Learn how to be a leader

By Ivy Wong


A previous SYLP class

If you asked someone what you should spend $50 on this summer, they might suggest buying that new video game that recently came out or a cute pair of shoes. They might recommend buying tickets for a concert or movie. Or they might joke about buying as much candy as you can. There’s an infinite number of possibilities of what you can do with $50.
If you asked me, I would tell you to use that money to apply for the Summer Youth Leadership Program.

The Summer Youth Leadership Program, fondly called SYLP by past participants, is an unforgettable and unique program organized by the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation. Created in 1995, SYLP is an annual three-week summer program that helps students develop leadership and communication skills. Unlike other leadership programs, SYLP gives students the chance to meet with Asian American role models and leaders in our community. The program gives students a chance to explore Seattle’s International District and surrounding areas, and discover Asian community resources. The free lunches and scholarship opportunity provided are just added bonuses to what SYLP already offers you.

Many times have I heard the misconception that SYLP is just like school because the program goes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. That cannot be further from the truth. When you are in this program, you are doing more than just sitting there and taking notes like you do in school. One day, you might be learning about Asian American stereotypes in the media and how to dance to “Wedding Dress” by Taeyang. On another day, you might be meeting with news anchor Lori Matsukawa at KING or spoken word artist Troy Osaki and hear how they got to where they are today. You could be hearing from executive director of Scholarship Junkies Samson Lim and community activist Bob Santos about their stories on perseverance and success. You are being inspired to pursue and find your passions no matter what they may be. You are networking with both professionals and other students. You are looking at your identity and heritage in a new perspective. You are forming lifelong friendships with other students across the Puget Sound area. When you get home, you are not tired from having done class work or waking up early — you’re tired because of how much fun you had.

I joined SYLP in 2011 after my mom saw the program being advertised in the Northwest Asian Weekly. Having nothing better to do that summer, I agreed to participate and filled out the application. In three weeks, I made more progress on developing my skills thanks to the approach and supportive environment SYLP provides. From someone who always shied away from roles that required having to be in front of other people, I surprised myself in volunteering to play the piano during the talent show.

To some, this might seem insignificant, but my stage fright and shyness correlates heavily with my avoidance to leadership roles. A few days in SYLP motivated me to take that first crucial step in stepping out of my comfort zone. Since I took that first step, I have been gradually volunteering for and accepting opportunities, even if they scare me. In fact, writing this article is a bit out of my comfort zone. SYLP gives everybody, no matter how quiet or loud, the chance to grow. This is why applying for SYLP is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Since graduating the program, I, along with many others, have volunteered to come back every summer to mentor. We want the new participants to get as much out of the program as we did. From when I was a participant in 2011, to the past two years I mentored, I have yet to meet a participant who regretted taking part in SYLP, even if their parents were the ones to have signed them up in the first place. Each year, strong bonds are formed between all the participants. The students identified themselves as a family by the time the three weeks have ended. They always ask why the program is not for a longer period, for they could not believe that three weeks flew by.

This year, the program runs from June 23 to July 10. Applications are due June 6, and I strongly encourage any of you that are free those weeks to apply. For $50, SYLP is worth every penny and more, for it will be an experience that you will never forget. (end)

Ivy Wong is a student at UW, majoring in informatics and computer science.

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