By Charles Kuo, DC Programs Manager; Saadia Ahmad, DC Elementary School Program Coordinator; and Ha Nguyen, Development and Communications Associate
Photos courtesy of AALEAD staff
This year, AALEAD celebrates 20 years of empowering young leaders across the DC metropolitan area through our after-school, summer and mentoring programs. For the past 20 years, AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Program serves youth every weekday after school on-site to provide homework & academic support and facilitate daily enrichment lessons focused on helping youth grow in AALEAD’s three outcome areas: Educational Empowerment, Identity, and Leadership.
This week, we visit not one but two different AALEAD Program Staff, who both share the burning passion for positive youth development and a special favorite memory with the AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Program.
On July 28, 2017, more than 90 youth, parents/guardians, staff, and community supporters attended the closing Summit for AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Summer Heroes Program. During this summit, youth showcased projects focused on identity, community service, leadership, and career.
During the last portion of the afternoon, participants were encouraged to share in an open mic. The statement that youth were asked to complete was “I am a hero because…” During this activity, many youth, who were first-time participants of AALEAD programming came up and shared their testimonies.
I am strong
I am confident
I am a leader
I am special
I can overcome any obstacle that stands in my way
I am resilient
These statements electrified the room. Witnessing youth share these statements will be forever ingrained in my mind and heart. Moments like these are why we do youth work. It was truly an emotional day. This event/program reminded me of the power and potential of AALEAD programs and how we can make an impact in the community.
Going into this summer program, I was very concerned about serving youth in a different ward. In 2017, the AALEAD DC Elementary School Summer Program served over 80 new youth. Many questions filled my mind. Would youth still feel the impact of programs? Would our curriculum engage youth? Would youth be receptive to AALEAD and grow in this five-week program?
The answer was yes. Every youth deserves to know that they themselves are a hero. The best hero you can have in your life is yourself. Taking ownership of your life and choices, taps into true power. Growing up, I was encouraged to idolize heroes that were like me but never encouraged to reflect on the heroic qualities that I myself possess. Life is a journey and we often have to navigate it on our own.
As a person who works with youth directly, I can tell you so many stories that left an impact on me and my fellow youth workers. The thing is, when you’re working so closely with young people or just people, there is no way your life is not impacted by them daily. Their love, their warmth, their happiness, their struggles, their wishes, their hopes, all become an inevitable part of you. In my opinion, this is what makes this work so first-time; you understand and build one of the most beautiful characteristics essential to human interaction: trust and compassion.
There have been moments where the daily routine seemed like a grind, that led to self-doubt and question the purpose of this important work. In those moments I like to remind myself of all those stories that the youth and their families shared with me and expressed how AALEAD has impacted their lives. And by impacted their lives, I mean where sometimes AALEAD was so essential to them that it gave them hope to keep moving forward and truly provided them with space where they felt like they belonged.
I started my AALEAD journey as a part-time teacher at Thomson Elementary school back in February 2016. A year in that role, I remember one of my youth, a 1st grader, being raised by a single mother, was hit by a sudden family tragedy that left both the youth and the mom very distraught due to the loss. I remember seeing the mom that day, who came to pick up her child early, burst into tears and hugged me. While sobbing uncontrollably, she kept repeating the words “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You don’t know how much AALEAD means to us. Thank you!”
To this day I can feel her trembling body and hear those words echoing in my head. This work has really molded me as a person and confirmed my purpose to this life; to continue my work in service of others. I never got a chance to tell her that really thank YOU for putting that trust in me and AALEAD and believing in our work.
So Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! to all our wonderful youth and their families.
Stay tuned to see which AALEAD Program Staff we will visit next week!