AALEAD Helps Develop Low-Income, Asian-American Youth

An organization in the D.C. area aims to develop and empower low-income Asian-American students beginning with their mental health.

Eighth-grader Emily Nguyen is the oldest child of two immigrant parents from Vietnam who don’t speak much English, which can be a lot of pressure.

“My job as a first generation is to find a good college and a good career to help them,” she said.

That’s where Asian American Youth Leadership Empowerment and Development (AALEAD) can help her.

“There’s often a myth out there that all Asian-American students are doing well, that they’re successful, that they get good jobs, but often that’s not the case,” Executive Director Neel Saxena said.

Started 20 years ago, AALEAD’s mission is to help young people with educational empowerment, identity development and leadership.

“Our program focuses on the social and emotional wellbeing of young people,” Saxena said. “We want them to be confident in who they are.”


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The program works with schools in our area to identify which students would benefit.

“So we are in the cafeteria with flyers and invitations and then we also try to get the counseling team to refer students,” program manager Shaima Ahmad said.

At Poe Middle School in Fairfax County, the program has on average 25 students. The smaller groups allow students to work closely together.

They discuss identity and what it means to be an Asian-American student in their schools.

Emily said it makes her feel like she’s in a community. She said she wants to become a mentor and eventually help first generation students like her.

“The legacy we’ve created is really with our youth and how they are thriving,” Saxena said.

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