By Neel Saxena, Executive Director
Photos courtesy of Various Sources
Over the past 10 years, Asian American LEAD went from a local youth development organization to the only regional youth development organization supporting low-income and underserved Asian Pacific American (APA) youth across three jurisdictions. In 2007, AALEAD expanded into Montgomery County, MD with after-school and mentoring programs and in 2015, programming ventured into Fairfax County, VA. In each locale, AALEAD offered to address the unmet needs in the APA community. There are already numerous existing tutoring, test prep, & academic support programs. Instead, what is missing are the holistic ways of social and emotional support helping young people navigate stress, bullying, identity, confidence and a whole host of social and emotional areas that ultimately will lead youth to thrive.
This year, we’re moving into Arlington, VA with our mentoring program and just as Jordan, Jonathan, Joey, Donnie, and Danny must have felt back in 1986, we’re the New Kids on the Block (NKTOB). NKTOB and AALEAD similarities do not stop there, like NKTOB debuting their self-titled first album, AALEAD’s Youth Mentoring program will continue to provide one-on-one support to the low-income and underserved APA youth in the county.
NKTOB’s iconic discography lends clues for what our expansion looks like in Arlington, VA. Our strategy for expansion is simple, follow the communities where there is the need, as this defined our expansion in Montgomery County and Fairfax County.
Around 2000, Mongolian families starting to come to Arlington, VA, 10 years after a democratic revolution that lifted the people from under the Iron Curtain. Many went abroad in search of better-paying work and opportunities for their children, although it often meant doing jobs beneath their training (doctors might work as orderlies or sandwich vendors). The families often came in waves to Arlington, with parents coming first & being separate from their children until they could establish themselves. When the children come to the US, they then will have had to adjust to cultural differences. Today, as the County has staff focused on Mongolian children and families – AALEAD looks to support the County’s efforts by forging a partnership with Arlington Public Schools to launch its first programming for the youth at Boston-Hoffman Elementary School where there are a significant number of Mongolian students.
In Arlington, the Asian American population has grown by 22% in the last decade. AALEAD believes that, like all youth, they have the ability to succeed and make decisions to impact their education & future. Through supportive programming focused on academic development as well as social and emotional learning, ultimately, youth will thrive. It is this idea that guides us in the other jurisdictions – we know the youth in Arlington have the right stuff and we also believe that AALEAD’s programs will have an impact on the youth at Boston-Hoffman.
Over the past 6 years, AALEAD embarked on an expansion plan that increases access to AALEAD’s programs across the region hitting multiple schools each year. As AALEAD expands in Arlington, we plan to do it step by step focusing on one school at a time to establish our programs and the organization in the school and the local community. The mentoring program is step one, it is a lot of fun to feel supported in a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. Step two, there is so much the mentors and mentees can do in Arlington from ice skating in the winter to enjoying the many nature trails in the community. The strength of the relationship is step three, where it’s all about the mentor and mentee. We will know it’s the right time when we begin to see relationships
Boston-Hoffman youth at step four. Finally, as the program establishes its roots at Boston-Hoffman, we’ll be at step five to explore expanding to more APSVA schools in the county.
As we enter Arlington, we’re Hanging’ Tough self-funding the program and offering the mentoring program for free to a limited number of youth. Despite some shifts in government funding availability over the past few years, AALEAD is steadfast in its commitment to support and advocate for low-income and underserved APA youth. We will continue to explore creative and unique ways to engage and connect with youth as well as work tirelessly to support the youth with the unique programming we offer so that they may have the resources to contribute back to their community.