LEAP mentors to qualify for new scholarship

A local law firm is committing a total of $100,000 in scholarships over a 10-year period to college-bound New Haven public school seniors participating in the LEAP mentorship program.

LEAP, which stands for Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership, was founded by former mayoral candidate Henry Fernandez LAW ’94. The program connects high school and college student counselors to children ages 6–12 living in high-poverty areas and is funded by the Connecticut Department of Education and private donors.

The firm Neubert, Pepe & Monteith has been a longtime financial backer of LEAP and decided to escalate its support to commemorate the firm’s 20th anniversary. The money will come directly from their annual funds.

“Our law firm wanted to make sure that we could help them get to college by removing one potential worry: money,” founder and president Gregory Pepe said.

He added that the scholarship is a small way to show students that members in the community support their endeavors.

The potential recipients are the organization’s College Prep Scholars, who mentor young students and work with older LEAP counselors to develop plans for higher education.

The high school graduation and college acceptance rate of the students in the program is 100 percent, according to Lucy Diaz, LEAP’s director of development.

“This gives students an opportunity to explore more college options,” Principal of Augusta Lewis Troup School Michael Connor said. “This is an amazing opportunity for my students.”

There is one other scholarship available specifically to high school LEAP counselors called the Jay Bovilsky Scholarship, but Diaz said the Neubert, Pepe & Monteith scholarship is uniquely helpful because it funds students through the first two years of their undergraduate studies, while the other scholarship only funds freshman year.

“It’s a serious challenge students face to continue to get funding in the sophomore year,” she said.

Pepe hopes the LEAP scholarship evolves into a commitment by local businesses to make sure the recipients return to New Haven after college by providing them with summer internship and job opportunities. Pepe said they came up with the idea at their last partner retreat.

“We have been fortunate to be so supported by the greater New Haven community, and to have that support lead to our growth from three lawyers to 28 today,” Pepe said.

Currently, these college-bound seniors facilitate programs and projects for children in the program to inspire them to achieve academically and serve their communities, Connor said. Many counselors started out in the Children’s Program themselves and are able to relate to them beyond the academic scope, he added.

According to Diaz, 58 percent of the children’s families are on government assistance and 78 percent live in a household that makes under $40K per year.

Diaz said that LEAP is one of the best programs for students in New Haven and provides social and emotional support for children.”

The scholarship will join two others students can look forward to when applying for college: the Gear Up scholarship from the Connecticut Department of Higher Education, and the New Haven Promise scholarship from Yale.

“We need to promote the mindset that college is not only an option, but the only option,” Connor added.

The criteria for the scholarship application process has not been rolled out yet, according to Pepe, but the logistics will be worked out soon.

Last year, 644 children enrolled in LEAP’s literary project read 9,655 books.

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