LEAP was founded in 1992 by a group of college students, educators and community activists who were concerned about the combination of poverty, academic achievement gap and violence that impacted children in New Haven neighborhoods. These changemakers had a new vision: that young people, New Haven college and high school students, could be leaders to tackle these problems.
With New Haven's challenges comes the lack of opportunity that we see for low income African American and Latino children across America. We can anticipate that New Haven children will be less likely to graduate from high school and go to college. This will mean they will earn less throughout their lives. Unfortunately we also know that as they grow up, they will be more likely to be incarcerated than their white and wealthier peers.
These are exactly the hard challenges that LEAP looks to take on. LEAP works with low income children ages seven to fifteen in some of the poorest inner city neighborhoods in America. We provide proven academic supports and social enrichment. But we do so in a unique way.
LEAP believes that young people – teenagers and young adults – can turn around neighborhoods. We see this group of young people as the solution, and not the problem. We provide 175 of these young people with the training and resources to run New Haven’s largest youth agency, serving some 1000 youth with high quality programming year round.
1. Maintain or expand # of children served as government funding is cut. Fill our potential $250,000 to $700,000 funding gap if the State cuts LEAP from its budget and if the federal government cuts AmeriCorps from its budget, both of which are possible.
3. Community Center. We desperately need to replace our roof as leaks are ruining the gymnasium and dance studio floors at a cost of $100,000.
4. Professional Development. To run an effective academic and social development program that engages teens and young adults to work with young children, we need to maintain our focus on high quality training for our counselors. Our professional development needs for our counselors are $25,500. Advancing the professional development of our program staff is also a significant priority at a cost of $5,000.
Twenty-five years ago, in my early twenties I was fortunate to join with a group of amazing people to start LEAP in New Haven. I served as executive director for seven years, during a period of amazing growth. Thousands of children came through LEAP, and I met hundreds of teenagers and young adults who served as counselors. Now almost every day in New Haven I run into talented young adults who share with me their current successes and remind me of when we first met that they were in LEAP as an elementary school student. I also hear regularly from former college and high school students who were LEAP counselors and now serve as elected officials, business executives, teachers, principals and heads of non-profit organizations.
LEAP serves children from five neighborhoods in New Haven: Church Street South, Fair Haven, Dwight, Dixwell and Farnam Courts. We work closely with community partners including five New Haven Public Schools that provide classroom space: High School in the Community, Clinton Avenue School, Troup School, Hillhouse High School and Conte School. We also operate a comprehensive community center on Jefferson Street in New Haven on the edges of Downtown, Fair Haven and Wooster Square.
·We employ Results-Based Accountability (RBA)™ as a focused way of thinking and taking action that starts with our desired results.
·Through the use of RBA, we have set a common language, created desired results and determined performance measures that will provide quantifiable data designed to answer: How much did we do? How well did we do it? And, is anyone better off?
·We track attendance, academic outcomes, specific program outcomes and survey results through the online tool, ETO (Efforts to Outcomes).
“At LEAP I learn how to make good choices like not to talk when the teacher is talking. It’s important so you won’t get in trouble.” Jayden, 8
“The thing I love about LEAP is that the counselors come up with creative and good activities for the kids.” Neira, 7
“I love LEAP because you get treated just like everyone else.” Alayza, 8
“I like LEAP because they have nice counselors and they show you things you never learned before.” Dante,10
“LEAP is fun and they help me with my homework.” Zharia, 8
“At LEAP I learn how to read better.” Rojae, 7
“I love LEAP because when I see everybody, I feel like a rose.” Shadae, 9
LEAP children live in neighborhoods in which concentrated poverty could define their life opportunities. Our goal at LEAP is to put in place a unique infrastructure of young leaders to change those opportunities. But it is important to understand some basic facts about LEAP kids as well as the realities our children and their families face.
LEAP children are 75% African American and 20% Latino and range in age from 7 to 15.
While the national poverty rate hovers around 14.5%, the rates are much higher in the neighborhoods LEAP children call home. According to the smallest available either census tract or census block level data for LEAP’s sites – Fair Haven, Dixwell, Farnam Courts, Dwight and Church Street South have poverty rates of 45%, 35%, 37%, 41% and 56%, respectively.
New Haven as a whole has a child poverty rate of 43.7% compared to a national child poverty rate of 20%. New Haven’s child poverty is concentrated in the neighborhoods where LEAP children live. Thus it is safe to assume that the child poverty rates in LEAP neighborhoods far exceed 50%. Indeed, at least 86% of LEAP children receive free or reduced lunch (a common measure of poverty) – though the number is likely much higher since this relies on parents’ willingness to self-report this information to LEAP.
Academic success is an essential element of social mobility in the United States, particularly if it leads to high school graduation and ultimately college graduation. A college graduate earns on average 134% more than someone without a high school degree and 70% more than someone with only a high school degree. New Haven in 2014 had a high school graduation rate of 80.5% overall but only 70.5% for youth of color. The disparity in academic achievement is one of both race and class. In Greater New Haven, 17% of low income students are reading at grade level while 58% of high income students are doing so according to research by Data Haven.
While it is our hope that New Haven’s return to community policing will have significant impacts on reducing violence in our neighborhoods, and the early signs are quite positive, our city is still too violent. This year has already witnessed the murders of multiple teenagers.
Research has long shown that exposure to violence in the community has significant impacts on children. Children exposed to violence may exhibit academic and cognitive problems as well as aggression, depression, anxiety, nightmares, post-traumatic stress and other health concerns.
In the Spring of 2014, as LEAP’s board looked to pursue a significant expansion both in terms of quality of programming and number of children served, it reached out to Henry Fernandez, who served for 7 years as LEAP’s executive director to return in that role on an interim basis. This period, which was originally set as a 6 month transition period, went extremely well from the perspective of both parties and Henry agreed to continue serving in this role.
Henry’s background in youth programming, fundraising and knowledge of community leadership and institutions has proved invaluable. But most importantly, he brings a willingness to let a new generation of young people to take leadership of LEAP, helping to shape its programming and strategic direction.
We are excited about the quality of young leaders who are carrying the mantle of LEAP. We continue to invest in their educational growth and professional development, ensuring that LEAP and New Haven will have a cadre of leaders committed to social justice who will be around for generations to come.
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When families, schools and communities take the view that children and youth are valued and respected assets to society, they necessarily support environments that nurture youth development. Children raised to embrace positive social values, to seek self-understanding, and to value their self-worth grow to become community-minded young adults with a sense of belonging and a belief in their resiliency. See how you can help our community's children grow into tomorrow's leaders.
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