Despite severe cutbacks in state funding, Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership — a New Haven organization that offers after-school youth programming — has reopened its fifth location. Because of the expansion, about 250 more young Elm City residents will benefit from LEAP’s programs, a 25 percent increase from last year.

Last year, LEAP was forced to close its Dwight-Kensington site due to over $150,000 in state budget funding cuts. Without the fifth location, the number of student participants at LEAP decreased by 20 percent, and the number of counselors dropped 30 percent. However, through the help of individual donors and philanthropic foundations, LEAP was able to reopen the Dwight location for this summer and academic year. There are 550 students currently involved with the organization’s after-school program, according to Henry Fernandez LAW ’94, executive director of LEAP.

“We spent a lot of time raising private funding,” said Fernandez. “We let [existing donors] know about the cutbacks and asked them to give more, and they did … A large portion of that came from individual donors, members of the community in New Haven.”

In addition to individual donations, LEAP has also received grants from charitable institutions like the Hearst Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With this funding, Fernandez said that the organization anticipates reaching 1,250 young people in New Haven this year.

For the 2018 fiscal year, the Connecticut state government has promised LEAP the same amount of funding — $311,000 — as last year. This is roughly half the amount the organization received in state support in 2016, when $620,000 was given to LEAP for its work. According to Fernandez, state budget cuts have had a “significant impact” on LEAP’s programming. He said that at one point, the organization was operating in five cities in Connecticut but is now only in New Haven.

“It’s the first year in the last few years that we haven’t seen a cut, so if they can stick by that, that would be great,” said Fernandez.

The reopened LEAP site serves the Dwight neighborhood of New Haven, which has a 41 percent poverty rate. One of the organization’s main objectives last year in reinstating the Dwight-Kensington location was to fulfill the community’s need for “some sort of summer camp and after school program,” according to Yakeita Robinson, LEAP’s chief of staff.

Robinson said that when the location closed, New Haven families were concerned about the gap in programming for young people.

“[The opening] has been a really smooth transition, because the need was there,” Robinson said. “We pretty much were the only program in that community that was providing services to young people, so the families and even the school staff were really helpful and supportive in ensuring that we have a location to be able to have the program go back.”

The new Dwight-Kensington LEAP site is housed at the public Augusta Lewis Troup School on Edgewood Avenue. According to Robinson, about 100 students presently attend the newly reopened site’s after-school programs, though the location is still taking applications.

Beyond ensuring New Haven youths they can access its programs, the nonprofit is also recruiting college student counselors to accommodate its expansion. Prior to the start of summer programming this year, LEAP held a rigorous two-week training session for its young adult leaders. The organization also holds special development meetings for counselors every Friday during the school year.

“[Our counselors] are really important because they are ideal mentors and role models for the children that we work with,” said Fernandez. “We believe that because they have had their own positive experiences with education, and at the same time they are not so different in age from the young people that we work with.”

During the academic year, LEAP offers literacy classes, standardized test preparation and a variety of extracurricular experiences to its participants. This year, the organization is excited to roll out a new book club, and students are currently reading “The Hate You Give,” in anticipation of the upcoming movie release. Fernandez said that he hopes that LEAP students can “grow in a wide range of activities and skills,” including dance, drawing and computer science.

Robinson added that the organization is continuing to expand its opportunities and programming.

“The only way this work can get better is that we are all on the same page and making sure that we are doing all that we can to provide the best experience for the young people,” Robinson said.

LEAP was founded in 1992.

Ruiyan Wang |