In high school I was part of the International Club and noticed each member was born in the U.S. This was the closest organization they had for Asian Americans. I enjoyed organizing events with the club and other students because at that time it didn’t seem there were resources for the student community and lumping every Asian student together in one homogeneous group made our mission to be recognized more important. In college I was always part of some sort of student group, whether it be Asian American or some type of service organization; I have always been involved with volunteering or organizing. I was lucky to be part of a Vietnamese Student Association that had a core group of officers that were willing to share in the workload and make sure everyone felt included in the decisions and the work of the group. I’ve always admired leaders who will stand by you on the ground when doing the small things as well as a leader who knows that it’s a group of people who get things done and not just a single individual.
As an intern in DC right after college, I was introduced to CAPAL through its Washington Leadership Program (WLP) on Capitol Hill. I joined the CAPAL board when the organization was just less than 10 years old in 1999. I recall the board being made up of a diverse group of nationalities as well as a broad cross section of Hill staffers, nonprofit, private and government employees. I was part of the committee responsible for planning WLP and getting speakers for the program. It seems every year the board tried to reinvent itself, but we always came back to the core mission of providing opportunities for students interested in public service. The board back then had the same energy and focus that CAPAL does now, just on a more shoe string budget.
The most memorable part of serving on the CAPAL board would be the time spent with board members during the retreats. I believe the first one I attended was an overnight camp out. It was an experience to see how we all could cook food on an open fire and figure out how to survive in the woods with the closest supermarket being 10 miles away.
Since my time on the board, I know the budget has grown at least 10x from the original budget we worked on. There is an office now, compared to file boxes that we use to move around from one person’s apartment to another. Over the years I have seen the entire organization become more structured and organized in regards to transition of the board and outreach to the community in the DC area. Since the CAPAL board has always been part of the greater Asian American community, I have become friends with several current and past board members. There is a lot of overlap among the different Asian American nonprofits so there is constant interaction between people in registering to vote, fundraising or rallying around a particular community issue.
I look at my time spent with CAPAL as a time of learning and friendship since I am still involved in the local community. The past two summers I have been part of CAPAL’s summer mentor programming as a mentor to one of CAPAL’s summer interns. Its been a great experience discussing what a recent college graduate has in mind for their future and contrasting it to the current workforce environment.
Most people don’t know I am a Cancer survivor. I was diagnosed back in 2012 and immediately had to start chemotherapy. Its been 4 years that my cancer has been in remission. The lesson I learned from that is sometimes a cough is just not a cough and you should see a doctor when things just don’t feel right. Sometimes just getting out of your comfort zone opens up a lot of new opportunities to meet people and learn what is challenging other communities.
Keith is a resident of the Washington, DC area, having grown up in Falls Church, Virginia. Born in Saigon, he was adopted and raised in the states since the age of 2. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where he studied mass communications, and Columbia College Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA for film. His previous positions include Manager of Technology and E-Activism at the Marine Fish Conservation Network and Director of Technology for the Organization of Chinese Americans. He brings with him more than 10 years of professional experience in website administration, and new and social media. Currently Web & Platforms Manager at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), me manages content and works in the Events & Marketing department. Keith has been involved with environmental nonprofits, ECAASU, ACAASU, Vietnamese American Network (VAN) and the Asian Pacific American civil rights community.
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. She is currently serving on the Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) Metro D.C. Chapter’s Steering Committee and is a mentor for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, DC Chapter (YNPNdc) Mentoring Program. Elizabeth 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 Managing for Success Program. She is an active member of AFP, YNPNdc and AAPIP. 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.