Innovation Fund Report: Retrain to Regain

Wesleyan students from a range of majors and interests – all with shared interests in utilizing resources in innovative ways to positively impact the greater Middletown community – applied to the Student Innovation Fund.  The fund provided up to $750 for projects that prioritized:

  • Collaboration between student groups, faculty/staff, and/or community partners.
  • Investigation of the impact of our civic engagement efforts.
  • Sharing of ideas and learnings in civic engagement on campus and beyond.

Leslie Maldonado ‘19 and Ray Peters ‘18 organized Retrain to Regain. Read their report below: 

Too much experience of stress can lead to diminished psycho-social and physical well-being. Forms of structural violence, such as economic determinants, educational inequity, and insufficient access to healthcare, positions underrepresented youth from disadvantaged communities to be most at risk. This issue is well-documented and there are countless interventions that attempt to address it. Yet, such interventions fall short because they tend to be inaccessible, unaffordable, and reinforce negative stigmas about youth from marginalized backgrounds. By addressing upstream root causes, two key issues Retrain to Regain mitigates are health disparities based on social and economic categories and lack of access to personal development and growth learning.

My co-founder, Ray Alexander, a Wesleyan graduate with a Neuroscience and Behavior Degree who is currently enrolled in a Phd Program, and I, Leslie Maldonado, a Wesleyan graduate with double majors in Psychology & Sociology and with a Minor in Education Studies and currently a Behavioral Therapist, established Retrain to Regain.

Retrain to Regain is an educational program that delivers a series of workshops empowering youth ages 14-21from underrepresented backgrounds with social-emotional skills, effective communication, and relationship-building practices. Our vision is to create a community of care and peace. Youth who participate gain the tools needed to spread what they learn back to their communities. Ray and I, at the same, act as mentors to the youth we have the opportunity to meet and connect with. The workshops are offered in Spanish and in English and are delivered through alreading existing organizations, such as public schools and after school-programs. With the resources acquired in our workshop, youth learn self-empowerment tools. Through our program, we improve youth’s future social and health outcomes.

Back in 2016-2018, Leslie started as a Patricelli Fellow, where she was focused on research and development. In 2018, Ray joined as a co-founder. With Ray’s help and knowledge about grant sponsorship and lean start-ups, we began our first prototype with 12 college students. In the spring of 2019, we both taught our first class, Critical Perspectives on Stress at Wesleyan University. Thank you to the guidance of Professor Amy Grillo, Professor Patricia Rodriquez-Mosquera, and the Director of the Patricelli Center, Makaela Kingsley. During the start of the summer of 2019, Retrain to Regain was awarded our first-ever funding opportunity, the J.C.C.P. Grant. We are truly grateful and honored to have received the J.C.C.P. Grant and we would like to give thanks to Rhea Drozdenko, Coordinator of Community Participation, and to all of our supporters and our mentors for believing in Retrain to Regain and in us! 

With the support of the J.C.C.P. Grant, we were able to secure our first-ever outside of Wesleyan and outside of Connecticut partnership, City Year Los Angeles. Additionally, we were able to deliver Retrain to Regain to our first-ever middle school age-group, throughout the 2019-2020 academic year. Most importantly, we were able to reach and connect with 25 new students. Students shared that “…[they] are able to say with pride and confident that [they] are no longer shy, are more happy about [their] life and that with the help of Retrain to Regain [they] can live each moment of [their] life without regret…” (A Student from our 2019 Cohort). We are more than humble and happy to say that over 80% of students showed improvement socially, 54% academically and over 95% felt a need and helpful use for Retrain to Regain.

We hope to continue to empower youth acknowledging their experiences and regardless of the experiences they are in. We also will continue forth in our efforts. We will be teaching our 2nd year of Retrain to Regain course, will be supporting our first high-school youth group in the Fall of 2020, and will continue to secure funding to be able to provide Retrain to Regain as a preventative measure for free to youth in our communities.

We, once again, truly give thanks to the JCCP grant for giving Retrain to Regain our first triumphs. For more information about Retrain to Regain, feel free to email us at and follow us on our new instagram account @retraintoregain