children of color playing on diversity collection play mat pastel party

Our Diversity Collection Cause: LEAP for Kids

August 1, 2022

Our Diversity collection launched last Monday, featuring our two newest prints: Pastel Party and Blended. Thoughtfully designed by Taira Cominsky and Amanda Faun, the two prints are a celebration of diversity—an important message for whom the mats are intended. The concept of diversity applies to all aspects of our lives; religion, family structure, culture, skin color, and other physical differences all look different from person to person. Addressing these differences to our children may feel uncomfortable, but early childhood is actually a critical learning period where diversity should be talked about, celebrated, and actively promoted. Studies have shown that infants as young as 6 months old are able to categorize people by gender and race. By ages 2 to 4, children can even internalize racial bias. Children learn how to deal with and react to racial differences from their first teachers—their parents. Actively advocating and exposing diversity helps children to develop awareness of these differences and foster empathic responses to them. By avoiding these conversations, we may inadvertently perpetuate misunderstandings, biases, and racial injustice. 

Structural racism prevents and hinders people of color from participating in society and in the economy. Despite making up only 13% of the general population, Black people make up nearly half of the homeless population. This disproportionate statistic has discriminatory origins from laws and practices that have kept and continue to keep Black and brown people in a cycle of poverty. In 1992, educators, students, and community activists in New Haven founded Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership, Inc. (LEAP) to address the historic disinvestment in young people of color in the community. The New Haven metro area is among the most racially and economically segregated in the country, with 72% of its residents being people of color. LEAP is an academic and social enrichment program providing mentoring for children, teens, and young adults, founded as a way to combat the discriminatory cycle of poverty. Its mission statement reads, “Our mission is to develop the strengths and talents of young leaders who create and implement year-round, neighborhood-based programs designed to achieve positive outcomes for children living in high-poverty urban neighborhoods.” 

LEAP serves children who live in five low-income and historically Black and Latino neighborhoods in New Haven: Dixwell, Dwight-Kensington, Fair Haven, the Hill, and Newhallville. The organization runs their free afterschool and summer programming at the public schools and community center located in these communities, aiming to make the entire city of New Haven available to young people. From library cards and free bus passes to long-term partnerships with the city’s cultural institutions and recreational organizations, LEAP provides academic support, social enrichment, and leadershipment to more than 1,000 youth each year. The neighborhoods served by LEAP have child poverty rates ranging from 35% to 58%, more than three times the Connecticut average of 15%.

Youth who participate in LEAP are organized into four age groups. Children aged 7-12 are placed into the Children’s Program, which is literacy-based and entirely free. The children in this program are provided with meals, and meet in schools and community spaces to complete homework, and engage in literacy activities and enrichment programs (such as coding, swimming, art, and dance). The second group, Leaders in Training, is for children who are between the ages of 13-15. This program focuses on literacy, social and emotional learning, mental health and wellness, college readiness/post secondary education, case management, and internships. Children in this program are mentored to become future counselors, and receive a stipend. The Junior counselors program is for New Haven high school students who are 16-18 years old. These students mentor children, receive college process support, and also receive a competitive hourly wage. The last group, Senior Counselors, comprises college, trade school, or graduate students aged around 18 to 24. These students mentor children, receive a competitive hourly wage, and are given free summer housing. This program works on professional and leadership development. Children who join LEAP and make their way through the four programs receive enrichment and learn leadership, while also receiving stipends and salaries. The organization empowers high school and college students, giving them the training, education, resources, and confidence that they need to mentor younger children. Since its inception in 1992, LEAP has served over 10,000 children with thousands of college and high school student counselors.

In honor of our Diversity collection, everything it stands for, and the incredible services that LEAP provides to the disenfranchised youth of New Haven, a portion of the sales from this collection will be donated to the organization. Here at Toki, we believe that every child has the right to grow up healthy, educated, and safe. Although every child deserves equal access to resources, the distribution of those resources largely excludes people of color. We recognize and admire how LEAP helps disadvantaged children achieve positive outcomes in high-poverty, urban neighborhoods, and we are so proud that our Diversity collection will help support those efforts.

toddler playing on toki mats diversity collection blended play mat
Our Diversity Collection Cause: LEAP for Kids

About the Author: Alice

Alice Mendoza is a copywriter and blog writer based in Los Angeles. She began writing for a baby brand while on maternity leave, and realized she had found her niche. Today, she writes exclusively within the baby space, using her BFA in Creative Writing and her own experience as a mother to guide her. When she’s not working, you can find her chasing down her toddler, going on walks around the neighborhood, or watching reality TV.

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