I would never have thought of going into public service before college. My experiences through college opened up my desires to continue working for the AAPI community. It did not need to be through nonprofits or the public sector in general, but I had a yearning to continue my work there. In my parents’ plans, I was going to be the doctor in the family. For some time I believed in that too. I discovered in college that my passions were more aligned with helping people build and structure a community that empowered them than helping people heal and mend their physical ailments.
To much of my mother’s first initial disbelief, I took the leap of pursuing a career that she nor any of my family or family friends knew much about. In response to the infamous question “What are you going to do after college?,” I tell them I was interested in nonprofits or social work. Without skipping a beat, they’ll say, “you are not going to make a lot of money.”
Usually a dismissive response like that would have crushed me, but I was prepared to hear it. Ultimately, I was ready for what they had to say because I knew I had support for my career choice elsewhere. I had friends and organizations like CAPAL who had public service experience and networks that showed me I would not be lost and alone.
After graduating, I wanted to get involved and give back with a local DC organization that focused on empowering AAPIs. I was fortunate enough to have interned in DC in the past and was introduced to CAPAL through their summer program, the Washington Leadership Program (WLP). I met a handful of awesome board members and remembered how inspiring they were. CAPAL also had a strong alumni base, and it was great that it was purposely structured to give young leaders opportunities to take on large leadership roles.
When I first started as a board member we were celebrating our 25th anniversary and had our first permanent staff. Into the second year, we continued to break records in attendance to our events and the amount of scholars and interns we had during the summer. Now we will have two permanent staff! It has been amazing to see the growth of impact, influence, and inspiration. I believe CAPAL is stronger than ever, and it will continue its growth upwards.
During my first year at CAPAL, I lead the WLP. It was a great undertaking, but highly rewarding. I soon learned the ins and outs to hosting programs at the Capitol Building– as well as the pros and cons! I worked closely with the Programs Committee to bring the WLP to life, and it was great to see the ideas of each team member come together during each session. I’m sure the free food was a big draw to most attendees, but I hope they all went away with more knowledge about the issues that affect the AAPI community as well as why CAPAL is important.
This year, as I was interviewing an applicant for CAPAL’s Scholarship and Internship Program; he mentioned that the previous year’s WLP encouraged him to consider public service as a career path. He went on to say that the sessions and the people he met during WLP had inspired him. When he mentioned that, it came full circle for me, because that was the WLP I lead. For me, that moment captured why CAPAL is important and helped me to see the impact of my contributions as an individual.
Throughout college and after college, my involvement with public service was mainly through 501 (c)(3 )nonprofits. Joining the Board of Directors of CAPAL and hearing from various speakers we bring out to CAPAL events, I was able to understand further the multitude of career paths for public service in DC from Capitol Hill to the different federal departments. But aside from the titles and the descriptions of those careers, I got the opportunity to meet and hear from the passionate individuals who fill those roles. It isn’t every day that you encounter someone who can inspire you to understand your daily actions can affect environmental health and what you could do for environmental justice. But it can take that one person to make you open your eyes.
CAPAL is a support system, and it can be a part of your family. Through CAPAL I met inspiring individuals who advocate about public service, and I also met people who were like me, finding out how public service fits into our lives.
Looping back to how my parents think about my career today – they don’t really understand it, but they couldn’t be more proud as they show the picture to the right to friends and relatives. Not a good representation of what I do, but it’s the best way to let my parents understand the impact of my work.
I will continue my commitment to empower students and youth through my work at the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU), and to embrace my alma mater roots by being involved with the New York University Alumni Club in DC. On the fun side, I hope to continue running with my CAPAL running crew. Without their encouragement, I wouldn’t have run a half-marathon! Maybe I’ll do a marathon next?
June Kao is a marketing consultant at AARP, where she works in the Multicultural Markets and Engagement Department for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community outreach. She is also on the Board of Directors of East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU). Prior to being a consultant, she was an OCA AARP 50+ Fellow at OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates and AARP. She previously interned at Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) and as an OCA Summer intern placed at AARP. June was raised in New Jersey and soon moved to Washington, D.C. after graduation. She graduated from New York University with a B.A. in Psychology.
Posted by Elizabeth Thompson
Prior to CAPAL, Elizabeth Thompson worked in a development and communications capacity for Asian Arts Initiative, a community-based multidisciplinary arts center in Philadelphia. Elizabeth recently served as the grantmaking co-chair for The Spruce Foundation, which cultivates the next generation of philanthropists through community giving. She is the recipient of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) Diverse Communities Conference and Bridge Conference scholarships and received a scholarship for ProInspire’s 2015 Managing for Success Program. She is an active member of AFP and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. Elizabeth received her BA in Art History from Western Washington University and her MA in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Pennsylvania. When not promoting young philanthropy and leadership, Elizabeth spends her time thrifting and playing with her handsome Manchester terrier. elizabeth.thompson [at] capal [dot] org