19 going on 20

By Neel Saxena, Executive Director
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

The title of this blog pays homage to the film, “13 Going on 30” which is the story about a girl who makes a wish on her thirteenth birthday, and wakes up the next day as a thirty-year-old woman. The story of AALEAD began 19 years ago when Sandy Dang had a vision for an organization that supports overlooked, vulnerable Asian Pacific American youth and families with academic, social, and emotional support so they may thrive. It was not a wish that is guiding AALEAD to its 20th year of supporting low-income and underserved APA youth with after school, summer, and mentoring programs, but an organizational commitment to these youth and strong values that permeate every aspect of the organization.

This past year, during our real-time strategic planning, we included 4 value statements that reflect who we are and helped us navigate the ups and downs that take place in an organization that continues to thrive after 20 years. These values are a part of the AALEAD family of supporters who are:

Creating a caring environment where youth belong and can grow/connect with each other and their community.
Over the past two years, I have had the honor to witness the support in AALEAD’s VA program of a young person Saif. Initially, he was a shy, quiet young person and he credits the support and belief in him from Shaima, AALEAD’s VA Manager, as a contributing factor to his improved  confidence that he used in feel good in conversing with previous Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan that helped lead to an assessment in his school. He also connected with me individually to learn about nonprofit development and co-hosted the last VA program holiday party. Through the intentional support by Shaima in programs, a caring and supportive environment provided Saif an atmosphere where he can thrive and expresses his confidence in class, after school programs, and his p/t job as a cashier where he chats up the customers!

Aiming to give high quality programs that lead to results-oriented sustainability.
AALEAD implemented a peer-assessment model that utilizes elements from Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA). The assessment helps us to measure the quality of our after school program so that we may build on our strengths and identify additional supports for program staff. The peer feedback approach provides staff an opportunity to explore other programs and a chance to see high quality practices of culturally competent youth development in their own programs. Support for staff in needed areas comes from their managers through their regular work plan meetings or professional development funds that are allocated to each staff. In creating a supportive assessment, staff are able to provide youth with high quality programs that meet the changing needs of youth and changing models for program delivery.

Committed to the wellness of our staff and providing an environment and culture where they can thrive.
Last year at AALEAD we started monthly AALEAD Tea & Talk Time (AT&TT) where all staff have an opportunity to participate in comfortable space and share in conversation and tea. The sessions are led by the DC Programs Manager, Charles, who begins the time with mediation and closes with a guided conversation. Each session features a different type or style of tea and from flavored green tea to chai to boba tea. One of the greatest strengths of AALEAD is the staff and it is important there are spaces for staff to find their mental and physical strength as they support our youth. AT&TT is an intentional space created by Charles and a time for staff to center themselves emotionally and connect socially as we strengthen our team.

Centering youth strengths, youth voice, and youth experiences in all our work.
One of my personal experiences in this was how AALEAD youth were included in the strategic planning this past year. I visited all 3 of AALEAD regions and with the support of staff hosted focus groups of youth who had been in the programs for a while to new youth to gain feedback on the direction they’d like to see AALEAD head over the next few years. One of the underlying themes that came out of these sessions was the role of the consistent and sustained support of AALEAD in their lives. It is this reason why a focus of this plan is sustainability in all aspects of the organization from the board to accounting practices to fundraising planning to program development so that we may continue to support our current young people for years to come and support new cohorts of youth in the future with high-quality, culturally competent youth development.

AALEAD celebrates 20 years of supporting low-income APA youth in 2018. We are excited to have achieved this accomplishment because it means we have provided hundreds of overlooked APA youth the opportunity to receive support and fill the gap left by schools and the community in fulfilling the unique needs of low-income and underserved APA youth.


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