Bringing the United States and Vietnam Closer Together through Educational Exchange


Sandy Hoa Dang

Photo of  Sandy Hoa Dang Born in Hanoi at the height of the Vietnam War, Sandy Hoa Dang and her family had to leave Vietnam when she was ten years old. After spending almost a year on a plantation in China, her family escaped to Hong Kong on a fishing boat. Over three years in a series of refugee camps, Sandy received no formal schooling. By the time her family was resettled in Salt Lake City, Utah, she was thirteen years old and spoke no English. Sandy still vividly recalls standing outside the school cafeteria crying because she did not know how to ask for a lunch ticket in English.

After a year in Utah, Sandy's family moved to Brooklyn, NY, where her family of six lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a poor and distressed neighborhood while her parents worked long hours to support the family. Six years after she arrived in the United States, she became the first person in her immediate family to go to college, with a scholarship to Duke University. On graduating from Duke, she went on to earn an M.S.W from Catholic University.

In 1995, when she was ready to begin her career, she noticed that there were 6,000 Vietnamese refugees newly arrived in the District of Columbia. They faced cultural barriers, as well as difficulties accessing education, employment, and housing. Some of the children were dropping out of school and joining street gangs. Despite these problems, Sandy knew these children had the potential to learn, to go to college and move out of poverty, as she and her siblings had done. In 1998, with a $15,000 seed grant, she founded Asian American LEAD (AALEAD), the first Asian-American youth development organization in the Washington D.C. region. AALEAD supported immigrant families through a broad array of educational and social services, including academic enrichment, one-on-one mentoring, leadership training, and family support services.

Within a short time, AALEAD helped hundreds of students achieve academic success, graduate from high school, and go to college. Many former AALEAD students are now professionals contributing to their families, community, and society. Because of the positive impact they were having on young people's lives, the Annie E. Casey Foundation recognized AALEAD as an exemplary program in 2002. In 2003, AALEAD was awarded more than $1 million from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and Venture Philanthropy Partners to grow and expand their model programs to other locations in the Washington metro region.

In 2006, AALEAD opened an office in Montgomery County, Maryland. As the founder and executive director of AALEAD for 13 years, Sandy played a key role in its success and growth and today AALEAD continued to thrive under new leadership.

On transitioning from AALEAD, Sandy entered the Midcareer M.P.A. program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University from which she graduated in May 2010. At present, she is a Special Initiative Advisor at JBS International, a consulting firm based in North Bethesda, MD. Sandy also works as a change management consultant for Casey Family Programs advising the Dept. of Health and Human Services at Montgomery County, MD on systems integration issues.

Sandy currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, on the Community Advisory Board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Community Advisory Council for WETA Television. She was selected as one of the 12 Washingtonians of the Year 2001. Sandy is fluent in English, Vietnamese and Cantonese.