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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!

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.

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.

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

Greetings! My name is Victor Romos, and I am this year’s DC Middle & High School Summer Program Intern. I am a Communications student at the University of California, Davis. I am originally from Santa Rosa, California, but I love Washington, DC, so I am thrilled to be working with the community in the area.

In high school, I played football, wrestled for a few years, and ran cross country. I love spending time talking to people, getting to know them, and making them smile. I also enjoy acting and singing. You can always find me either trying to make someone laugh or singing musical theater songs!

One of my biggest inspirations in life is my high school mentor who helped me develop a love for leadership and personal development, especially through public speaking. I hope to bring that same experience to all the youth that I will be working with this summer. I am very excited to get to know all the youth and help them get to know themselves! I believe that knowing yourself and being confident is key to developing the strong leadership skills everyone is capable of. I’m looking forward to an unforgettable and incredible summer with Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) youth and staff!

**Learn more about our other Summer 2015 Interns here: Hiba and Pallavi!**

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

Hi, all!

I’m Pallavi Rudraraju, a rising junior at the College of William and Mary. I have self-designed an Asian American Studies major and am considering double majoring in South Asian Studies as well. As important as studies are to me, I consider my extracurricular activities to be an integral aspect of my college experience. As president of the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain Students Association and an active member of many of my school’s student and administrative organizations geared toward cultural, religious, racial, and gender and sexuality diversity, I hope to bring my personal leadership experience as well as diverse background to the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) DC Elementary School Summer Program.

Here are some fun facts about me:

1.  I am actually part rainbow. Just kidding! Here’s a picture of me from my university’s annual Holi celebration, which we at the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain Students Association organized this past spring. I love any opportunity to celebrate South Asian traditions, whether they’re familiar to me or brand new!

2. I absolutely love dancing! I don’t think I’ve gone a day without dancing over the past fifteen years. I’ve been dancing Bharatanatyam, a Tamil form of classical Hindu dance, since age five and just recently picked up Bhangra, a Punjabi folk dance, during my sophomore year of college. Here’s a glimpse of my Bhangra team and me right before one of our competitions last semester!

3. I am very passionate about racial and social justice, particularly as they pertain to the Asian American, South Asian American, and LGBTIQA* communities. Ever since high school, I’ve wanted to find a career that allows me to work toward comprehensive and intersectional justice in any of these areas. I hope that my work with AALEAD this summer will help turn these passions and dreams into tangible realities!

While it’s evident from these pictures that I am incredibly happy with many aspects of my identity, there have been countless times throughout my childhood that I was not as happy and was even ashamed of parts of myself. Looking back, I feel regret that I ever felt shame over the identities which I now revel in and embrace. What I hope to accomplish at AALEAD is to allow the youth to associate positivity with all aspects of their identities and to instill a sense of pride toward their unique identities within them. I know that once they are comfortable with their identities, they can move on to become the inspirational and productive young leaders they all have the potential to be.

I cannot wait for the DC Elementary School Summer Program to begin! I know that I am in good hands with the wonderful people working at AALEAD and am so thrilled to be working with everyone for the next few months.

**Learn more about our other Summer 2015 Interns here: Hiba and Victor!**

By Hiba Ahmed, MD Summer Program Intern
Photo Courtesy of Hiba Ahmed, MD Summer Program Intern

Hello!

My name is Hiba Ahmed, and I am the new MD Summer Program Intern! Already feeling very welcomed and excited to join the team, I cannot wait to learn and make progress in such a strong team environment in the upcoming months.

I am currently a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park working to complete my double undergraduate degrees in English Language and Literature and Family Science.

Youth development has always been an extremely important focus and interest of mine since I was in middle school. Often, I was involved with various volunteer and after school activities growing up that allowed me to interact with youth as they reached major milestones of their lives. As youth grow and develop, they are exposed to a variety of environmental, societal, and cultural influences. While they learn to adapt to these factors of life and become successful and productive members of society, it is crucial that each and every member of the newer generations is exposed to the best opportunities available to reach their highest potential.

Among the youth, the Asian American community certainly has a special place in my heart. Coming from an Asian American background myself, I often found myself feeling unrecognized – not in my achievements – but in my need for help as I navigated my way through transitioning periods of my life.  Through this internship, I hope to gain an abundance of leadership experience that will help me develop and strengthen my voice for my future aspirations and also overall movement into adulthood. I also look forward to gaining exposure to the workings of non-profit organizations and all of the work, values, and planning involved with organizing events and promoting a mission that serves to improve the community. Above all else, I look forward to helping the youth of the Asian American community find their way as they transition into other phases of their lives while building their confidence and encouraging their strengths along the way.

I am thrilled to be working with the brilliant youth of our current generation and an amazing team that fights for these necessities. I cannot wait to get started to absorb and learn everything that I can along the way. Let the summer festivities begin!

**Learn more about our other Summer 2015 Interns here: Pallavi and Victor!**

Goodbye for Now, AALEAD!

By Alex Neeley, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photo Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

As the DC Elementary School Summer Program came to a close, I sat in a classroom recalling the past five weeks. Where had all the time gone? It seemed like it was just yesterday that I was sitting in a circle in the Tiger Class, imploring the students to take part in an icebreaker. Now as the program comes to an end, it amazes me how many fun experiences we have had together and how quickly I have built relationships with these students.

There are so many things I will miss about Asian American LEAD (AALEAD), from the early mornings in the cafeteria, watching the students color pictures and play Connect Four, to the laughter and fun throughout the day. I will miss the field trips to the farm, the pool, the Newseum and Six Flags. I will miss refereeing, and occasionally participating in their recess soccer games. I will miss watching them practice the Hakka and do yoga.

Most of all, I will miss the creativity of the students, not only in their productions of two AALEAD newspapers, but in their various methods for having fun as well as for solving problems.

While this blog post is written to say “goodbye” to AALEAD, it is most certainly not a “goodbye forever.” I look forward to coming back and seeing the continued growth of these exceptional young students, so instead, I’ll say goodbye for now, AALEAD. See you all sooner rather than later.

**Read additional Summer 2014 Interns’ reflections here: BhadonDavidHeein, and Laura!**

Reflections on My AALEAD Summer

By Laura Ma, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

My seven week internship with Asian American LEAD’s (AALEAD) Elementary  School Program has been – to put it frankly – awesome. Although the time was short, I felt comfortable very quickly with all of the staff, teachers, and kids. I was hopeful about this internship when I left my semester of study in Shanghai not only because I would be able to continue using my Chinese, but also because I would be able to interact with students. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with such a great group of people who are truly dedicated to the families they serve. Much of the learning I have done these past few weeks has come from simply observing the teachers and AALEAD staff.

Micah, the DC Programs Manager, works tirelessly to ensure that every student is having fun, being safe, and most of all, learning. Watching her arrange field trips, work with the kids, and simply input data have all been helpful to me in my learning experience. I found myself mimicking her and some of the other staff and teachers during my days at Thomson Elementary. This did include techniques for reinforcing rules, such as walking in the hallway and staying quiet in line.

However, my responsibilities did go beyond asking the kids to go back to where they started running and walk. Working on the administrative side of the non-profit also gave me a closer look at how a smaller organization functions and how each role has a larger effect. Non-profit work isn’t easy, and seeing every staff member at AALEAD give 150% really inspired me this summer. This internship has been a rewarding experience and has given me an opportunity to see education in a new and different light. I feel more confident to continue pursuing education as a career. Additionally, I am seriously considering returning to AALEAD to work as a Teaching Assistant next summer. I’m grateful to Micah, Tina, Surjeet, and all the other AALEAD staff, teachers, interns, and students for making this summer such a great experience.

**Read additional Summer 2014 Interns’ reflections here: AlexBhadonDavid, and Heein!**

Gratitude & Reflections on Summer Kinect

By David Ma, MD Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff & Students

The past 6 weeks have been a really memorable experience for me. Although I’ve participated in Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) summer programs for the previous two years as a high school student leader, I’ve never seen the programming through the eyes of a staff member before. No one really expects it, but there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes, especially with the paper work.  Now that I think back on all of my experiences with AALEAD, I’m so thankful for everything that the staff has done for the students. So, I guess it is better late than never: thank you staff for all that you’ve done for us.

My internship experience this summer was mind-blowing with the amount of students and the area of space we had to use. I’m glad that all of the students had 6 weeks to bond with other youth and staff, though I do wish the program could last longer. It felt like the program just started yesterday and I had just begun to adapt to being a good intern; just like that, as soon as I got the hang of everything, the program ended. I will truly miss everyone, especially our MD Programs Manager and my former High School Program Coordinator, Francine Gorres. It is because of her that I’m not shy to share my poetic talents and that I continue to grow as a leader every day. AALEAD will always be my second family, so this is my farewell, but not goodbye.

**Read additional Summer 2014 Interns’ reflections here: AlexBhadonHeein, and Laura!**