doing community service together, trying new things (we are currently trying to tackle a list of ethnic foods we haven’t tried before), and working towards Li’s next exciting milestone: college.  We’ve also spent many times talking over frozen yogurt or hot chocolate—some of my favorite moments with her because we can simply catch up, listen to each other’s stories, and relax.  It’s also these moments where I feel humbled to have a mentee— especially that she can come to me and share what’s on her mind.

Before I met Li, I certainly had my doubts in my ability to be a good mentor.  I like to think that our time together has proven me wrong—we’ve managed to learn together what works for us.  Collectively, Li and the AALEAD Mentoring Program have given me the opportunity to work with great people, have some fun (of course!), make new connections, and strengthen my confidence as an effective helper.  I’ve also watched Li grow personally and couldn’t be more proud of the young adult she is becoming.  It has been a wonderful experience thus far, and I look forward to all that’s in store for us in the upcoming year.

Check out Elizabeth’s story here and Tippa’s story here!

By Bhadon Shalakin & Tina Ngo, Mentoring Program Intern & Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Interns & Staff

This past Saturday, the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) Mentoring Program held our 2nd Annual Mentoring Program Scavenger Hunt. Mentors and mentees were first invited to a potluck where there was a variety of food ranging from Subway sandwiches to pasta salads and sweet and colorful cupcakes. Unfortunately, there was a 50/50 chance that we would have to cancel the event due to inclement weather. Luckily for us, there was no rain, and the scavenger hunt was on! After all of the mentoring pairs had the chance to chow down and meet with other pairs in the program, it was time for the main event. The pairs were all split into teams of four, and off they were! The scavenger hunt had officially begun.

All of the groups were tasked with figuring out the answers to nine different clues within one hour. They would then have to take pictures or videos near the locations involving those clues to explain or demonstrate different aspects of AALEAD’s three outcomes: leadership, identity, and educational empowerment. Since the teams had the option of choosing which clues to start with first, some groups began their search around Meridian Hill Park while others immediately ran to the U Street Corridor.

At the end of the hour, all of the teams rushed back to the AALEAD DC office to see which group would reign supreme. All of the pairs relaxed and mingled as team by team went inside the conference room to discuss their findings with the judges, Bhadon and Tina. After a suspenseful 15 minutes, it was finally time to announce the victors! As the champions stepped up to claim their prizes, everyone found out that they were all winners. No one left empty-handed as the scavenger hunt was a victory for everyone; we all made new friendships and bonded over our shared commonalities and interests.

Events like the scavenger hunt are a wonderful opportunity to not only make new friends, but also learn a lot about ourselves and our community along the way. Sprinkled with lots of fun, laughter, and cheer, the 2nd Annual Mentoring Program Scavenger Hunt was truly a success! Many thanks to all of the mentors and mentees who participated as well as Heein, our Development and Communications Intern, who helped us document the entire event. We hope you all had a blast and can’t wait to see what else this summer has in store for us! See you soon!

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!

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.

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

This past weekend, both our DC and MD mentors and mentees participated in a potluck and scavenger hunt at Meridian Hill Park. It was a gorgeous day filled with clear blue skies, and our mentoring pairs were ready to chow down on some delicious food and exercise their critical thinking skills during the hunt. From homemade yakisoba to crispy fried chicken and an array of fresh fruits, the dishes our mentoring pairs shared were super tasty and bursting with flavor. Not only did our meal span the colors of the rainbow, but the energy that the students displayed filled the park with a special kind of vibrancy as well.

After the pairs had the chance to fill their bellies and meet their fellow mentoring pairs, it was time to begin the scavenger hunt! DC AALEADers were paired with MD AALEADers in teams of four and then asked to take photos with statues, tell silly jokes, and demonstrate their creativity through a variety of tasks. As the students ran through the terraces of Meridian Hill Park and explored the historical area of the U Street Corridor with their mentors, lots of laughter, cheers, and encouragement could be heard throughout the course of the activity.

By participating in the scavenger hunt, our mentees not only learned about the importance of teamwork and how to rely on their team members’ strengths, but also, how to take the lead and share one’s knowledge with others. As the event came to an end, DC AALEADers reflected on how much they learned about their community and the neighborhood surrounding the AALEAD Community Center, while MD AALEADers enthusiastically expressed how fun it was to learn more about some of the landmarks and history in DC. These conversations highlight the significance of exposing our youth to new experiences, but also, remembering to have fun along the way as well.

Special shout out to all of the mentors and mentees who joined us at the potluck and scavenger hunt! We truly enjoyed seeing you all and are so happy that we were able to share such a beautiful day with such great company. Thanks so much, and can’t wait to see everyone again soon!

This past Saturday, twelve of our mentor-mentee pairs and staff members had the opportunity to go ice skating at the Wheaton Ice Arena. Though the weather was a tad bit gloomy and foggy outside, the energy and excitement that our mentor-mentee pairs displayed while indoors was contagious! As both mentors and mentees helped each other lace up their skates and prepare for an afternoon of skating, the camaraderie and AALEAD love could be felt in the air.

The rink finally opened its doors to the public, and everyone rushed in. While some of the mentees were learning how to ice skate for the first time, others were pros at twirling and doing impressive spins around the entire rink. Some mentors patiently held their mentees’ hands, guiding them around the rink, while other mentor-mentee pairs were ready to hit the ice again and again, racing each other and circling the rink in a matter of seconds.

Throughout the event, mentor-mentee pairs enjoyed each other’s company, taking the time to say hello to familiar faces and become friends with new ones. Tasty snacks and healthy fruits were also passed around, re-energizing the mentor-mentee pairs for another whirl around the rink. As the event came to an end, mentors and mentees said their goodbyes, promising to see each other again soon.

Events like these truly showcase the power of a mentor-mentee relationship because – just like in ice skating – mentors are there not only to help their mentees take their first steps, but also, they are always there to cheer their mentees on.  Our mentors and mentees are an extremely important part of our AALEAD family, and we are so thankful to have had the chance to celebrate the end of winter together. Until next time!

Special shout out to all the mentors and mentees who attended the event! We are so glad that you were able to join us, and we can’t wait to see you again soon!

Photo Credit: Micah Shearer & Tina Ngo

Mentoring: Grow Together, Learn Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Jessica Lee, Current Mentor

A Mentorship: Two Is Better Than One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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