By Vi Bui, Youth Mentoring & Volunteer Programs Coordinator; Freidricka Camille, College & Career Mentoring Programs Coordinator; and Ha Nguyen, Development & Communications Associate
Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff
Founded in 1998, AALEAD initially served the large Vietnamese refugee community in the Columbia Heights area of Washington DC. As the demographics in the region shifted, our organization moved to extend our support to all Asian American youth who are low-income and underserved in Montgomery County, MD in 2006 and Fairfax County, VA in 2014.
One of our oldest programs since 1998, the Mentoring Program now consists of the Youth Mentoring Program and the College & Career Mentoring Program. Let’s meet Vi and Freidricka and read their favorite moments in AALEAD!
My favorite moments at AALEAD are those match meetings that just… click. Those moments when mentors and mentees meet for the first time and everything, all the work that led up to match meetings, time poured over applications and interview questions, the anticipation of will they like each other and will the parents be satisfied, it all beautifully falls away.
When I first encounter a young person who is interested in joining AALEAD’s Youth Mentoring Program, my first reaction is usually excitement and encouragement. It takes a certain level of self-awareness to admit that it’s okay to receive help on some of your day to day challenges, especially when surrounded by the hard-working immigrant narrative. I take the time to get to know the mentee and their family to understand their needs, wants, and goals. These all go into account when making a match.
Mentor applications come into my inbox weekly. There are so many people, mostly Asian American adults, wanting to get involved and give back to the APA community, but not all of them are a suitable match for the handful of young people on my waitlist. I sift through dozens of applications drilling down to things like shared interests, language compatibility with the youth and family, and geographic proximity to the youth’s community. Sometimes I can’t find the right fit with the applications I have (notably we are lacking male mentor applicants) so I go back out recruiting again. When I find someone who could be a good fit, we sit down for an interview, usually in the evening hours after regular office times. If they still seem like a good fit, the next step is training them. If I have a couple of applicants who may be good matches but I can’t decide, I leave it up to the young person! I send them a short description of each potential match and help them decide which person they prefer. After this I also confirm with the mentor if they are ready to be in a match with a young person, sharing a short description including their age and what their goals are.
Finally we are ready to set up the match meeting. This involves coordinating four people’s schedules: the mentor, the mentee, a parent or guardian, and myself. The match meetings are usually held in a public place like a library or coffee shop located near the mentee’s home on the evenings or weekends. Sometimes unexpected younger siblings tag along, as families do not have childcare available for the one hour meeting. The meetings can sometimes be awkward; there’s paperwork and agreements to complete and mentors are complete strangers to youth and families who are expected to trust them. But sometimes there are those moments when mentors and mentees bond over a shared interest that I did not know about, or parents express their happiness and gratitude to the mentor through a common language. Those moments make all of the work worth it and leave me excited to see what potential will be explored in the coming year of their match.
One of my favorite moments with AALEAD would be the summer where I work with rising seniors on their college applications, and in particular, supporting them with their college essays. Often times, students see the college essay as a daunting feat, where they are worried about their word count or uncertainty in what to share about their lives.
One of the foundation activities we do to prepare for their college essays is a Peaks and Valleys exercise where the students reflect on the highs and lows of their personal journeys. Students reflect on the moments when they felt that they were at their best, fulfilled, and inspired. They also reflect on the difficult times in their lives, when they felt lost and unfulfilled. The moments of reflection allow students to examine and understand their experience from a deeper perspective, in a new light. The students learn what environments excite them, what their personal values are, and what makes them thrive. They learn so much about parts of their background and identity that they never realized, times of resilience in the face of adversity, their personal passions, and moments of personal growth and inspiration.
What I enjoy most about this activity is the after peaks and valleys exercise. It is when I see the transformation in the students, when they recognize that they have so much more to write about, when they realize that they have enough life experience to share, and when they have the motivation and courage to share who they are. They recognize they have enough material to write about for their personal statements, scholarships, and specialized essays. The students are authentic in sharing parts of who they are.
It is an honor to be part of the journey, to witness the students’ authenticity, and affirm them in their experiences. I appreciate helping students feel like they are sharing their whole selves in their college applications, and in turn to feel safe in being their whole selves in whichever community they create for themselves in life after high school.
Stay tuned to see which AALEAD Program Staff we will visit next week!
Click here to read previous blog posts and learn about favorite AALEAD moments from other Program Staff!