By: Mei Tomko
Interning with AALEAD supporting the Mentoring Program throughout the summer was such an amazing experience! From the fun chats with co-workers in the office to meeting youth in the Summer Programs and attending mentor-mentee match meetings, I have seen the multitude of ways that intentional programming can benefit youth.
During my time at AALEAD, I worked on numerous projects such as: drafting onboarding procedures for language support volunteers, creating promotional graphics, writing newsletters, updating Mentoring Program data, and planning upcoming events. The projects that I found most rewarding impacted the various internal processes, like volunteer onboarding procedures, that the Mentoring Program would use in the future. I am confident that the work I have completed as an intern will strengthen the program’s foundations for months to come.
Some of my most memorable days of the summer were attending DC Summer Programs at Woodrow Wilson High School. I felt that I could build meaningful connections and have intentional interactions with all of the program’s youth. It was rewarding to see some youth come out of their shells even within just one day along with interacting with youth who also participate in the Mentoring Program. I especially enjoyed beginning to build connections with these youth who were directly or indirectly impacted by my work.
Looking forward, all of these experiences have ignited a new passion within me for identity development programming and working with youth. I feel deeply inspired to continue uplifting this type of programming, especially in communities that do not have these types of resources like where I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Comparing my upbringing of having no Asian American adults or mentors to the youths’ being served in AALEAD’s programming showed me the critical need for identity-based resources for youth of color in predominantly white communities. Racial, cultural, and ethnic identity and experiences cannot be separated from personal development though they are often overlooked in homogeneous spaces. I envision joining a pre-existing program or starting a youth-centered program in a predominantly white area, such as my hometown of York, PPA, focused on reaching youth of color through identity-based programming and Social and Emotional Learning frameworks.