Story by Keiko Friar
“How can I empower others?” It’s a question we all seem to ask ourselves now and then. “What can I do to make change happen, even on an individual level?” The wonderful thing is, if you know where to go, one does not have to look far to find the opportunity.
The PALS and Explore Programs are some of the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center’s student-led nonprofit community outreach efforts. By connecting with the Fort Collins community, both programs create that “home away from home” experience. While PALS serves Asian/Pacific Islander children in kindergarten through third grade, Explore is an educational space for fourth through sixth graders. Both programs provide Colorado State University students with quality leadership opportunities, allowing their understanding of the Asian/Pacific Islander identity to grow alongside that of their mentees. Each of the volunteers is paired with one or two Fort Collins students.
PALS is one of APACC’s very first programs. It is a program where friendship is built among CSU students, who are known as Big Pals, and students from the community, known as Little Pals. Every session, they engage in fun educational activities about Asian/Pacific Islander culture and countries. Big Pals have the chance to develop their public speaking skills, and Little Pals gain awareness. Both gain a sense of pride and confidence in their heritage. In the past, the program has focused on different countries and learned about children’s games. From this participants learned that children’s games around the world are very similar, despite the differences in culture. In addition, they had a lot of craft sessions to explore their creativity.
Explore is more identity-based than PALS. Its primary objective is to empower the API children it serves. Unpacking discrimination and racism are never easy, and the program acknowledges those obstacles. Explore takes on difficult subject matter through a sensitive and humanistic approach, which allows the “Explorers” to develop a greater sense of self and confidence in who they are. In the past it has discussed a variety of topics, such as microaggressions (forms of everyday discrimination), common stereotypes and representations of API people in the media. Of course these subjects extend far beyond the discussions and activities, and therefore opportunities for growth will not end once the program is over. They get the conversation started.
Each session lasts for two hours, and the sessions are spread out during both fall and spring semesters, occurring every other weekend on campus. The programs have a real impact on the University and Fort Collins community, and might just be the moment for change that you are looking for.
If you are a CSU student who would like to participate as a Guide or Big Pal, or know API students in kindergarten through sixth grade who may be interested, visit their website.