Castle Leadership Program: Students Contributing to Community


Lingjia Chen and Anay Cortes

Mr. Hisugan, the founder of the Castle Leadership program, is working alongside teens to conduct more park cleanups all while attempting to recruit new members too.

The back and forth motion of the soft bristles induced a faint crackling sound from the shriveled leaves as other leaves feathered down to replace them. Under the warmth of the Saturday afternoon sun, each volunteer scrambled to sweep the tiniest of litter off of the crowded streets of Flushing. All throughout the three hours, smiles and laughter overshadowed the papers rustling and the plastic cans rolling caused by the mellow breeze. No one complained about spending their Saturday afternoon cleaning when they could be doing at home resting or hanging with friends, instead, the teens began to brainstorm future volunteer events.

The Castle Leadership program serves as outlet for young people who are looking to generate change, no matter how small, despite their young age. Volunteers, such as Zhenyi Chen, a student at East West School of International Studies, not only display the hard working and determined nature of teens, but also fight the negative stereotypes, from lazy to self-centered, attached to teens by other generations.

Lingjia Chen and Anay Cortes
The facade of the Asian Americans for Equality office masks the busy and hard working nature of the office with a bright orange and white sign in a quiet block in Flushing.

“My parents always say that our generation is lazy, we only go out with friends, stay on our phone all the time, play video games. They say we never contribute to society and don’t know what’s happening around us. I want to prove that’s wrong,” said Chen. “I started doing community service since freshman year. I joined key club, assist teachers, and joined programs like AAFE. Right now, I have about 200 hours of community service.”

The Castle Leadership program was founded two years ago by Gabriel Hisugan. It is part of the Asian American For Equality (AAFE) organization, a non-profit organization that has worked to ensure equality for all and provide help to the community, mainly focusing on the Asian American community.

“I wanted to create a way that I can mentor low-income immigrants, second generation, and high school students in Queens,” said Hisugan. “I want to give them as much information about college, work, and about the immigrant experience in New York. Essentially, I want to give my ninth grade self as much of the information that I know now.”

As a youth organizer, Hisugan has seen many of these stereotypes and is motivated to help teenagers get more involved in the community.

“I want to be able to give to students,” Hisugan said. “Here is an opportunity where you can get involved and do it in a meaningful way.”

The program offers numerous workshops that address different issues and topics that affect teenagers. One of the workshops they conducted was a mental health workshop in order to address stressors and how to cope with them. The workshops aren’t limited to mental health, they also discuss housing, immigration, and leadership.

“My teammates are also putting them [workshops] together,” said Mr. Hisugan. “They are developing them depending on the audience, they’ll be either for parents and family or just students depending on the topic.”