LEAP will present its Distinguished Leader Award to Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll on April 6. (Spenser Hasak)
SALEM — LEAP for Education is celebrating 20 years of student success.
The nonprofit organization, which provides free academic, social-emotional, post-secondary and career services to more than 500 underserved North Shore youth, will be hosting its annual Great Expectations fundraiser on Wednesday, April 6 this year. The event will start at 6 p.m., and will occur both virtually and in-person.
LEAP will present its Distinguished Leader Award to Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, who will also present the keynote address, for her achievements during her time in the corner office and her support of equitable access to quality education for all.
“I am honored and humbled to receive this award,” Driscoll said. “LEAP staff performs impactful work to close the opportunity gap for underserved youth by recognizing and building on their strengths, and by keeping them on track to graduate with clear goals for the future. I consider LEAP an important thought partner in our educational work here in Salem.”
Founder and Executive Director of LEAP Linda Saris said they are very grateful for Driscoll’s leadership on behalf of the youth in Salem.
“Mayor Driscoll has been a supporter of LEAP for her entire 16 years in office, engaging youth, providing funding, and including LEAP staff in education initiatives and policy discussions,” she said.
The in-person event will be at Danversport, located at 161 Elliott St. in Danvers, and the virtual event will take place on LEAP’s event website at www.leap4ed-greatexpectations.org. Registration, donation and auction portals can be accessed there as well.
LEAP spent its first 12 years as a program of North Shore Community Action Programs, but became a nonprofit in its own right in 2015 ― and has since tripled in size.
LEAP’s youth programs began as Salem CyberSpace in 2002, in a 2000-square-foot facility on Lafayette Street. The program worked with seven middle-school students.
LEAP now operates in Lynn, Salem, Peabody and Gloucester, serving more than 500 youth each year in grades 6 through college.
From 2002 through 2007, LEAP mostly offered homework support and STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) enrichment, but today’s programs include English literacy for immigrant youth; post-secondary access and career services; post-secondary advising; early college support; social-emotional learning; arts, social-justice, and STEM enrichment; and community service.
“It is LEAP’s philosophy to give our students room to learn and explore based on their own strengths and interests and, as they grow, to pursue possible career and post-secondary pathways based on these interests,” said Saris. “It is our job to help students develop their talents and find new ones. We like to say LEAP is where talent meets opportunity.”
Students also learn current skills to help them succeed in school and at work, including communication, teamwork, creativity, initiative, problem-solving and critical thinking.
LEAP has also been expanding its career services through curriculum development, community engagement, and summer work programs since 2018.
“LEAP staff is passionate about empowering students to pursue careers of their choice and fill the region’s workforce pipeline with qualified young adults with post-secondary credentials,” said Deputy Director Kayla Dorst.
Alumnus Kevin Melo spent 11 years in LEAP programs, beginning when he arrived in the U.S. from the Dominican Republic.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do after I finished school, which made thinking about college such a challenge,” Melo said. “With the help of the many programs at LEAP and my LEAP advisor, I learned a lot about technology and a lot about myself, which empowered me to complete my degree in computer science at Salem State University. I have been working as a software engineer for three years now.”
About 95 percent of LEAP high school students enroll in a college, university or other post-secondary institution after graduation — a number that is nearly double the rate in Massachusetts for a similar demographic — and about 75 percent of LEAP students finish with a post-secondary degree or credential within six years of enrollment, which is three times the state’s rate.
LEAP plans to continue growing its programs in Lynn throughout the next five years, hoping to increase its current student population of 130 to 300 by 2028.
LEAP opened a middle-school program at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Lynn in July 2020, at the start of the pandemic, and is now planning to open its first high-school program in early 2023.
LEAP is also hoping to expand its programs in Salem, particularly its career-mentoring program, and will start exploring additional initiatives in Peabody, where LEAP currently runs its College Success Program.
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