Youth Excellence Project

What is the Youth Excellence Project?

The Youth Excellence Project (YEP) is volunteer-run group mentoring program sponsored by LISA, Inc. The program serves a small group of male youth (older than 12, younger than 15) who are committed to the CT Department of Children and Families and who are living in foster care, congregate care, or an independent living facility. Our goals are threefold: (1) to reduce risk for developing problems associated with life stress and trauma; (2) to identify, acquire, and strengthen social support and personal resources; (3) to help youth develop into leaders within the community. 

What we do:

"We meet once a month for a full Saturday or a weekend camping trip. Some of what we do is just for fun and involves camping, hiking, playing sports, swimming and other outdoor activities. Some of what we do is aimed at gaining skills and doing things that are going to help us do something important with our lives. For example, last year we all got certified in First Aid and CPR.  This looks good when we apply to get a job or go to college. Some of what we do is aimed at giving back to our communities by becoming youth leaders against family and community violence. As youth leaders, we are trained to raise awareness about violence and help to prevent it. This also looks good on job and college applications.  Finally, one of the cool things we do is travel to California to take part in a week long adventure trip to the Channel Islands National Park."

Adventure Trip in the Channel Islands, California:

 The Channel Islands National Park is located off the coast of California. You have to take a one-hour ferry ride to get there. In August, we take a 4-hour flight to California and spend a week with Channel Island Outfitters, a group of guides that takes us kayaking in and around the largest collection of sea caves in the world, hiking around Santa Cruz Island and snorkeling in kelp forests. Some of the animals we see are only found on the island and no where else in the world. It is truly an amazing and life changing experience. Older youth who are interested in returning the following year as peer mentors learn leadership skills and start to plan an independent project focused on prevent violence that they have to complete to become peer mentors. 


Who is eligible for the YEP?
  • Male youth older than 13-15 
  • DCF committed
  • Currently residing in long-term foster care, congregate care or an independent living facility in Connecticut
  • Permission from legal guardian (DCF) to participate in the California Trip


How are youth chosen?

Eligible youth will be selected carefully based on:

  • Evidence of the youth's interest and enthusiasm in the project 
  • The fit between the youth's needs and what the program has to offer
  • Evidence that the structure of the program is appropriate given the youth's challenge


Who is responsible for the YEP?

Damion Grasso works at the UConn Health Center as an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics. Damion’s past experience as a foster parent, as well as his work as a clinician and researcher in the area of foster care and childhood adversity, helped to form the vision for the Youth Excellence Project. After obtaining some foundation support, Damion initiated the project in January of 2014. Damion is devoted to promoting resilience in youth who have overcome significant life challenges and finds that this program provides an outlet for this work. Damion lives with his wife, Jennifer, and his two daughters, Shianne and Sierra, both toddlers. Damion is an regular runner and very active in outdoor activities. He also dabbles in visual art and has led or been involved in several youth mural projects in the past.


Read Foster Focus' Article on the Youth Excellence Project 

Find out more about the 2015 YEP cohort here

Meet the YEP Adult Mentors

Contact for more information on nominating and sponsoring youth to participate in YEP

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