BLOG: Rekindling my passion

By Assunta Ng

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State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos speaking with SYLP 2013 graduates and South Korean Diplomat Jungjae Lee (center). (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

I almost killed the Northwest Asian Weekly’s Summer Youth Leadership Program (SYLP) this year.

The nonprofit arm of the newspaper, the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation, had organized an annual three-week, all-expenses-paid Summer Youth Leadership Program since 1995. It is amazing that we have been offering the program for 19 consecutive years.

I am not aware if any other media companies have done anything similar.

But in the age of print media fighting for survival, we have every reason to give up this program and use our time and energy to focus on our business goals instead.

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The seven winners of the June Chen memorial scholarship. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Why a leadership program for Asian American youth? I was passionate about helping Asian Americans break the glass ceiling. Too often we hear or read that Asian Americans represent less than 5 percent of CEOs for Fortune 500 companies. It’s not that Asian Americans are not qualified. In many cases, they are usually more qualified than the people who get the promotion, but because of racism, Asian Americans are not perceived to be strong leaders. So why not train Asian Americans to be leaders when they are young? Why not build that self-confidence so they can aspire to be leaders?

Each year, I volunteered my time to host the program with the help of a hired program coordinator. Sure, I got satisfaction knowing kids grow in their leadership and community-building skills, but my health started to decline in 2010.

Then in 2012, my dad passed away. I went to his funeral in Hong Kong and I was sick during the whole trip. I came home mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. It was no secret last year that I didn’t want to continue the program. So I announced to the 2012 grads that theirs would be the last program.

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Some of the over 20 volunteers that made SYLP 2013 possible. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

What changed my mind?

The news spread quickly. It saddened alumni. One of them was Melissa Lo, a ‘97 SYLP alum.

“I would love to help,” she wrote in an email urging me to continue the program. And she went on, “Without the foundation, I would not have had the same opportunities or successes which I have achieved within my career.”

Those words inspired me. It motivated me to find alternatives to keep the program alive.

“Can you help me with the program?”  I asked my son John, a ‘96 SYLP alum. Without hesitation, he said yes. He then talked to two other alumni, Ina Dash and Yolanda Eng.

“We are in,” they responded. We had our new executive team.

New leadership

Everything happens for a reason. How I felt last year clearly means it’s time for change.

It’s time for me to step aside and let someone with a new vision carry on the Northwest Asian Weekly’s legacy.

Had the program not continued we would not be able to honor the late June Chen, a founding member of the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation, with seven scholarships on graduation night. Four people had donated money to the June Chen Memorial Scholarship, totaling $500 from James Arima, Master Yijiao Hong, Kathy Chinn, and Carmen Palomera. The Foundation added $1,500 for the scholarships.

Also, thank you to the Asian Resource Center led by Karen Wong and Derrick Chinn, who provided a place for the program to take place. It’s getting harder and harder to find an appropriate facility in Chinatown-International District to house SYLP.

It has to be in the ID so we can showcase all the resources in the Asian community such as the restaurants, the Wing Luke Museum, the Danny Woo Garden, and the Legacy House.

Grandma joined SYLP

No, I am not kidding. On July 11, 100 people celebrated the graduation of 38 high school students from the SYLP program at Ocean City Restaurant, including the oldest graduate — Xin Fan, a 76-year-old immigrant.

What, a grandma joined SYLP?

There was much debate when we evaluated her application.

“You are the one telling me to speak up (in your blog),” said Fan. She wanted to develop new experiences instead of stay home. She wanted to learn from the Asian American leaders who came to speak to the students.

Those were valid motivations to join the program. Some youth joined because they had nothing better to do during the summer than to enjoy free food and meet new friends.

Meanwhile, others applied because their parents forced them.

But if Fan agreed to the conditions we set, there was no reason to say “no.” She would be an observer at the program only, and she had to pay for her lunches. The Foundation paid for the youth lunches.

More than one reason to stop

When we first started SYLP, it was the only Asian American youth program. Now, practically every Asian and non-Asian group organizes a youth component, and they are copying some of our program format. Many have themes such as art, culture, environment, and education to get government grants. Our foundation relies solely on private and corporate donations, which is a lot of work when I run two newspapers simultaneously.

Nevertheless, at the end of the program, the students didn’t want it to end. Seeing how much they’ve learned and how much they love the program is my reward. Seeing how much the parents raved about the program and the positive changes in their kids make me happy and feel that what I am doing it’s worthwhile. (end)

To read the publisher’s blog in Chinese, visit www.seattlechinesepost.com.

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