Ruiyan Wang

A fortune-teller sat at a desk, reading the future for a child. In the main gym next door, other children got their faces painted and played games to win halloween candy. Families decorated pumpkins and cookies in other rooms nearby.

Over 300 children and families attended the 10th annual halloween festival at the Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership’s community center last weekend . Following the three-hour celebration, staff and counselors from LEAP led participants to nearby homes for trick-or-treating. For the past decade, LEAP  — a New Haven nonprofit that provides after-school enrichment programming to youth from low-income neighborhoods — has provided a safe holiday celebration and trick-or-treating experience for hundreds of children and families from the New Haven area.

“We’re trying to make sure that kids from all over the city can have a fun, safe place to enjoy Halloween,” said Henry Fernandez LAW ’TK, executive director at LEAP. “That’s part of everything we do at LEAP. We are trying to make sure that kids have the opportunity to do fun things that kids should be able to do, whether that’s reading for fun, or a big party like this.”

According to Yakeita Robinson, chief of staff at LEAP and an organizer of the inaugural Halloween Festival, LEAP spends two months planning the annual affair, which includes more activities every year. LEAP also opened the event to the community at large a few years ago: All families, not just those in the LEAP program, can now participate. Robinson said that this expansion, coupled with the recent re-opening of LEAP’s Dwight-Kensington site — its fifth location — has encouraged more families to come out the event.

“It’s for the community,” said Jasmine Alvares, a New Haven resident who has attended the festival with her children for the last two years. “And for the community, a lot of kids don’t get out. So events like this help them get out, socialize, explore, have fun.”

Alvares’ daughter Emanni, a fifth-grader who has participated in LEAP programming, said that her favorite part of the festival is the haunted house.

According to Jae Liburd, a junior counselor-in-training who worked this year’s haunted house, decorating the basement women’s bathroom and dressing counselors in costumes took the entirety of Saturday. Liburd, who attended LEAP as a student before becoming a counselor, said that the community organization “is like a family” to him.

Beyond the activities at the LEAP community center, attendees can participate in a guided trick-or-treating route for an hour following the festival. As part of the preparation process, LEAP reaches out to residents who live on William and Lyon streets in the city to volunteer to give candy to trick-or-treaters. This year, 20 homes signed up.

Fernandez said that ensuring the safety of trick-or-treaters during Halloween is important to LEAP.

“We want to make sure that parents do have a place where they can bring kids and they can have a party and then go out and trick-or-treat,” Fernandez said. “We think it’s really important that kids have a chance to be kids, that they know there’s a community behind them that supports them and believes in them.”

This year, 80 counselors and volunteers were on hand during the event, including a cohort from Yale. Officers from the New Haven Fire and Police Departments also attend the Festival. According to Robinson, they showed children their squad cars and firetrucks.

Katarina Wang ’20, who volunteered at the event, said that she first got involved with LEAP as a leader for FOCUS — a University pre-orientation and reorientation program for incoming first-years, sophomores and transfer students who want to get involved with community service.

“I admire how LEAP does meaningful work in the New Haven community by teaching and inspiring New Haven’s youth,” Wang said.

Robinson said that the Halloween Festival reflects LEAP’s broader mission to provide opportunities and resources to families that may not otherwise have the means to access them. Beyond annual holiday celebrations, LEAP runs a literacy-based after-school program, summer camp, swimming lessons and computer science classes, among other enrichment activities.

“We know these things cost money, we know they’re expensive, and we don’t want families or children to miss out on opportunities,” Robinson said. “[The opportunities provided at LEAP] are all free of charge for our participants … I think if we expose them to these different activities and resources, it may spark something in them … We may be the opportunity for them to think just a little bit differently about what they may want to do in the future.”

Sadoc Clinton, a 17-year-old lifeguard at LEAP, echoed this sentiment. Clinton said that he enjoys working at LEAP because he gets “to see what the younger generation is going to be like” and to “mold them.”

The LEAP community center is located at 31 Jefferson St.

Ruiyan Wang | .