V.E.T.T.S.™ was co-created in 2011 by Dr. Maysa Akbar and Dr. Brett Rayford as a restorative justice youth mentoring program based on the Vet2Youth framework.

V.E.T.T.S.™ matches honorably discharged veterans with at-risk/high risk youth. Our restorative framework advocates and promotes reconciliation, restoration, and rehabilitation between youth, their family and the community.

The program was birthed after witnessing an alarming rate of youth being raised in hostile and toxic environments plagued with violence, destruction and gang related activity. These environments led many at-risk youth to develop trauma. V.E.T.T.S.™ hires veterans to serve as mentors and help youth find a sense of purpose and passion. Through this supportive one-on-one relationship with youth, transformation occurs.

Our veterans offer support, guidance, motivation, strength, reassurance, and accountability. In addition, mentors encourage youth to explore developing their competencies and skills through a variety of activities (educational, recreational, career exploration, life skills, civic engagement, and positive youth development) in their emerging identity formation. Over the 5 years of the program’s establishment, the recidivism rate has remained a low 10% compared to the national average of 55%.

The V.E.T.T.S.™ mentoring program has successfully created, implemented and facilitated two different community programs with local middle and high school youth:

Social Emotional Advancement and Support (SEAS) Program

Is a social and emotional after school program that provides a safe space for students who have displayed a series of concerning at-risk/high risk behaviors.

Reading Advancement Program (RAP)

Is an evidenced based reading program created specifically for improving reading capacities of students attending New Haven’s and Hartford’s Public Schools.

Our restorative framework advocates and promotes reconciliation, restoration and rehabilitation to provide youth with the tools and confidence to make better life decisions.

About V.E.T.T.S.™

V.E.T.T.S.™ is intended for urban youth whose level of functioning may put them at-risk for entering a residential level of care, disrupting their home, foster placement, or for youth that are currently in or being discharged from parole, probation, juvenile detention, incarceration, residential treatment facilities or any other highly restrictive environment. V.E.T.T.S.™ youth are provided with therapeutic interventions and necessary support to aid in successfully maintaining each youth in his or her home or community.

The program provides a supportive, one-on-one, therapeutic mentoring relationship with youth in their community. Providing them with a positive role model that offers support, guidance, strength and reassurance. In addition, mentors encourage youth to explore recreational activities, career options, home and life skills and support development in emerging identity formation.

The Role of the V.E.T.T.S.™ Mentor

  • The above-and-beyond nature of the veteran’s commitment means that they are in constant contact with youth at any time.
  • The V.E.T.T.S.™ mentor is on-call beyond the mentoring hours in order to manage any crisis with their mentees.
  • By involving adolescents in pro-social activities, youth are exposed to a host of new opportunities and experiences that can steer them in a direction that helps them become contributing members of society.
  • To assist at-risk youth in developing positive and supportive relationships within their home and the community.
  • To utilize that relationship to affect positive change in the youth’s life choices.
  • To help youth to explore recreational activities, career options, academic support, home and life skills, and his or her emerging identity.

Who We Hire

The program matches youth in challenging situations with a U.S. Military-trained, honorably discharged Veteran who serves as a committed positive role model.

  • Staff are in constant contact with youth throughout the week at any time 24/7/365
  • Exclusively and solely hires US Military Veterans which provides veterans with opportunities to build a work history and acquire civilian workplace experience
  • Staff undergo a highly structured interview and selection process (including an extensive background check)
  • Mentors are required to participate in a clinical training program with licensed mental health providers, as well as ongoing training and supervision

V.E.T.T.S.™ Research

The V.E.T.T.S.™ research project is a collaborative effort between UCA’s V.E.T.T.S.™ program and the Yale School of Medicine, Child Study Center. The V.E.T.T.S.™ study will seek to document the effects of participation in a mentoring program for young people who may be at risk for or currently are gang involved. Dr. Derrick Gordon is the principal investigator of this vital research initiative. This research will also document the characteristics of the young people and their veteran mentors’. Over time, this study will observe the number and type of contact made between veterans and their mentees. Outcomes of interest will be the number of offenses committed, changes in pro-social activities, changes in psychological functioning, and the involvement in career-related activities by these young people during, and one-year post their involvement with the veterans mentoring program.

Derrick Gordon, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry (Psychology Section), Yale University School of Medicine and the Division of Prevention and Community Research. He serves as the Director of the Research, Policy and Program on Male Development at The Consultation Center and is a scientist in the Community Research Core of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA). Dr. Gordon’s work with men and families has and continues to focus on increasing their health and positive involvement in family and community life. Dr. Gordon’s clinical work, research, and consultation focuses on issues like adolescent fatherhood, mentoring for adolescents who are gang involved, low income fatherhood status, transitioning from prison to the community, the impact that access and use of preventive health care services have on community members, and understanding the interplay between poverty and stigma on the healthy development of individual and community life. Overall, Dr. Gordon in his research seeks to identify those factors that enhance the health and well-being of men identified as being on the “fringes.”

V.E.T.T.S.™ Youth Summit

The goal of the summit is to support youth in overcoming their past, making better decisions in the present, and discovering options for their future.

Youth Summit 2015

Youth Summit 2016

Youth Summit 2017

Youth Summit 2018

Youth Summit 2019


Shaping Your Future Reality!

Our 5th Annual 2-Day Youth Summit was open to all high school students. The goal of this summit was to support youth in overcoming their past, empowering their present, and preparing them to make better decisions in their future. Students explored different career paths, college opportunities, and empowerment workshops. Meals were provided for both days. There was a diverse panel of speakers to share their own personal stories of resilience, trials, and triumph.


Focus. Take Action. Become Your Truth.

This year we had the privilege of having Akeem Browder, a social justice advocate. He spoke about his brother Kalief Browder’s story of injustice and painful reality of incarceration. He shared a piece of the six-part Spike TV docu-series Time: The Kalief Browder Story. Akeem spoke to the students about considering their choices and the consequences of them, how to set intentions to manage their future better, and how to find better solutions to common problems. Khalil Ivy, a freshman at Metropolitan Business Academy, said, “this was one of the most impactful experiences I’ve had.”

All of the speakers talked to the youth about considering the impact of their decisions, how to get clear about their past and reclaim the power of their future; more importantly that it is possible and they do indeed have a future. Jearel Brown, a senior at New Light High School, has attended three of V.E.T.T.S.™’s four summits. He said, “because of the summit, he had begun to consider the possibility of applying to SCSU.”

The purpose of the summit is the change in the perception of their present and their future and helping them find their truth.


High school students from New Haven, Bridgeport, and the surrounding area flooded in through the doors of Davis Hall at Southern Connecticut State University on the morning of March 16th and 17th, 2017. The 3rd annual V.E.T.T.S.™ Teen Summit was about to ensue. Veteran mentors and staff from Integrated Wellness Group waited enthusiastically to get the 2-day youth summit underway; this was an opportunity to impact and inspire the life of High school students in our community of New Haven! Students attended for a variety of reasons. For many teenagers, the V.E.T.T.S.™ Teen Summit had a lot more to offer than just a day off from school.

The V.E.T.T.S.™ has been working in the community to address the needs of the youth especially those who may be dealing with Urban Trauma for the last four years. The V.E.T.T.S.™ program and the Teen Summit took into consideration the issues and circumstances that African American and Latino teenagers face on a daily basis.

The youth were also introduced to college campus life, including fraternities and sororities, and were encouraged to explore various career options in business (entrepreneurship), Information Technology, Trade schools, Culinary, and a possible career in the U.S. armed forces.

Leandre Crandell, a student at Creed High School, left highly motivated and is looking forward to next year. “When I left on Friday I was forced to think to myself, what is it I want in life? I showed up with a bad attitude, but I could not help but shake it off. These people at the V.E.T.T.S.™ program and IWG really care about us. They helped me realize that my destiny is in my hands, and it helps to know that they have my back. I wish I had brought my friends.”


Over 100 teenagers gathered together for the 2nd annual V.E.T.T.S.™ Teen Summit on the morning of April 1, 2016. The staff and veterans of V.E.T.T.S.™ gathered optimistically; this year there was a significant increase in students, and the new location contributed to the overall excitement. Based on demands by the youth we extended the Summit to a two-day event. The summit took place at Southern Connecticut State University, special thanks to Dean Yan Searcy for hosting us and providing the student with a campus tour; many of the attendees were high school juniors and seniors and had college on their radar, this experience was a first for many of them.

This year we decided to emphasize on African history and racial socialization, and the importance of self and cultural identity. What’s next? We talked post-high school graduation opportunities other than college. Military and trade skill options were introduced to the youth and gave them alternative paths to discover.

During the breakout sessions, the students were broken up into groups and attended empowering informative sessions. James Roy, one of our mentors, spoke on the topic of personal branding and how to present themselves with dignity and not as a stereotype. The students were challenged to look further at their identity.

On the second day, Dr. Brett Rayford addressed the students in a lecture hall and presented on culture and racial history. Dr. Maysa Akbar encouraged the young men and women of the room to know their roots. The students were shown a segment of the documentary film series Hidden Colors and were challenged to seek answers on their own rather than allow society to paint the picture of who they are.


Six months ago, the V.E.T.T.S.™ Teen Summit was all a blur, but the day finally arrived. We had prepared for months to host our very first V.E.T.T.S.™ Teen summit. It was an opportunity to bring together youth from our community and provide them with useful tools and skills that will allow them to make the most of their situations.

We gathered on a beautiful New Haven morning in July 2015, at the Sound school, unaware of transformation that was about to occur. A lot of unknowns filled the air, but that was not a concern. We were led by the vision to love the youth in our community, entertain them, and give them as much as we had to offer. V.E.T.T.S.™ are invested in our young men and women. They are our future leaders, and we genuinely believe that we must do everything in our power to ensure their survival and success. The V.E.T.T.S.™ Teen Summit is just one way of delivering on our commitment.

The morning kicked off with a friendly welcome by Dr. Maysa Akbar. James Roy spoke on the importance of positive branding. Hector Alicea provided useful interview skills and proper attire for the youth to consider when job hunting. Additional Vets taught on various topics such as team building exercises; that would encourage communication, team-effort, and camaraderie.

We were fortunate to have representative Robyn Porter of the 94th district who addressed the students about the importance of their right to vote; we also heard from her son Addison Joseph, who gave his testimony and details of his troubled times as an adolescent. He encouraged the youth not to make the same mistakes he committed earlier in his life.

A Special shout-out to the Teen Group of Jack and Jill of America, Inc and the Boy Scouts of America for sponsoring the 2015 Summit. It was invigorating to hear several youths state they wished the summit could be longer. At that point, we knew we had done our jobs. We learned so much about these youth, and we feel that we will be able to impact their lives in an even greater fashion in the upcoming years.