There was a time when Dareus Henry Jr. hesitated before picking up a book and opening to the first page. Now, he is turning literacy into a way to give back to the community.
Henry is a senior counselor at LEAP (Leadership, Athletics, & Education in Partnership), a local nonprofit that offers several year-long and summer programs for New Haven kids, and employs many of its alumni as junior and senior counselors. Friday, he was one of 100 counselors, 70 volunteers and 500 LEAP campers to attend the organization’s 19th annual “Read In” on the New Haven Green.
“We want the kids to be able to have fun while they are here in the program along with teaching them basic life skills,” said Henry Fernandez, executive director of the organization.
Started in 2000, the read-in is an annual celebration of literacy, where campers dive into stories that range from Fly Guy, Pete The Cat and Dr. Seuss’ fantastical landscapes to short chapter books, graphic novels and biographies. Friday, campers and counselors fanned out across the green, turning it into a sea of blue and orange shirts for two hours.
For many of the counselors present, the event also marked a homecoming of sorts. As a kid growing up in New Haven, Dareus Henry attended LEAP for several years. Now, he is a senior counselor, back at the organization to serve the same community just as it served him.
"It is a place for kids to grow up safely," he said. "LEAP really gives you a chance to create a bond with the young kids and help guide them in the right direction.”
“If you’re not here to make a change, then this is not the right program for you," he added.
Dareus Henry Jr. Jamiah Green Photo.
Henry was in good company. Now a fellow senior counselor with the program, Arianna Rivera said that she’s back at LEAP because the program was such a nurturing place for her. After enrolling as a camper—and attending some read-ins of her own—she returned to spread the excitement she now feels about reading.
"What LEAP gives to the children, people take for granted," she said. "I believe that LEAP definitely deserves to be appreciated more as well as deserves more support from others."
Volunteers also came out from the community. New Havener Bill Moore said he finds it incredible on how many kids are committing their summers to improving their skills—and giving back to the community. .
“Life is truly amazing,” he said.
That message echoed for Abdul-Razak Zachariah, a LEAP staffer who grew up in West Haven and went on to attend Yale University and pen a children’s book that was released this July.
Abdul-Razak Zachariah, who penned the children's book The Night Is Yours. Jamiah Green Photo.
After noticing that children’s literature rarely had protagonists who looked like him, he published The Night Is Yours this year through Penguin Random House (he has been working on the book for much longer). At LEAP, he started as a grant writer and now works as the organization’s senior counselor recruitment coordinator.
“It’s a great place for the kids to build a bond with the high school and college students,” he said. “I help train the college students so they can be able to work with the kids as well as teach them basic life skills that they want the kids to know about.”
To find out more about LEAP, visit the organization's website.