“I could not have done this alone.”

By Stephanie Lim, former DC Middle & High School Program Coordinator

Photos Courtesy of Stephanie Lim and AALEAD Staff

At the time of writing, it is the Monday of my last week at Asian American LEAD. I have cleaned out most of my desk and organized it for the next coordinator. I have packed most of the notes and cards I’ve received from youth, former interns, mentors, and volunteers. I have taken down most of the photos and youth artwork that I kept taped behind my desk, photos I looked up to when things were hard or when I had trouble gaining perspective.

Like a good handful of my colleagues, I entered my first full-time role at AALEAD through the Elementary School Program pipeline. I started at Thomson Elementary School in 2014 and then led a summer literacy program at Walker Jones Education Campus. During my last week at Walker Jones, Tina Ngo, then about to be promoted to Mentoring & Volunteer Programs Manager, walked into my classroom as I was prepping for the final days of the six-week session. We’d met a few times over the previous school year and I was glad to see a familiar face. At the heels of a personal timeline when I had considered leaving DC, here came Tina with a heads up that there would be full-time opportunities available at AALEAD. At the time, there was only one DC-based position posted. While I’m not a believer in signs or notions of the universe doing anything for me, I thought I should take a chance, and ended up applying for Tina’s old job.

In the next year and a half, I gained a trusted colleague, and later, friend. Tina gave me context into the inner-workings of the organization, the youth, volunteers, and mentors she worked with and helped me remember so many details that proved useful during big organizational events or staff transitions. This was a new kind of job that moved me outside of my comfort zone. I’d only worked directly with students and youth before and I took great pride in being a teacher and instructor. Tina helped me learn so much I didn’t even know I wanted to learn, and her dedication and extreme competence assured me that I could continue to sharpen my capabilities with her by my side. A big public thanks to Tina Ngo – a shining light in any room she enters, a fierce colleague to have in your corner, and one of the kindest people you could ever meet.

After Tina departed AALEAD I needed a change, but my move from the Mentoring & Volunteer world to the DC Middle & High School universe almost didn’t happen. I was burnt out and trying to come to grips with the mission of the organization versus the relentless work culture. Twice, there was an opportunity for me to start over and the second time, I made a move. I had gotten to know the DC MSHS youth through many site visits to Mount Pleasant Library and Northwest One Library and I wanted to get back to my direct service and teaching roots. It was one of the best decisions I made and these wonderful youth were the reason I was so successful with my second run here.

At many workplaces, there’s a lot of talk about “the team”, but I’ve always considered my (now former) program youth my team. It was never forced, never patched together through any ulterior motive, and always genuine. They were my barometer for everything – they helped me reevaluate my priorities, adjust my plans, and reflect on the constantly shifting dynamics between us. I sought out ways to collaborate with my program youth, create opportunities for them to practice their leadership skills, and jointly develop a stronger a say in what direction their program would go. These youth taught me to be a more compassionate listener, an active role model, and a firm keeper of boundaries. Thank you, wonderful youth –  I am eternally grateful to every single one of you for letting me get to know you. Thank you for being my most important teachers, for sharing with me, and encouraging me when you saw I needed help. Thank you for making me laugh all the time, for visiting me at my desk at the office, for telling me all the gossip even though I forget most of it, and for giving me a shot as your Program Coordinator.

I’d like to reserve another thank you to Charles Kuo, our intrepid DC Programs Manager, who I’ve worked with since the beginning of my time at AALEAD. I am incredibly proud to have worked with Charles. His optimism, care, and enthusiasm no doubt warmed my cold, Northeastern heart. Thank you, Charles, for always listening, understanding, and helping me slow down and see perspectives I missed the first time around. I will miss your words (and emails) of inspiration, the sounds you make when you’re deliberating a decision, and your kind presence in situations good or bad. I know you probably wanted more variety in your coffee choices but you never hesitated to go to Dunkin Donuts with me.

I am extremely proud of what I accomplished at AALEAD with my team. At the time of editing, it is the Thursday evening before my last day. As one of my former youth so beautifully illuminated for me in a very sweet text message – I could not have done this alone. I am equally happy and sad to be departing this role, and so appreciative of all the ups and downs I experienced. I feel confident that I am leaving on a high note and on my terms.

Thank you to my colleagues, youth, mentors, volunteers, and interns. I will miss you all so much.

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