From the Start: LEAP

Now in its third decade, LEAP continues to mentor the inquisitive youth who come for after-school and summer programs.

'r kids Family Center's annual outing at Lighthouse Park. Photo Kathleen Cei

During her summer break in 1992, Yale student Regina Winters worked as a counselor with a promising new youth program — Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP). Winters mentored a group of girls from Westville Manor public housing. The experience was so rewarding that she came back to LEAP, working as a site coordinator and administrator before eventually going on to a successful career as an architect. Twentysix years later, LEAP counselors continue to mentor the inquisitive youth who come for after-school and summer programs.

At LEAP, learning is fun. Positive friendships are made. Boys and girls participate in healthy physical activities, like dance and swimming. The Community Foundation was there from the start with a $40,000 grant in 1992 to help launch the new dynamic program for inner-city children. Over 200 grants worth $1.3 million have since been made to support LEAP. LEAP annually serves over 1,200 children and youth between the ages of 7-15.

Giving youth a personal connection with a college role model to emulate, helping them to believe that they too can go to college has always been embedded in the fabric of the LEAP program. Winters was role model to many young people during the program's early years, having excelled in school as a girl in Brooklyn. She was recruited by and attended the George School, a prep school in Pennsylvania, and went on to Harvard and Yale.

Today, 100 percent of LEAP's junior counselors graduate high school and are accepted to a college or university. Many win scholarships. One of the ways LEAP creates its culture of high expectations is through its college tour program. In 2017, LEAP took 40 New Haven students to visit 11 colleges — including seven historically black colleges and universities in Florida and Georgia.

For the children and younger teens who go to LEAP, there is no summer slide in literacy skills. The students read an average of 16 books from June through August. And during the schoolyear, homework time is ilt in to the program. LEAP's board of directors continues to be active in resource development. Board members identify sponsors for the annual LEAP fundraiser dinner and work with development staff to identify new donors. In 2017, board members helped to bring in over $200,000 in new donations.

Upon the untimely death of Regina Winters from cancer, a fund was created at The Community Foundation by LEAP co-founders Anne Calabresi and Milstein Meyers and Kelly King. The Regina Winters Professional Development Fund will honor, forever, the legacy of one of LEAP's earliest and most beloved counselors and support LEAP participants who need assistance with college expenses.

This article is part of a series of stories celebrating The Community Foundation's 90th Anniversary.