2015 NBC Bay Area APA Heroes

NBC Bay Area and Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI) congratulate the 2015 Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Honorees, community leaders in the Bay Area! Please see their bios and photos below.

Kathleen Blanchard

Kathleen is the mother of a Gunn High School student who died at the Caltrain tracks in Palo Alto on May 5, 2009. Kathleen, an attorney by profession, has since become a leadership team member and parent survivor representative with Project Safety Net, a Palo Alto-based coordinated community action to promote youth well-being and prevent suicide. Kathleen is a powerful advocate, especially in light of recent suicides in Palo Alto. “There’s a sense of urgency that I would like to stress,” said Kathleen. “As I know in speaking with my son’s friends, there are children who are hurting right now. I am personally committed to doing whatever I can to help in this effort.”

Adapted from Palo Alto Online:
http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2009/08/26/jp-blanchards-mother-empower-our-students

More on Kathleen’s story:
http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_27912256/teen-suicides-survivors-reach-out-offer-hope

Andrew Jin

In a contest considered the Nobel Prizes for the nation’s brightest high school students, Andrew Jin, a senior at The Harker School, won one of three top prizes and $150,000 in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search. He was honored for his work in developing an algorithm that could help decipher the human genetic code.

Winning the first place Medal of Distinction for Global Good, Andrew developed a way of identifying human genome mutations and discovered more than 100 adaptive mutations in DNA sequences, related to immune response, metabolism, brain development and schizophrenia.

At the heart of his work, he said, was his curiosity about evolution. “Which genetic mutations enable us to do algebra or speak languages or be uniquely human?” said Andrew. “I was really curious to discover how we became who we are.”

His work will help in understanding the genetic causes of diseases, a crucial step in developing therapies.

Adapted from San Jose Mercury News:
http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_27686018/intel-science-talent-search-winner-teen-at-harker

Christina M. Samala

Christina M. Samala (known simply as Samala) is 18 Million Rising’s Founding Director.

18 Million Rising, or 18MR.org, was launched in 2012, when there were approximately 18 million Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, representing nearly 6% of the total population and growing faster than any other racial group. Despite that, Asian Americans remain one of the most politically under-organized, under-engaged, and under-represented constituencies: only 55% of Asian American citizens of voting age are registered to vote, the lowest rate of all races.

18MR.org was founded to promote AAPI civic engagement, influence, and movement by leveraging the power of technology and social media. 18MR.org is a network of AAPI activists, artists, organizations, and digital media influencers. During the 2012 election cycle, 18MR.org built and distributed online voter registration tools, ran social media-fueled civic engagement campaigns, and provided up-to-date information and analysis on all things political that Asian (and all!) Americans should know about.

Samala previously as The Story of Stuff Project’s Director of Online Strategy & Media, and she spent a decade as a brand strategist and designer for social impact organizations. Samala is a Bay Area based, New York raised, first generation Filipina American. She is well-versed with start-up projects, savvy with technology as a tool for social and environmental good, and a nerd for all things social media. Samala is an alumna of the Wharton and Annenberg Schools of the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a DJ in her spare time!

Adapted from 18mr.org

Ishan Sharma (featured on NBC Bay Area in 2014)

Ishan is a Cupertino High School student and a graduate of the Youth Leadership and Civic Engagement Program, now known as LEAD (a program of Asian Americans for Community Involvement).

Last year, the father of Ishan’s best friend, had an accident and became paralyzed. Ishan wanted to help the family but didn’t know how. It was not until Ishan heard about the family’s medical bills that he figured out what he wanted to do.

Ishan immediately set to work raising the money to buy a wheelchair for his best friend’s father, Martin. He formed the M&M Project and proceeded to organize friends, family, and community members to help generate support. The M&M Project eventually raised more than $30,000 to buy a motorized wheelchair for Martin.

“He is someone I can’t express more gratitude toward,” said Micheal, Ishan’s best friend. “It’s a relationship I can’t really explain. It’s amazing.”

Adapted from NBC Bay Area:
http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Cupertino-Teen-Rallies-Community-To-Buy-Wheelchair-For-Best-Friends-Paralyzed-Father-263931511.html

Loann Tran

Loann Tran is a prominent community activist in the Bay Area Asian Pacific American community, particularly the nail salon community, where up to 80 percent of the technicians in California are Vietnamese immigrant women. Having worked in the nail salon industry for the past 20 years and owning a nail salon in Salinas in the past 10 years, Loann understands the cultural, economic, and social barriers that many nail technicians face.

She has helped to voice workplace safety concerns for the nail salon community by working alongside the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative to advocate for better ventilation in the salons and using nail products that are free of toxic chemicals. Loann’s dream is for nail salon workers and owners to fully understand that it is extremely important for their health and safety to use safer practices and products at the salons, and for the nail salon community to speak up to the public and the media about this.

Since joining the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative in 2009, Loann has actively outreached to nail salon owners to train nail technicians on how to address health concerns, collaborated with elected officials to increase the safety and workplace environment of nail salon workers, and participated in workshops and presentations to better understand how to support and protect the nail salon community members in their professional endeavors. Loann’s dedication to the Asian Pacific American community embodies the definition of a local hero.

Submitted by Asian Health Services

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