Tag Archive: Maryland Middle School Program

AALEAD Summer Internship Reflections

By Hiba Ahmed, MD Summer Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

My summer internship at Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) was a very exhilarating experience that I cannot wait to use in my future explorations of the human services field. After seven weeks, I will walk away having learned much more about community values, the significance of education, empowerment, and the power of youth. For the first time in a very long time, I felt as though I was a part of something worth fighting for.

I came into the internship almost blind, never having worked in a non-profit environment in the past, with the exception of several volunteering experiences at local hospitals. I expected to be the every day intern that is often described in movies and TV shows who performs miscellaneous administrative  tasks, but the MD office expected much more than the basics out of me; this was both challenging and refreshingly stimulating. My internship experience at AALEAD taught me how amazing humans can be, and I feel truly honored to have been allowed to be a short-term member of a team that works so hard to serve families and youth every day.

The MD staff are nothing short of inspiring. Each and every day, they are full of energy, drive and excitement for the youth that they serve. The work that they put into the workshops, field trips and learning experiences that they plan are always above and beyond. Watching them arrange these every day activities and even interact with the youth encouraged me to want to become even better and serve the youth with the same passion. Their dedication made me realize the impact that they have on the youth as well as their families and how important minor details can be – not just to young people, but all people, as they are transitioning through different phases of life.

Though I cannot say for sure whether or not I left a lasting impact on the youth, what I can say for certain is that they left a lasting impact on me with lessons, memories and friendships that I will remember for a lifetime. I am glad that I had the chance to work with an organization centered on youth because it gave me a chance to practice a skill that I lack and would like to improve on in future experiences. As my very first internship/real-world experience at AALEAD, I have gained so much, and I hope that all other future professional settings can be just as educational and inspiring.

Thank you so much AALEAD staff and youth for your patience, relentless kindness, and lessons. I hope that I can someday return and also impart my efforts into helping this organization grow just as it has helped me grow.

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

“What are we doing today?” asks a youth entering the room as I am writing the agenda on the classroom board. “Are we making food today?” shouts another youth from the doorway. I hear these two questions daily.

As expected, middle school youth are most excited about our in-class food and cooking lesson plans. As one youth remarked, “I like cooking activities because it shows me how easy cooking can be, and I can make most of these dishes at home for myself and my family. If we can make full dishes in a small classroom, I’m pretty sure I can make it in a real kitchen.” Youth enjoy cooking lessons because, well, there’s food!

Aside from getting to make and eat food in AALEAD’s after-school programs, youth like food and cooking lessons because it offers a different window into learning about other cultures, and allows youth to share parts of their cultures with peers. This year, youth at Argyle and Parkland Middle Schools created their own menu for their cooking lessons. Their menu included dishes they wanted to make and eat but was based on their own cultures or cultures and countries they wanted to learn more about.

Throughout the year, we made many dishes with varying levels of preparation and cooking, including: Vietnamese pho and spring rolls, Japanese sushi, ramen, and curry, Filipino halo-halo, French verines, French and American parfait, Thai mango sticky rice, pad thai, and tea, Mexican quesadilla, and Taiwanese boba tea (also known as bubble tea).

Food can tell us much about a country and cultures. For example, we paired a sushi cooking activity with a lesson on Japan’s geography (an island) and main food source (the surrounding ocean). As a island, Japan relies heavily on seafood from the surrounding waters for food, and has one of the world’s largest seafood markets. Sushi, made of rice, vegetables, and seafood rolled in seaweed, and sashimi, fresh raw fish cut in thin slices, are staples of Japanese cuisine and are the most well-known Japanese food items in the United States. By looking at the ingredients of one of Japan’s most popular food, we can learn more about the country and its people.

Dish ingredients can also tell us about the history of a country and people. When youth made halo-halo, a Filipino dessert made up of a hodge-podge of fruits, milk, ice cream, and shaved ice, we paired it with a history lesson on the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, other Asian migration to the islands, and western influences, which all shape and influence Filipino culture and cuisine.

As we reflect on the year through food, youth shared their experiences and take-aways from our food and cooking lessons. Below are a few comments from the youth:

“My favorite food was mango sticky rice. It was something new, and my first time eating rice as a dessert.”
“Cooking activities are important because I get to talk about the food I eat at home and share that with my friends. I just had pho at home yesterday and now I am making it with my friends in class.”
“I think cooking lessons are good to have in AALEAD because I don’t always get to cook at home. When I make stuff in class and learn about how it’s made, I can make it at home as well.”
“It’s cool to see how you don’t need a kitchen to cook. I thought it was cool that we made ramen and pho just by using a rice cooker to boil the broth. That was fun.”

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