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Wellness group gala to benefit veteran mentorship for youths

New Haven Register - 10/11/2018

Oct. 11--NEW HAVEN -- The Integrated Wellness Group will celebrate its 10-year anniversary with a fundraising gala benefiting its veteran mentorship program.

As a mental health wellness organization, IWG supports children, adolescents and adults struggling with an array of mental health issues. The gala's theme is "Healing Together," as the psychotherapy practice supports approximately 180-200 families per week in the New Haven area.

The organization hopes to raise more than $25,000 at the event to support its V.E.T.T.S program, which pairs honorably discharged veterans with at-risk youth who may have been involved in gangs, have criminal charges or served time in the juvenile justice system.

"We wanted to identify people who wouldn't be afraid of these situations," IWG CEO and founder Maysa Akbar said.

"These veterans have gone into their own war zones and we often heard the kids identify they were living in neighborhood war zones. We knew there wold be common experiences and these kids would have a hard time trusting people so we wanted a set of folks that were highly loyal and committed," Akbar said. "And not only are they committed, many had been those young people and the military was a way to change their lives. We have a lot of veteran mentors that not only understand the kids from being in the military, but understand because they were those kids. That has been incredible."

The programs framework promotes reconciliation, restoration and rehabilitation for youth to get them in a place of making better life decisions, Akbar said. Between 12 and 20 veteran mentors serve up to 130 youths in a year. Since the programs inception a few years ago, V.E.T.T.S has touched 421 young people between the ages of 12 and 21, with the majority of those in their teens, Akbar said. The program's recidivism rate -- 10 percent and under -- is unparallelled by any other program and far below the national average of around 55 percent, she said.

In addition to IWG celebrating a decade of service, they will also recognize the 30-year legacy of Barbara Tinney, outgoing executive director of the New Haven Family Alliance Inc., by recognizing her with the Community Legacy Award. Tinney has dedicated herself to helping children and families of New Haven, especially by being an advocate for racial justice and juvenile justice, Akbar said.

"We feel she has such tenacity and been such a pillar so we couldn't have thought of a better change agent," Akbar said. "We're excited about who she is and what she represents, but also celebrating her in this kind of way."

"If I think about the last 10 years, there has been so many awesome people, from the women and minority owned enterprise, the true entrepreneurs, community leaders that have believed in our work and poured so much mentorship and support into us, I think we had to option but to be successful," Akbar said.

The gala will be held at the New Haven Lawn Club from 7 to 10 p.m.Oct. 12 Tickets can be purchased on the organization's website -- integratedwellnessgroup.org

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(c)2018 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

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