My Favorite AALEAD Moments, pt5.

By YLan Nguyen, MD High School Program Coordinator; Stephanie Lim, former DC Middle & High School Program Coordinator; and Iftakhar Alam, Communications Intern

Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

AALEAD truly believes in the power and potential of our young people. We aim to provide them with all the opportunities possible to help them to recognize and reach their full potentials. Our After School Programs provide academic support resources – including support in the process for selecting a middle/high school and college process – a safe and supportive space for shaping identity, and opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. We have seen our youth develop and grow from following staff instruction and input to voicing their own ideas and shaping their own AALEAD programming.

For this final feature of “My Favorite AALEAD Moments”, come along and witness the growth of 2 high school youths through the eyes of their current and former program coordinators: YLan and Stephanie

“One of my favorite moments involve a youth who has been a part of AALEAD programming since middle school (she is now a sophomore in high school). I first met her a few summers ago when she was a participant in our summer program. She expressed a strong fear of public speaking and facilitation and felt challenged by group settings that involved verbal sharing. This past summer, I had the pleasure of witnessing her growth and development as a leader.

This youth was part of Origin’s SYPC cohort. It took a bit of convincing for her to join the SYPC program (she had been a participant for 3 summers) but with the encouragement of her peers and coordinator (not me), she took the leap and interviewed for the position. During camp, she was hesitant to participate in some physical teambuilding activities but it seemed like she enjoyed the community of the camp. She enjoyed participating in community activities like prepping and cleaning up meals (she signed up for 2 meals and was open to jumping in and helping even when it wasn’t her shift). I think that during camp, she mostly observed and reflected on her experience and leadership. Once the summer program started, she really stepped up in various volunteering roles and leading up to the facilitation opportunity for the field trip, she even volunteered on the spot to facilitate a game with another SYPC in front of all SYPCs and participants.

She volunteered to facilitate a small activity called “Duct Tape Printer” during our Summer Kick-off event in DC to earn student service learning hours as well as gain some experience facilitating. This activity’s goal was for participants to draw on a large poster paper with a single marker – the twist was that participants could only control the marker through a piece of tape that attached to the pen and extended about 5 feet away. After a few minutes of encouraging the group to communicate with one another for their drawing, it was time to view the final product. Without any instruction from staff coordinators, this particular youth immediately announced that she and her co-facilitator would be interpreting the drawing. Drawing laughter from the participants, she light-heartedly gave the drawing a story and interpretation of the very misshapen butterfly. The participants were feeling particularly frustrated as controlling the marker as a group proved to be more difficult than initially thought but once it was time to rotate to another activity, they were laughing with the youth facilitator. This moment was so endearing and I am so grateful to know this youth and have the privilege of seeing her grow.” – YLan Nguyen, MD High School Program Coordinator

“When I first met Z, I was the Mentoring & Volunteer Programs Coordinator at AALEAD. My job at the time required long stretches of administrative work at my desk and regular travel to AALEAD sites across the DMV. Despite the non-stop and hectic nature of my work, I welcomed any opportunity to visit youth at after-school programs. I’d previously worked as an after-school lead teacher and EFL teacher so I was used to standing and walking for at least two hours at a time. I never felt comfortable sitting in front of my laptop all day.

I clicked very quickly with the youth in the DC Middle & High School Program but Z and I weren’t particularly close back then. I tried my best to convey that I wasn’t just talking to her to recruit her into the Mentoring Program. I remember seeing her Studio Ghibli-themed t-shirts and perhaps being too enthusiastic about them for her taste. My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service are among my favorite Miyazaki films but maybe she thought I was trying too hard.

A year and a half ago, I took up the post of leading the DC Middle & High School Program, and Z attended after-school regularly. When our school year program concluded, Z joined our summer program at Columbia Heights Education Campus. She kept coming back, and through repeated interactions, we developed a strong rapport. This past year, during her final semester of high school, Z’s schedule was virtually empty on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’d encouraged her to come see me if she wanted further support applying to college or figuring out financial aid paperwork.

I’d hoped to see her occasionally but Z visited the office around 11 in the morning and stayed with me through her after-school program at Northwest One Library, which ended at 6 in the evening. Shuffling into the office twice a week, week after week, she’d pull up a chair next to me. Sometimes she’d do her homework, sometimes she’d watch videos on her phone. I saw Z through numerous homework assignments, occasional conflicts with friends, and I listened as she told me about what she was reading, what was going on at home, and what she saw for herself in the future.

Eventually, she told me she wanted to pursue an education. Around March of this year, we put together a plan to enroll her at a local community college. In mid-August, I met Z on campus on the final Friday before classes started the following Monday. After 4 hours, she was officially enrolled and set to start clases on time. Seeing the look on her face after having registered for classes is something I will remember for the rest of my career. Watching Z taking steps to accomplish a goal she voiced so clearly was a phenomenal privilege.

This brief retelling of my time with Z does no justice to the endless respect and admiration I have for her and her program peers, but I hope it does illustrate how lucky I feel to have been in a position to be a source of support for these young people. It’s an incredible responsibility to have youth trust you, and an even greater responsibility to listen to them, take them seriously, and support their dreams. If you follow their lead, they’ll show you where they want to go.” – Stephanie Lim, former DC Middle School and High School Program Coordinator

Click here to read previous features of “My Favorite AALEAD Moments” from our Program Staff!

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