By Sharon Choi, Development & Communications Manager
Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff & Youth
Keo joined the AALEAD family in August 2013, hailing all the way from Minnesota. When she’s not busy supporting AALEADers and running our MD Middle School Programs at Argyle and Parkland Middle Schools, you will find her being extremely creative and crafty, exploring DC, and hunting for good pho! She brings an awesome energy to our team, so we are excited for this month’s Staff Spotlight! Still trying to figure out how to pronounce her name? As the title of this post suggests, Keo rhymes with “meow!”
Q: So, tell us a little about yourself!
A: So weird talking about myself! But…I really enjoy food. So any city that I move to needs to have really good pho, or just, you know, food in general! Especially food I grew up with because it’s comfort food and if I’m away from home, that’s the one thing that can always bring me back or give me that sense of home. Really good Thai/Vietnamese food because that’s my favorite thing and I love it!
Q: Awesome! What about nicknames? Have AALEADers given you any yet?
A: Yes, I shared with them [when I first started at AALEAD,] the whole “Keo Meow” thing to be able to get them to pronounce my name. Now the kids have gotten really used to that, so they like to sing songs about my name. It’s so funny!
Q: Can you share a little bit about your background before coming to AALEAD?
A: I grew up in St. Paul, MN, where there’s a huge Hmong population. [Editor’s Note: Keo is of Hmong descent.] There, I didn’t interact with the Asian American community that much, even though I was in it. When I went away to college and I was with very few Asian Americans, I really missed that. So when I went back home after college, I worked for an organization that actually helped me get into college. It worked with low-income students–a lot of them in the city were Asian American, so that was really nice. It was a way of giving back to an organization that helped me get so far. I did that for a year and then I found AALEAD. I wanted to work specifically with Asian American youth because I was really detached from it and I really wanted to get back into the community.
Q: So how did you exactly end up at AALEAD? Why AALEAD?
A: I was actually looking to move out of Minnesota for a while, just to kind of see what other Asian communities were like. DC kind of felt like the right fit just because there are so many different types of people here and also having the backdrop of DC itself; the energy here and all of the different organizations, seeing all the different aspects that go into nonprofits and go into working with communities. That, I found really interesting. It just kind of has everything. People here are very active. It was a different feel from the community back in Minnesota and I wanted that change. The youth here seem very involved. I was looking for a job in DC and I came across the posting online and instantly started researching it. I didn’t look at anything else after that. AALEAD stuck out the most. I wanted to be at this organization because it meant a lot for me to work with Asian American youth in a different city and what different needs there are in different communities.
Q: What is the best part about the AALEAD MD Middle School Program?
A: I love that it allows Asian American youth to really explore their interests and have an outlet for things that maybe they may not be able to talk about with their parents their friends or their families that are related to being Asian and Asian American. Having them be around people who, you know, enjoy KPOP, and someone that they can share their interests with one another in a way that isn’t looked down upon or made fun of. I think that’s really powerful because it helps affirm who they are and allows them to appreciate themselves and their culture a lot more.
Q: What’s your favorite part about being a Coordinator?
A: I love working with middle school youth. I had worked with high school youth before and college students, so I had to step back a little bit and look at how different it was to work with middle school youth. My little sister is in middle school. She’s a 7th grader now, back home in Minnesota and I miss her. I think it’s great to work with that age group. They’re in an interesting place, so they’re trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and I get to see that. And that’s the best part. They’re kind of an extension of my little sister in some ways. I see them help each other grow. I’m really excited to see the 6th graders become confident 7th graders, and see the former 7th graders be mentors as 8th graders. So that’s, I think, the most rewarding part for me.
Q: Can you share your favorite quote?
A: So I really like this quote: “I am because you are” or “because you were.” That for me, means a lot because, I’m here because the people before me made that possible. So whether that was the women who were in the women’s rights movements, or those who were participating in the civil rights movement to allow people of color to be able to do everything and anything. I love history and I love knowing about all of those who came before me because it really puts my life into perspective and how we can do that for the future generations.
Q: What is one unique thing about you?
A: That’s so hard! I don’t know if I’m that interesting! Okay, so I have this thing, where, I really like lists, like making to-do lists; but only because I need to know what I need to do. But after, that I never look back at the list. I need to be organized to get my mind set on things. I need to have lists just to make the lists, but I never refer back to the lists! Like it goes out the window, but I know I wrote it down.
Q: If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?
A: I think I would be the person in that motorcycle that rides around in the circle only because I don’t have a bone of being a daredevil in my body. It sounds like it would be really cool if I could do that. It seems like a weird thing, someone being in a ball, riding around in a motorcycle, but it seems like you are a daredevil!
Q: I can’t believe I once…
A: I can’t believe I…can I not do the “once?” I can’t believe I chose a country to study abroad in which I knew nothing about before applying. I studied abroad in Amsterdam. A lot of my friends were researching countries that they wanted to go to and why they wanted to go there and I just randomly picked a country. It turned out to be the Netherlands, and that’s where I was for five months. I had the time of my life getting to know about a culture and people that I had never really thought about before. I did that my junior year, spring semester of college. That was kind of crazy, a spur of the moment, “let’s pick a country and go!” I really knew nothing about Amsterdam!