Q&A with Sally, Advocacy and LEAD Program Coordinator

Q: What does the LEAD program do?

A: Our Leaders for Education, Advocacy and Democracy (LEAD) program trains local high school youth to be leaders in our community: we teach them about civic engagement, and train them to be conscientious and responsible leaders in advocacy, policy, and service.

We hold bi-weekly trainings and we often have guest speakers come in to discuss social issues in the community. The students also gain real life work experience by interning with our community partners, such as elected official offices or local nonprofits. Towards the end of the program, students work in groups on a community engagement project, where they use all the tools they’ve learned during the program to identify an issue in the community, and design and execute a plan to raise awareness or create a solution. Themes this year for community engagement projects included racial equity, educational equity, domestic violence, and environmental health.

Even though many of our LEAD youth are not old enough to vote, they are undoubtedly one of the most affected groups when it comes to new legislation because they represent our future. Our program makes sure their voices are heard by lawmakers.

Q: What do you like most about your position?

A: As the Advocacy Coordinator at AACI, I have other duties in addition to the LEAD program, but LEAD is definitely the best part of my job. I love working with youth and empowering them to make positive changes in the community because they hold more power than we realize.

Many students come to the program with a fairly basic idea of the social and legislative issues that affect them, and LEAD bring these issues to the forefront and encourage them to take action.

Q: This year’s theme for Better Together (AACI’s annual fundraiser) is dreams. What’s your dream for yourself?

A: When I first started working at AACI, my dream was a little narrow and I simply wanted to make a difference in the Asian-American community because that’s the community I identify most with. After working with youth, I became aware of the difference a positive mentor can make in their lives. When students come out of LEAD, they really care about their community and want to create positive change.

The youth I worked with made such a huge impact on me, I feel like my career is now taking a new trajectory. I’d love to teach K-12 and to be there to support our kids. I believe they can accomplish great thing in the world, if they take a step back and look at the world around them, and get the guidance they need.

Q: What’s your most memorable memory during LEAD?

A: At the end of the program, we held a graduation ceremony where students presented their community engagement projects in front of their parents and community members. One of my students, who was 16 at the time, was fairly reserved and had a pretty patchy relationship with his parents. He poured his heart into his presentation and, afterwards, his dad went up to him and said he seemed like a completely different person, now with direction and purpose in his life, and that he was proud of him. I didn’t think much of it then, but my student later told me it was the first time in his life that he has heard his dad say he was proud of him. That is definitely my most memorable moment, not just during LEAD, but during my time at AACI as well.

Q: What advice would you give youth if they have problems dreaming?

A: Do not be afraid and do not be discouraged. There are no limits to your dreams, and it is so important to surround yourself with supportive people that uplift you. There are more people rooting for you than you realize.

Q: What’s your dream for the community?

A: I dream of a community where we can stand proudly together and advocate for each other despite our differences. My dream is for every group to be equally and fairly represented, and for our community to realize that we should embrace our differences, rather than let them divide us.

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: I’m a giant nerd. For fun, I like to play board games, escape rooms, and drink boba. I also love spending time with my daughter. I enjoy traveling and I am planning to go to Europe next year.

 

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