It amazes me how fast 365 days can come and go in a blink of an eye. What’s more  amazing is the amount of success the Lao Youth Leaders achieved in 2011. They proved time and time again that given the proper resources and guidance, greatness will follow. We should never underestimate their creativity and ability. There is no limit on what they can do. As their Director, I had an intimate view of how the youth matured and progressed as a group and individually.

Here are some of the many highlights of 2011:

January – We organized the first Teen Career Fair and invited several professionals to speak about their careers. The professionals were able to provide specific insight on success and how to achieve it. The event provided a great platform for 2011. The Youth learned how to DREAM BIG. It was an extremely proud moment for me to see our community interact together for the betterment and success of the Youth. This was truly the first event we were able to showcase the Youth’s talents to in a public arena. The early success of this program would build the momentum for the remainder of 2011 fueled by the BIG DREAMS of our Youth.

March – The Lao Youth Leaders visited Springfield by invitation of State Representative Keith Farnham. A group of 40 woke up extra early to start our caravan to the Illinois state capital, Springfield. We were given a tour of the congress and the parliamentary procedure of government. This event was special because it put our program on the map with many state legislators and government officials. Our community has been growing for over 30 years and have been under the radar of any significant governing body. The moment that really moved me was watching our Chairman, Jay Rasavongxay, take in the historic experience as he scanned the walls of the state capital. You can see how proud he was to be a part of this event. He represented the forefathers that built our community with their hands and their hearts from day number one. It was truly a special moment for all. It was a very proud moment for me to witness how the Lao Youth Leaders can transform a community. We were the catalysts to our greater growth and advancement.

April – Unlike the majority of world, Lao people celebrate New Years Day in April. Our calendar dates back over 2554 years. One of the most alarming truths I live with every day is the fact that our Youth lose more and more of their Lao identity each day. It is easy for them to be indoctrinated by outside factors and influences that separate them from their ethnic origins and background. It’s the product of being born and being raised outside of Laos. As a community, it was very important for us to educate our Youth about being Lao and the Lao culture. With this in mind, we decided that we allow the Youth to develop and organize their first ever Lao New Year celebration. The Youth was tasked with creating an event where they would educate and promote the history and traditions of Lao New Year. They worked on creating poster boards and displays that highlighted various Lao topics such as food and culture. They gave a powerpoint to the audience. They provided entertainment and traditional Lao food. It was a great success. It was also the first event where I was hands-off and did not contribute anything significant. My confidence in their ability reached an all-time level. They truly could lead themselves.

June – After four years, the Lao Youth Leaders graduated our first student leader from high school. We honored Nora Kethdy at the LAOE Scholarship Ceremony. It was a very proud moment for her and her parents. She achieved great academic success and scored a high score of 30 on her ACT. Along with her academic achievements, she was the essential role model and leader of our group. She took charge and demonstrated the ability to lead by example for the last four years. Her success validated the how important our work is and how we can influence the youth to achieve success in their lives. Thank you Nora for your dedication to our group. You are truly a leader!

June also hosted our 2nd Annual Lao Family Camping Trip. This year we had about 100 people join the group as we enjoyed great weather canoeing in Wisconsin. What I love most about this event is the opportunity for parents and their children to have a great time and bond together. Having strong family values is important for the foundation of the Youth.

August/September – Up to this point, I was very pleased with how our program has been progressing. I realized that the size of the program was growing. There was a great mix of older and younger leaders. I also realized that the majority of the older leaders demonstrated maturity and the ability to lead. They proved to me that they could produce and achieve a successful program. I decided that I would transform the program and create a different experience for the leaders. I was going to have the leaders lead themselves and empower them to control their own destiny. It was time to challenge them. I created a Senior Leaders and a Junior Leaders group. Each group would have their own officers to manage and lead their programs. And best, the newly formed group would have their own budget, starting with $800. It was now their turn to really lead and produce results. I was excited to see how this group would develop given the new roles and responsibilities. This would be a turning point for our program. It was like crossing the Rubicon. The future success of this program was now in the hands of the Youth.

November/December – As school approached winter break, I was happy to see the leaders rally together and continue our traditional Thanksgiving and winter activities. I had separated myself from leading this group because I wanted to see their leadership in action without my influence. When I saw the group bond together to continue our traditions, it showed me their loyalty and dedication to the group and what we stood for.

In closing, 2011 was a major step forward for this group. We emerged to the public eye and was able to demonstrate our values and our successes. We gained the trust of our community. Everyone was so proud of our Youth and they wanted to support them. We made a favorable impression to public officials, both in local and state government. With all the successes that I am proud of, the one that I am most proud is how the Youth is LEADING our community. They have given inspiration to a community that was needed a catalyst to rally and bond together. I have always told people that it will be the Youth that will help spark the growth and advancement of our community. It was easy for me to say because I saw how hard they work, how creative they are, how smart they are, and how much heart they have every day. They are true leaders. The future has endless possibilities. In the Youth we trust!

Thank you for reading and sharing in our group’s success. I hope you will help us grow this program to greater heights in 2012. Happy New Year!

Sincerely,

Mr. Alan Thavisouk

LAOE Director of Youth Services

Director of the Lao Youth Leaders program