In 2017, Apex for Youth celebrates 25 years of providing NYC community-based programs to help develop college-ready, confident and community-minded
Asian American youth.
While attending NYU, former mentee Nahima teaches knitting at one of our after-school programs as well as the importance of volunteerism.
I was born in Brooklyn where I was raised by my family, who emigrated from Bangladesh. In the two years I was a mentee at Apex, I formed a close bond with my mentor, Tina. Despite being in different cities now, we both still keep in touch. Aside from inspiring each other and showing each other new things, Tina introduced me to rock climbing, and I got Tina into spoken word poetry. Most of all, Tina helped me recognize that I was capable of things that I never thought were possible.
Now, I teach a knitting class to some middle school students in the Apex program. In the beginning of the school year, the class was heavily focused on teaching the students the basics of knitting scarves. Since one instructor can only provide so much individual help, I switched the class to focus more on peer-to-peer help. Students work in pairs or groups of three or four, and they became the “teachers.” Everyone helped each other when they were struggling and shared new patterns they learned. Students learned different methods to knit, including finger knitting and using a box to knit a scarf.
Recently, I focused on volunteerism and social entrepreneurship. In early November, I brought in a few volunteers to help the class and informally speak about why they find volunteering important and how they first learned how to knit. After, I asked the students to write thank you cards show their appreciation for the volunteers. In the weeks that followed, we discussed volunteerism and what it means to them. We collectively brainstormed a definition and students found that there is no set definition, and it doesn’t matter whether we help one individual or a group, since we still have an impact. We were looking for organizations to donate the scarves and the class decided to donate the scarves to the Bowery Mission.
With a background in education, Wayne wanted to do something he loved. With Apex, he was able to give back and find meaning as a mentor.
When I first moved here, I wanted to do something that would give back to the community as well as something that I really love. With a background in education, I liked working with kids, especially those in elementary school and even middle and high school. Those are the times when you can really help kids change their life, if they are open to it.
Apex works with people in the community that aren’t usually identified as needing help, such as the Asian American community in Chinatown. It’s not all Asian kids, but often they don’t get help because of the stereotypes of being Asian. I think it’s important to try to change that and to also provide support where needed.
One of the cutest things that happened to me as a mentor was when I was doing math word problems, such as multiplication and groups of things with kids in the fourth grade. I was working with two girls. All their word problems had to do with the myriad boyfriends they each had. Every word problem was “so and so had ten groups of five boyfriends each”. To me, it was funny that they used boyfriends to make word problems. The kids could have chosen anything for groups and they came up with boyfriends.
At the end of the program, we had our last class celebration and the kids were excited to share cards that they made. Even though the teachers make the kids write the cards, I could tell that the kids cared very much to make each one special. Also, I really love being part of the group. Even though we only have eight or ten classes, I can still see the kids growing, understanding the material and becoming more confident. I see how far they’ve come over the eight weeks. I try to work on things like teamwork and respecting their classmates ideas and differences. For some of the kids, this is a challenge. Yet, I can see also see the kids change.
I thought that I would hate volunteering Saturday mornings, but I actually feel like I’m doing something really great and meaningful. It’s also a nice start to the weekend. It might seem like nothing to give up a couple of hours every week to teach, but every little bit helps. And, it’s really important to try and make these connections with these kids, so they know that there are people out there who care about them and their success. This I what I think Apex is all about. It’s not just a one-time or two-time thing. It’s ongoing. Most volunteers that I know come back every year. I think that speaks to how powerful Apex is and how compelling it is. Though I don’t think people volunteer for selfish reasons, new volunteers will be amazed at how much they get out of it for just a little bit of commitment.
Former mentee and gala speaker Shu Min found that connecting with her mentor allowed her to not have to carry her burdens alone anymore.
I first found out about Apex from my psychologist, during my sophomore year of high school. I was telling her about my lack of direction in life because no one was guiding me through the earliest days of being an immigrant in America. My psychologist described Apex as a program where I would get one-on-one support and my mentor would act like a big brother or big sister. Immediately, I was attracted to the program due to its supportive aspects.
During my first meeting with my mentor, Anne, she asked about school, my family and my life, in general. I am fascinated by how I told her my life story within the first couple of hours. It was cathartic and illuminating to have someone know almost all aspects of my life, as if I didn’t have to carry all of the burdens by myself any more. Anne reminded me a lot of my middle school teacher who applauded every step of my achievement despite my constant fear of lagging behind or being imperfect. It was always in the presence of my mentor that I started to reflect positively upon my life, my past, instead of overly criticizing myself.
Over the years, Anne and I have introduced other members of our lives to each other. Anne’s family members treated me as if I was one of their one. I was very touched when I spent time with Anne’s friends and family members, because they reminded me of the extended family members that I left in China. Anne also came to my program and high school graduation. Anne has guided my coming-of-age process and I am very grateful for the amount of commitment she has shown me in the past few years.
Apex is not just a program where two people (one adult, one student) meet for two hours twice a month. The reason why Apex has grown from merely a few students to 1300 is because everyone (mentees, mentors and staff members) takes his or her role seriously and works to exceed expectations. I always hear about current mentees or program graduates promoting Apex in places where Apex staff members would probably have difficulty reaching. And, I see Apex mentors volunteering at various events even if their mentees can’t make it. It is through Apex that I have learned and seen the spirit of selfless devotion to Asian American communities, the perseverance to inspire and affirm low-income students, and the heartwarming dedication of Apex mentees, mentors, board members and staff members.
High school mentor Victor reads with his mentee, Shin, and even helped pick a book that has facilitated a deeper bond between Shin and his immigrant father.
I wanted to become a mentor because I felt that if I had a mentor growing up, it would have helped me become more successful in all aspects of my life. Also, I have a passion for helping people. I felt that I could make a difference as a mentor for Asian youth because I can relate to them.
One of my favorite memories was the day we went snow tubing. Not only did I have fun with Shin, my mentee, but it was also great to meet the other mentors and mentees. Another favorite memory was watching Shin become more confident and more of a jokester in the skit. Some of my other favorite memories include our visit to the museum and the Super Smash tournament. We watched the pros play and then we played together. It was a great bonding experience. He was able to open up to me and talk about the drama at school. I think initially he thought that I wouldn’t be interested in his “kid stuff” at school. Now he knows that I do care about this stuff and he shares more with me.
Apex did a great job matching me with my mentee. Our interests are very similar. For example, we both like to read and Shin is always reading. I selected books that he likes to read. He hasn’t said he likes them, but I can tell because he’s reading faster than I am. He told me that he wanted to learn about Japan and its culture. So, I bought a book for him and read first the 100 pages and thought he would like it. He loved the book, which was fiction based on true Japanese historical leaders and characters. He talked to his dad about the book, which allowed him and his dad to become closer and talk about Japanese culture. It opened up a new kind of bond.
Mentoring at Apex has definitely lived up to my expectations. For example, one of my responsibilities has been to talk to him about school, college and various careers and help him find something he loves to do. I answer his concerns about college, such as the cost, scholarships and more. Also, I also helped him at school. For example in Spanish class, he went from getting 70’s to 90’s. It wasn’t that Shin wasn’t smart enough or studying enough. It was how the teacher graded. Each day, Shin had homework in Spanish and if it wasn’t ordered in a certain way, he got points off. Shin was very disorganized. I told him to date everything and every day before he goes to school to reorganize his homework based on the date. In one month, his grade changed to a 90. Small things like that can make a huge difference.
My first goal was to build a relationship with him. So, in addition to the Apex activities, we spent time outside of the program and spoke on the phone a few times a week. In the beginning, he was quiet and didn’t share much. Now, he shares everything with me about what’s going on at school. and, because we developed a good relationship, I can introduce things to help him in his quest to go to a top college, such as helping him become a better writer. In addition to giving him books, I also assign him essay topics to write about, yet I make sure that he wants to do it. Maybe next year, we will start on the SAT. I just want to keep challenging him. Since he got into Stuyvesant, he doesn’t feel challenged right now. I want him to always feel challenged. He’s a really smart kid and he really wants to achieve his goals and I want to help him.
I have learned a lot as a mentor too. I try not to act as a parent and impose what I think is the right way or that there even is a right way. That’s what I’ve learned. I have also learned the importance of setting great examples. At Apex, we had a workshop where Dan talked about about the importance of being on time. Shin makes sure to arrive early at all times. Just the other day, we went to watch Fast 7. Shin was super early. I’m usually on time but he’s always earlier than I am by like 10-15 minutes. And that day, the subway wasn’t running, so I was late. That day taught me to raise my standards of setting an example. I may have to leave earlier because Shin always gets there so early. This taught me that trying to beat someone who sets a great example is hard, especially when it’s your mentee who sets really high standards. In that way, I’m learning too.
Xiaoli shares her journey as daughter of immigrants and how Apex taught her important skills and gave her a foundation for life.
At first glance, one might assume that I’m just another young Asian American millennial speed walking with headphones on and a smart phone in hand. What’s lesser known is that I was born in China and that I might be listening to the Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi on my way rushing to work. I grew up in an immigrant household, which meant that while I was learning how to read and write in English, I also had to learn how to speak to my parents in a completely different language. This also meant that in due time, I would struggle to hold on to both Eastern and Western cultures until I find a way to blend them. For me, being an immigrant child meant that I won’t have a lot growing up, I won’t always be able to relate to some of my peers, I will have trouble fitting in and I will have to work twice as hard as my peers. Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Everything that I struggled with was also what made me who I am today. Here is my story.
I attended and graduated from the High School of Economics and Finance located in the heart of the Financial District. The narrow hallways of my high school, filled with energetic, loud and eager kids, were my biggest hurdle. Am I going to be the subject of the school’s bully or will I show up to the wrong classroom and embarrass myself? High school is that time period in every young person’s life where there is peer pressure everywhere, and the internal struggle to find oneself. It was during my sophomore year when the Weill’s Institute coordinator, Ms. Lau, asked if I was interested in Apex’s mentoring program. A spark went off in my head because I had heard of Apex when I was in elementary school. I jumped on it because it was something new and I could add it to my resume. I completed the paperwork and went to the office for the interview. Then, the big day arrived. I saw my mentor’s face before we were formally introduced and I knew it was meant to be.
Now that I am older and wiser, I can sincerely say that Apex has influenced me in many positive ways. The mentoring program taught me how to be more social, how to be more responsible, and above all, how to communicate. These were the stepping stones that prepared me for the challenges to come in adulthood.
Throughout my entire childhood and teen years, I was always an introvert. I had anxiety being in a large group setting. By attending the monthly big events, Apex pushed me to be more social and to join in a group conversation with my peers. My mentor, My An, was my guide to these conversations. While she would sometimes stay in the back or start the conversation, she made me feel safe and comfortable enough to contribute and hold my own conversation. This was a skill I had to learn and get comfortable with because it is also one that I knew I would need later on in adulthood.
Being committed to the mentoring program made me more responsible because aside from my regular school work, it was also my duty to respond to emails from Apex and make sure that I was punctual to the monthly event. I believe that as I learned to be more responsible, I also became more considerate. It was a team effort when My An and I made plans to meet. I learned that some days might work for me but it wouldn’t work for her. However, we always found a solution. That was an important lesson that the mentoring program taught me; there will always be a solution to every problem. Some solutions are easier than others. When the solution requires more digging, perhaps it’s because the problem is more complex. However, I learned that a little patience can go a long way. This was a valuable lesson for me to learn because as I’ve gotten older, life has become more demanding and not all problems have an immediate solution.
I am forever grateful that Apex taught me how to communicate verbally and non-verbally, as well. Conversations with My An taught me how to be more expressive on what was troubling me in or outside of school and how to deliver the right message. Just knowing that My An was there to help me in anything made me feel comfortable enough to open up and not keep everything inside. In addition, I felt that Apex created a safe environment. The Apex staffers and mentors weren’t teachers, family members or friends, but they gave me a sense of security and trust that if anything was troubling me, I had someone there fore me. Lastly, during my time with Apex, I had to respond to emails in a timely manner and it was good practice for learning professional etiquette. Fast forward eight years later as a full-time professional, now I know how to act as a professional and communicate through emails, which both feel second nature to me.
I’ve had many fond memories of my time with Apex but two memories stuck with me because they taught me lessons about life. My first memory was the apple picking event in Allentown, New Jersey. Being a kid who lived in the city and didn’t have a family car, apple picking was something I never got the chance to do. I was beyond stoked. When the day came, I was prepared to dash off the bus and run through the field. However, my plan was short lived. The farmers told us that the trees had contracted a disease which caused the apples to rot. The farmers picked the good apples which were in baskets waiting for us. I was disappointed but decided to make a different plan. I remember getting lost in a corn maze with a group and one of the mentors jokingly said, “I wonder if my GPS works out here.” We all laughed. It was safe to say none of us made it out and one of the farmers had to come get us. Overall, I had a great day and I left with some of the sweetest apples I had ever tasted. I couldn’t dwell on the disappointment because I had fun. Exposure to such disappointment taught me that regardless of how well one may plan, there are outside factors that one cannot control. “Be prepare to modify your plan” is my motto. I also learned that it is okay to be disappointed but it’s not okay to dwell on it. I experienced this again in college when I thought I wanted to study accounting because I enjoyed the work in high school. Ultimately, I dropped out of the accounting program because I wasn’t enjoying the work and was not happy. I went back to the drawing board and created a new plan. Each disappointment has taught me something new and that it’s my responsibility to keep moving forward.
The other Apex memory is also the most important one. Karen Elizaga, a life coach, a mentor and founder of Forward Options, was speaking to a small group of fifteen students at Apex. I jumped on the chance to hear her. I learned that she empowers women to pursue a career they love, teaches women how to love themselves, how to know themselves, and how to handle life’s stresses. Ms. Elizaga played soft music, asked us to close our eyes and imagine where we would be ten years from now. We each made a list and came up with a plan on how to achieve it.t She also asked us to write down our favorite activities and our strengths and weaknesses. She asked me to volunteer and share these things with the group. I was surprised by how much I was able to learn about myself and how easy it was. Little did I know that Ms. Elizaga’s powerful words and advice set the foundation for my own life. Ms. Elizaga taught me how to get to know myself and that was the most important life lesson, which helped me when my high school boyfriend of five years and I starting have difficulties in our relationship. Learning about myself helped me navigate the ending of this important relationship and that I was stronger than I realized.
Apex’s mentoring program has been one of the best choices I’ve made. I also believe that every Asian kid should get involved in the Apex program. The mentors give kids a sense of hope that they can achieve their goals in life. My parents owned a business, like many other Asian families, and just like them, my parents hoped that one of us would continue the business one day. But it wasn’t something that I or my siblings wanted to do. This is one of the reasons why I truly believed that the mentoring program is so important. The mentors are the quintessential tools and role models to kids who need inspiration and motivation. It can show them that they don’t have to continue the family business, and that if there is something else they want to pursue, it is okay to chase that dream. The mentors provide hope by being present and guiding the youth. As for myself, Apex gave me the hope and inspiration by planting the seeds for tools that I would need later in life.
Fan Zou, who has continued his relationship with his mentor, William, past graduation, says Apex has been enriching his life since 2008.
Ever since I came to New York at the age of 13, Apex has been a huge influence on me. While I was living in Rego Park, Queens, my neighbor told me about the mentoring program at Apex. I joined the program with the help of Amanda, who I still greatly appreciate. Amanda asked me to fill out a form with a bunch of questions. I don’t remember what was on it, but I’m glad that I filled it out the way I did, because what happened next changed my life forever.
During my first Apex group event, we went to the Black Rock Forest in New Jersey, and I was paired up with William, who I thought was arrogant and horrifying, because of his unusual look, specifically his spiky hair style. But, the more I got to know him, the more I liked him. And in the next eight years, William became one of my dear friends, mentor, and companion. It turns out that it wasn’t arrogance that he carried with him, but confidence that empowered him to be different than anybody else.
William and I shared a lot of important moments in our lives, including going surfing for the first time during an Apex event and attending my first stage performance in high school. I also attended his wedding, and he came to my college commencement. Countless ties have connected us ever since Apex introduced us.
William has given me insights and suggestions on every aspects of life, from academic guidance to social encounters. As someone who came from another country, it was hard for me to feel comfortable in and outside of school. William not only understood this, but also encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone to challenge myself in different circumstances.
Through Apex, I was able to meet William and others and also attend countless fun activities. It made me realize that there are other people who are just like me, and people who I admire. Apex is like a web that intertwined us together.
I graduated from college and returned to Beijing to work in the film industry. Occasionally, I think about William and Apex. There must be a lot of aspiring young students in New York experiencing what I had experienced. Maybe they just met with their mentors and were horrified by them like I was. I smile when I think of Apex and the lessons and experiences others will get from the program because I know how satisfying and rewarding it can be.
After graduating from college, Anne continued as a mentor in New York City and found a community of people committed to a similar cause.
Throughout college, I was involved in mentoring and tutoring underprivileged youth and I really enjoyed it. So after college when I moved to New York City, I wanted to continue mentoring.
I first applied to iMentor and went through orientation. That year, I was wait listed since they had a shortage of female mentees. I thought that even in New York volunteering is competitive. I searched other NYC organizations and that’s how I found Apex. And it was especially interesting to me because it was specifically focused on Asian American immigrants.
Apex has been wonderful. I feel like Apex did a great job matching me to my mentee, Christine, an 11 year old girl who is in the 6th grade. I feel like she reminds me of myself when I was her age. It’s been really wonderful remembering how I felt at her age and the issues I was having. It’s also been great meeting other mentors. We come from similar backgrounds. It’s like being a part of community of like-minded people and having a cause that we are working towards outside of work.
One of my favorite memories is when we read Harry Potter together during our personal time. My mentee loves Harry Potter almost as much as I do! I would bring in a different book and we would sit and read together and gush over all of the details. Having that shared hobby and shared world absolutely brought us closer.
Since September, when I first met Christine, we have spent the year getting to know each other and building trust. I have seen her open up to me about her family. I feel like she’s very comfortable now sharing her worries. At first, it was hard to get her to open up to me about her struggles. It’s much easier to talk about how many siblings you have or where do you live. It’s been a process for her to tell me about being nervous for an upcoming statewide exam and the pressure she feels. Though she’s only a 6th grader, she has pressure to get into a top school and to pay for her younger brother’s education. I’m not shy about asking her questions and so every week I try to probe a little deeper, such as how difficult it is growing up in New York City. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington state, in the Pacific Northwest. It’s crazy how competitive it is here to just get into middle school. Unfortunately, Christine didn’t get into the middle school she wanted. That’s mind blowing that she has all of the pressures just because there’s more people here and way more competition! I try to reassure her that all of the little things you stress about at 11 years old doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
I really like the team at Apex who runs this organization. Everyone is genuinely passionate about what they do. It’s very clear that the Apex team is in it for the love of these kids. I really like that Apex is so genuine about it.
K. gives back to his community to provide the support and guidance he wished he had received.
I joined Apex because I support its goals of providing resources and mentorship to the young Asian American youths of New York City. As a first generation Chinese American, I understand what many of the mentees are going through and believe that an organization, like Apex, is incredibly necessary and vital in developing future leaders within our community.
One of my favorite memories is when I met with Damion, my mentee, to work through his math homework. I remember that he was struggling with the work, but I also saw that he wasn’t afraid to ask me questions, whereas in school, he was reluctant to ask for help. Damion told me he was very thankful for the help and that gave me a great sense of accomplishment. Overall, I have seen positive changes in Damion, such as him becoming more engaged in the program and taking the lessons of community and respect to heart. Damion has also helped me to become a better listener and provide insight into how he and his peers think about the world.
Mentoring at Apex fills me with a sense of giving back to my community. Based on my own experience growing up, I wish I had a resource of relevant information to tap into for guidance like Apex. For me, participating in the mentorship program means being able to hopefully make a difference in the life of someone I would not normally have the chance to meet.
On April 26, 2017, Apex for Youth will celebrate its 25th anniversary and honor inspiring leaders from the past 25 years.
Co-Founder & CEO, GIPHY
Founder, Apex for Youth
Founder & CEO, Venture for America
Vice President, Treasurer & Chief Investment Officer, General Motors
Executive Vice President, Chief Global Scientific & Sustainability Officer, International Flavors & Fragrances
Irene & Alexander Chu
J.T. Tai & Co. Foundation
Trustee, Victoria Hsu
Founder, CP Advanced Imaging
President/CEO, Xi’an Famous Foods
Senior Vice President, Corporate Development, Scripps Networks Interactive
Kathy Hirata Chin
Senior Counsel, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP
Krista Marie Yu
Actress, ABC’s Dr. Ken
Clinical Professor of Urology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University and Attending Urologist, New York Presbyterian Hospital
Editor in Chief, Allure
Mitchell E. Harris
CEO, Investment Management, BNY Mellon
Norman C.T. Liu
Retired CEO, GE Capital Aviation Services
Patricia Shin Röckenwagner
Chief Communications Officer, STX Entertainment
Creative Director, 3.1 Phillip Lim
CEO & Co-Founder, Zola
Founder, Cashmere Agency
CEO, New York Life Investment Management
Chief Executive Officer,
Laird + Partners
Coalition of Asian-American IPA, Inc.
Eric T. Lee & Cindy Chua
Irene & Alexander Chu
J.T. Tai & Co. Foundation
Columbus Hill Capital Management, L.P.
The Harris Family
Nissan North America
The Plum Spring Foundation
The Sriratana Family
Jack & Hollie Franke
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
New York Life
Patrick Yee & Jessica Hendricks Yee
Scripps Networks Interactive
Aaron Tai and Douglas Lee
Blaise Chow & Kristin Quitoni
The Chauncey F. Lufkin III Foundation
Edwin Chin and Phil Wu
Euching Lin & Wayne E. Yang
First American International Bank
Glenn & Jill Luk
Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Ling & Gilbert Liu
Melissa & Alec Gunn
Michael & Michelle Cho
Michael & Nadine Chen
NBC 4 New York
Patrick Lo & Natasha Wattel
Patti Koo & Rayburn Chan
Rany Ng, Edward and Joyce Wu
Ricky & Kathy Wong
Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley
Roy Kim and Clayton Crawley
Stanley & Fiona Druckenmiller
Sunny Kim & Christopher Moyer
Waterfall Asset Management
In March 2016, Apex for Youth embarked upon a strategic planning process involving senior staff, Board of Directors and external stakeholders to define our vision and growth strategy.
To lead the planning process, Apex for Youth formed a Strategic Planning Committee and engaged Alvarez & Marsal to advise on the development of the plan and conduct the research.