Meet Our Heroes: Youth Workers with a Mission
By Charles Kuo, DC Programs Manager
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.- Maya Angelou
This year, AALEAD DC Elementary School Program youth will discover the hero within and how they can each be heroes in their day-to-day lives. The AALEAD 2016-2017 DC Elementary School Heroes Program is designed to help youth understand their educational resources, build academic skills, explore their identities, participate in leadership opportunities, create intentional community, and embrace impactful learning. In the DC Elementary School Program, youth are supported by part-time staff and volunteers who are at programs five days of the week. Though youth work can be challenging, many of our staff are inspired by our youth and AALEAD’s mission. In 2014, AALEAD youth, AALEAD staff, and AALEAD Board of Directors worked together to revise and update our mission statement. Asian American LEAD’s mission is to support low-income and underserved Asian Pacific American youth with educational empowerment, identity development, and leadership opportunities through after school, summer, and mentoring programs. AALEAD Executive Director, Surjeet Ahluwalia, shared that a “mission statement is important because everyone (youth, staff, volunteers, donors, etc.) should know what AALEAD is going to accomplish.” Asian American LEAD is an organization where everyone understands what they are here to accomplish and where everyone is motivated to empower youth.
For this issue of “Meet Our Heroes,” AALEAD DC Elementary School Program staff, who are motivated by AALEAD’s mission, were interviewed and asked questions relating to their story with AALEAD and what a being a hero means to them.
Fighting against injustice and unkindness, spreading love and acceptance; Meet Agent Benevolent!- Ms. Saadia Ahmad.
- How long have you been with AALEAD? I have been in AALEAD since January 2016.
- What is your role with AALEAD? In your own words what do you do? I’m a Programs Teacher for kindergarten and 1st grade helping youth with discovering their inner heroes and using their strengths and powers for the good.
- What has been your favorite memory with AALEAD? My favorite memory with AALEAD has to be my first summer program this year where I got to work for and with such an amazing, diverse group.The first thing that pops in my head when someone asks me about AALEAD is how it has truly given me an opportunity to be around diversity. Growing up I was never surrounded by diversity, so summer was my discovery of truly understanding the beauty of diversity.
- Who was your hero (fictional or nonfictional) growing up? Growing up my favorite fictional superhero was Captain Planet who was an environmental superhero battling those who pollute planet Earth. It left such a great impact on me as a kid that today those traits greatly reflect in my personality.
- What do you think are important characteristics of a hero? For me, a hero is anyone who stands up for others.
- How are AALEAD youth heroes to you? These young AALEAD youth for me are already heroes. Their kind, selfless acts everyday is a reflection of them turning into great social change agents we want to see in the world, as they are the future!!!!
Lover of rain and cooker of all cuisines, The Amazing Ms. Ade Oyelabi!
- How long have you been with AALEAD? I joined AALEAD in June 2016 for the Summer Discovery Program.
- What is your role with AALEAD? In your own words what do you do? I’m an Assistant Teacher. I support the teacher in various ways, including taking attendance, co-leading lessons, helping students with homework, and facilitating discussions.
- What is your Superhero Name and Why? I thought long and hard about this and came up with nothing! I’m not sure what my name would be, but I’d love to be a combination of Wonder Woman and Storm. Both are powerful in their own way. I also love their background stories because I’m sure it helped them become the amazing women they grew up to be. They both have pretty great sets of powers as well!
- What has been your favorite memory with AALEAD? Getting to know the youth has been amazing. There are moments when a youth will ask you to do something with them (whether playing a game or helping with something) that makes you realize that, in some way, they feel connected to you. Also, coming back and seeing my youth from the summer and their reactions to seeing me again was great. I’d missed them!
- Who was your hero (fictional or nonfictional) growing up? Cassie from The Animorphs series. The Animorphs were a group of kids with power to change (or morph) into any animal they touched. Cassie was the quietest of the group, a tomboy, and a talented morpher. She remains one of my favorite characters because she showed me that not all heroes/leaders are outgoing. She used her gifts/talents and was able to contribute just as much as everyone else. She taught me that it is enough to simply be myself.
- What do you think are important characteristics of a hero? I think a hero is compassionate, reflective, a listener, and has the ability to follow (as well as lead).
- How are AALEAD youth heroes to you? To me, they are heroes because they are very supportive. Whether a teacher or another youth, they want to make sure people are okay if they are hurt or sad. Also, some of our youth have experienced various hardships. Though difficult, they still manage to endure, and I am amazed at the wisdom they possess at such young ages.
The very visual & detail-oriented, Artistic Anu!
- How long have you been with AALEAD? I started with AALEAD two months ago, this August.
- What is your role with AALEAD? In your own words what do you do? I’m an Assistant Teacher at Bancroft Elementary. In my role, I help ensure the program can be the best it can be by supporting the lead teacher in getting materials prepared, assisting youth during homework time, and providing feedback/follow-up as necessary.
- What has been your favorite memory with AALEAD? In Ms. Huong’s class (Bancroft PK-2nd), the youth have yoga and/or art lessons at the end of every week as part of understanding mental health. Watching the kids immerse themselves fully in those activities, and then hearing from Ms. Huong how they’ve felt more confident every time – such as in drawing, for instance – is a really good feeling!
- Who was your hero (fictional or nonfictional) growing up? My favorite superheroes were Kim Possible and Sailor Moon because I really appreciated seeing girl heroes growing up (and I still do). Even if those characters are vastly different, a lot of their personality traits have shaped who I am today!
- What do you think are important characteristics of a hero? I think the most important characteristics of a hero are compassion, resilience, and always being willing to learn.
- How are AALEAD youth heroes to you? In AALEAD the youth are continually learning to develop traits of a hero, whether it’s through the lessons or having us be positive older role models. I think our daily interaction with youth– especially when finding time to have a one-on-one conversation– is impactful for them, and also for ourselves, too. The youth are heroes and surprise us each day in their own unique ways.
Inspired by what you’ve read? Interested in becoming a Hero at AALEAD yourself? Check out our current openings with the DC Elementary School Program staff team of heroes here!
Also stay tuned for the next edition of “Meet Our Heroes.” For more information on Asian American LEAD’s DC Programs, please email DC Programs Manager, Charles Kuo at firstname.lastname@example.org.