As legislators in Hartford struggled to reach a budget compromise this fall, Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership — a local community organization — faced a funding shortfall that in September forced it to close one of its five New Haven sites. But this Tuesday, the program made headway toward recouping its losses, raising thousands of dollars in partnership with the national Giving Tuesday charitable movement.

With sites in Fair Haven, Dixwell, Church Street South and formerly Dwight-Kensington, Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership provides after-school and summer activities for 1,100 low-income students in the city each year. The programs, which are almost all free of charge, range from classes that help participants build literacy and computer science skills to swimming lessons and camping trips. Yet these offerings were put at risk when the General Assembly first missed its deadline to pass a budget earlier this year and then reduced the organization’s state funding by over $150,000.

“We normally would’ve started using that [state] money on July 1 to help pay for our summer programming,” said Henry Fernandez LAW ’94, the program’s executive director. “But because of the delay and cut in funding, we closed [the Dwight-Kensington site], which means that over the course of a year about 200 fewer children have access to our after-school programs.”

In an effort to fill the gap created by the state’s budget cuts, the organization joined the Giving Tuesday movement through Facebook, which allowed website users to campaign for and donate to charities using special status updates on Tuesday. Through personal donations, which were matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the program raised between $10,000 and $20,000, Fernandez said.

But Rachel Kline Brown, the program’s director of development, was unsure whether small-scale fundraisers like Giving Tuesday could make up for the funding shortfall. She noted that the $150,000 decrease in fiscal year 2018 was just one in a series of cuts the state legislature has made since 2014, when the organization’s funding totaled $750,000.

“We’ve gotten our funding cut dramatically over the past four years, so we’ve been preparing by diversifying where our funding comes from,” she said. “But the pace at which we’ve been cut is one that we can’t keep up with … it’ll take us years to get us back to where we were unless we can find some big funders.”

Both Brown and Fernandez emphasized their organization’s community impact. Unusually, most counselors employed by the organization are current college or high school students, many of whom are former program participants. Fernandez said the closeness in age between participants and instructors creates a mentorship system in which younger students can see and take inspiration from someone like themselves succeeding in higher education.

Leadership, Education & Athletics in Partnership also provides jobs to its counselors, helping them support their families and pay for college, Fernandez said. The organization also offers college counseling, SAT prep classes and an annual college tour around the east coast to its high school students.

“We take seriously our role in developing high school and college students,” he said. “We want to help them understand community spaces and the resources available in them.”

Brown said that after the recent funding cuts, the organization has focused on increasing Yale students’ involvement with their programs. For example, Yale students can apply for summer jobs as camp counselors to the program; if selected, the organization would find them housing for the duration of their employment. Other opportunities exist to volunteer at after-school classes and activities, she added.

Ziad Ahmed ’21, who has volunteered at the organization since arriving at Yale this August, said he admired how “compassionate and comprehensive” the organization was in its work. He noted that the diversity of program offerings was meant to address the variety of areas where low-income students might not have their needs met at home or at school.

“[Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership] has been the organization I’ve been most moved by in my life,” Ahmed said. “If we as Yale students can bring our skill sets to the table, there’s so much that we can collaboratively accomplish.”

Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

Will Wang |