Gephardt News Gephardt Stories & Voices on Service St. Louis Fellowship Program

MAAY Foundation, Gephardt Fellows uplifting Asian American communities

Three St. Louis Fellows, partnered with the MAAY Foundation, traveled to Washington D.C. this month to attend the OCA 2023 National Convention, which aims empower, connect and mobilize AAPI communities. Shown are Fellows Sai Vuda ’24 (front center), Subratha Araselvan ’26 (back left), and Andrew de las Alas ’25 (back center), with MAAY Foundation founder and president Caroline Fan (front left) and actor Tamlyn Tomita, who was honored for her artistic achievements at the conference. 

In 2019, Caroline Fan, a passionate St. Louis visionary and organizer, founded the Missouri Asian American Youth (MAAY) Foundation.  

Fan was driven by a powerful desire to uplift marginalized communities through education and opportunity. As president of the MAAY Foundation, she leads the creation of an organized voice for the AANHPI (Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander) community, recognizing the need for advocacy and leadership development in underserved youth across Missouri. 

The MAAY Foundation’s mission is clear: To connect, engage, and inspire people to transform their communities by empowering young leaders. Fan’s belief in the power of energetic and highly-motivated leaders who understand the structural issues facing vulnerable communities has shaped the organization’s core values. With the Asian population in Missouri growing rapidly, Fan is committed to ensuring the state’s infrastructure addresses the mental health, language, and immigration challenges faced by the Asian American population.  

“We have not been at the decision-making table for too long. MAAY is run for us, by us,” Fan said, emphasizing the need to amplify the voices of young people in the community. As the foundation continues its journey, it seeks to provide leadership opportunities and hands-on experiences to the next generation of leaders. 

Central to the MAAY Foundation’s success is the pivotal role played by St. Louis Fellows from the Gephardt Institute. Last year, Fellow Andrew de las Alas ‘25 joined the organization, and Fan describes his contributions as essential and impactful. When confronted with an omnibus voter suppression bill, de las Alas’s strategic thinking and efforts to re-strategize the field plan for the 2022 Midterm Elections proved invaluable. 

Notably, the foundation had the privilege to host a congressional roundtable with Representatives Ted Lieu and Cori Bush, and de las Alas played an essential role in planning, promoting, and hosting the event on incredibly short notice. After his fellowship ended, de las Alas became the foundation’s policy associate, providing ongoing support during the Midterm Elections, contributing to the launch of the first Asian Youth Advocacy Day and Gateway to Success (a student workforce transition program), and the mental health initiative, “Breaking the Silence.” 

But the impact of the St. Louis Fellows doesn’t end there. The current Fellows interning with the MAAY Foundation, Subratha Araselvan ‘26 and Sai Vuda ‘24, are making their mark this summer through new projects and initiatives. Araselvan’s research on intake protocols, fundraising, and tax liabilities is vital to a fund that will cover Asian American therapy appointments. Meanwhile, Vuda is conducting a comprehensive community report, offering crucial insights into the St. Louis South Asian population through independent research and interviews. 

“Consistently working with a group of civically engaged students has given Foundation employees insight into different cultural backgrounds and new perspectives,” said Fan. “We’re extremely grateful for the Fellows who have helped us break new ground for Asian Americans across Missouri.” 

Araselvan, who is earning double majors in Psychology and Philosophy, said what most intrigued her about working about MAAY was a keen interest in learning more about the Asian and Asian American community in St. Louis. Her passion for mental health advocacy aligned perfectly with one of MAAY’s initiatives, their mental health fund. 

Aside from the mental health fund, Araselvan is actively involved in other programming for MAAY. Her work includes outreach for the Ethnic Communities Opioid Response Network-Missouri (ECORN-MO), advocating for language and culturally appropriate resources for ethnic communities affected by the opioid epidemic. She helps organize community events that create safe spaces for AAPI-identifying individuals (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) to openly discuss and address their unique mental health experiences. She was also tasked to write an op-ed with another intern on the SCOTUS student loan decision.  

Working with MAAY is a fulfilling experience for Araselvan. She particularly cherishes the camaraderie and support of her fellow interns and colleagues, making her work all the more enjoyable. Having the freedom and responsibility to generate her own ideas and put them into action has been an empowering surprise for her.  

“I feel like I’m given a large amount of freedom and responsibility in the projects I’m working on, and I really enjoy having this ability to generate my own ideas and put these ideas into action,” she said. 

Vuda is a rising senior majoring in Global Studies with a focus in International Affairs and minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies and Religion and Politics. Her interest in MAAY stems from her Missouri upbringing and the organization’s commitment to recognizing inequities and access issues faced by the Asian American community. One of her noteworthy projects involved facilitating a mental health initiative in Rolla, Missouri, where she collaborated with community members to host a movie night, providing access to tax and immigration lawyers. She has also contributed to press releases and op-eds, addressing critical issues such as the SCOTUS affirmative action decision. 

Vuda also cites the vibrant culture at MAAY as a highlight of the fellowship, describing an environment of mutual respect and understanding, empowering the team to thrive in their roles.  

“I absolutely love the culture of MAAY. It has been so rewarding working in an environment of mutual respect and understanding,” Vuda said. “Caroline, my boss and the founder of MAAY, really works to make the office space a fun and collaborative environment.  

“I feel supported by my coworkers and it has made me more passionate about our organization’s mission.” 

As the MAAY Foundation continues to grow, Fan hopes to develop sustainable infrastructure for the generations to come. She sees the Gephardt Fellows as part of this vision.  

“The Fellowship’s model that combines experiential education with classroom instruction is one that resonates strongly with me after a career in labor and community organizing,” said Fan. 

The MAAY Foundation’s inspiring journey, fueled by the passion and dedication of its founder, staff, and fellows, stands as a beacon of hope for underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. Their unwavering commitment is to create lasting impacts for generations to come.