Champlin Park grad giving back to the community by empowering youth in the Brooklyns
(02/09/2024) She didn’t travel the path she thought she would, but 2009 Champlin Park High School (CPHS) graduate Chia Lee Xiong is where she is meant to be. After a stop at Three Rivers Park District doing community outreach work, Xiong is a data, evaluation and youth participatory action research coordinator at the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth (BBAY).
At BBAY she is part of a team that shares a vision of contributing to each young person thriving, particularly those who have been historically marginalized, by challenging inequities and creating conditions that build hope.
Born in California, Xiong’s family moved to Minnesota in the mid-1990s and she began school in Anoka-Hennepin in third grade at Evergreen Park Elementary. She then attended Jackson Middle School - A Specialty School for Math and Science where she developed a love for science after taking an elective health class.
“I had a good friend in that class and we spent a lot of time in the computer lab researching different illnesses and diseases, and that sort of spearheaded my interest in health,” Xiong said.
As she moved on to high school, her passion for science grew while taking extra biology and chemistry classes. At CPHS, Xiong participated in the Upward Bound college readiness program for first-generation post-secondary students through Anoka-Ramsey Community College, which helps students explore areas of interest, and set up college tours through a one-on-one mentorship with an advisor.
“I didn’t know much about colleges in the area and that visit through the program inspired me to go to the University of St. Thomas and stay local when going to college,” Xiong said. “It was a nice space for me to meet other high school students who didn’t go to my school and it helped me create a great network of people that I am still connected with to this day.”
She had planned on moving on to college in the hard sciences, possibly setting herself up for a career in medicine, but it was in graduate school at the University of Michigan that she developed a passion for public health and geography.
Xiong took a part-time position as a community engagement coordinator with Three Rivers Park District right out of grad school and ended up spending seven years with the organization.
“I completed grad school and just needed a job for the summer to give me some time to look for a full-time job,” Xiong said. “I figured it was something I could do, connect with people and talk about the parks.”
Within a year, she moved into a more permanent role with Three Rivers and eventually blossomed from outreach work to individualized programs. One program in particular she is proud of is Camping 101, a guided program to help teach people how to camp and how to utilize the parks in their community.
“That particular program reached me differently because I didn’t grow up camping,” Xiong said. “I didn’t learn how to camp until I was in grad school in my geography program. I lived the experience I was trying to provide our community members.”
Xiong helped coordinate an internship program at Three Rivers, a program she is particularly proud of and one that she says inspired her to work with youth in the community.
At the BBAY, Xiong is helping lead youth in the community with the mission of building systems of high-quality, accessible, and fully resourced opportunities that address systemic disparities in graduation, pathways to college and career, and youth safety and wellbeing.
She currently leads, alongside youth in the community, the Osseo Area Anti-Hate initiative, helping secondary schools identify incidents and implementing an identity-based harm protocol. Xiong also is involved in leading the bi-annual youth-to-youth survey in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park.
“There are a lot of young people interested in helping their communities,” Xiong said. “There are so many things that are happening in our world that affect young people and our community, so we’re always looking at how we bring those pieces into a guided conversation so that we’re hearing their voices, but we’re also presenting them with facts and resources.”
“Working in public health has made me think about how I can utilize my skills to help people get through barriers that happen in the community and how we can mitigate those barriers through policy work or different projects.”
As someone who grew up in and has deep roots in the Brooklyns, Xiong hopes to continue using her skillset to impact and empower youth in the community.