Venture Academy helps teens who could benefit from academic support and clinical treatment. Our treatment programs for troubled teens employ staff that have a comprehensive understanding of the diverse challenges faced by today’s teens and students. Our staff members have a proven record of proficiency in working with students who may be struggling for many reasons or would benefit from some extra support. Venture Academy employees are carefully screened and selected for their integrity, compassion, and ability to help school-aged adolescents make real changes. We help teens overcome their challenges while teaching them how to develop and maintain healthy and productive lifestyles and relationships.

Our students benefit from the support of a skilled Education and Clinical Team and dedicated frontline workers. We believe in a direct, one-to-one, hands-on approach. For example, students benefit from direct support from a Behavioural Therapist or Counsellor “on the floor” – meaning in the classroom setting, in a social learning environment or while out engaging in a fitness and recreation activity! This is critical for transfer of skills and real-life results.

A Message From Our Founder

Venture Academy

Youth Counselling & Treatment Programs

What if…you could get the smiles, the hugs, and the love back…
What if…your family could be the way it was before the problems started…
What if…you could find a place here in Canada that would help your child turn their life around…


Dear Parents,

I ask the questions above because parents just like you tell us that is what they want. Somehow your child has strayed from your family’s core values and beliefs. Your child’s behaviour no longer matches your idea of how a healthy, happy family behaves. The ideals you set for your child are not being achieved and might not be, unless the right path is chosen. We are all too familiar with the pain and stress you are dealing with now.

Throughout my 27 years working with youth and families I have literally spoken with thousands of parents who have told me heartbreaking stories of their child’s behaviours and difficulties and resulting family struggles. I founded Venture Academy for families in need – loving and caring families, families who want to intervene and get help for their child before things get even worse. My goal was to develop the best possible services for troubled teens in Canada – an all encompassing and clinically comprehensive assessment service and treatment program that would actually meet the needs of youth and families.

I started Venture Academy from a deep personal desire to help families. I wanted to create a structure and environment that would produce the greatest possible success for each youth in the program and create the positive behavioural changes that youth need to successfully function in school, in the community, and at home. I wanted to develop a program that made sense to parents who were looking for help, a program that spoke to their beliefs and value systems.

My personal commitment to you:

  1. We will have open communication with you – you are part of the solution.
  2. We will incorporate your family values into our treatment and education planning.
  3. We will support you as parents and follow up with you and be there for you every step of the way.
  4. We will do everything possible to return your child the happy, loving person he or she once was and is capable of being once more.

Venture Academy was established in 2000 and since then, we have served hundreds of families from across Canada. Venture Academy was the first—and maybe the only—successful private residential treatment program and school of its kind for troubled teens in Canada.

I wish to thank you for taking the time to browse our website in order to gain an initial understanding of Venture Academy. I hope you’ll become familiar with our organization and I trust you will be comfortable with our approach and inspired as you read through our testimonials and information. If you have any questions whatsoever I encourage you to call.

We can help. 866.762.2211


Gordon Hay

Venture Academy

Jeff Brain, MA, CTS, CEP

Director of Admissions and Program Development

Our Staff: Jeff Brain, Director of Admissions and Program DevelopmentJeff has been advising, advocating, guiding and mentoring parents and their children throughout his 26-year career. He has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and is a certified trauma specialist and a certified educational planner. Jeff has extensive clinical and administrative leadership experience in a variety of residential settings and has worked with both adolescents and adults with a variety of mental health, substance use, developmental and behavioral issues.

Jeff has served hundreds of families as an educational advisor, advocate, therapist, behavior specialist and trauma specialist. Jeff developed and co-founded an innovative, residential transition program for emerging adults with mental health challenges and served for nine years as a director of admissions for a nationally recognized, accredited, therapeutic boarding school. As an adjunct to this recent work as an admissions director and educational/therapeutic consultant, Jeff developed and copyrighted a therapeutic program/school checklist for parents to use to determine the quality and legitimacy of therapeutic schools and programs. In addition, he founded and still leads a therapeutic youth group for adolescents with social skill deficits and is an expert in anger management, having developed and copyrighted a successful and innovative anger management curriculum for adolescents and young adults.

Jeff speaks regularly at conferences and to parent groups and has an extensive network of professionals, schools, programs and treatment providers to serve as resources for families in need. Jeff has traveled extensively throughout the US and Canada, visiting schools and programs meeting the needs of children, adolescents and young adults. He is a regular attender at international conferences for therapeutic schools and treatment programs, treatment and education consultant conferences, and many treatment specific professional conferences to stay abreast of best practices in the industry and direct knowledge of the best programs available to families.

Jeff volunteers his time for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, serving as a trainer and senior camp counselor for MDA’s extraordinary summer camping program, as well as facilitator for MDA’s Young Adult Network.

On a personal note, Jeff has been married to his wife Debbie for 28 years and they have two beagles, Jack & Jake, who are certified therapy dogs. In his free time, Jeff enjoys running (and ran his first marathon recently), reading, hiking, kayaking, boating and any outdoor activity that gets him either in the woods or in/on the water.

Louise Beard

Executive Director, Ontario

Our Staff: Louise Beard, Executive Director, OntarioLouise has extensive training and education in Trauma and Addiction counselling, receiving certificates from the University of Alberta, Hincks Dellcrest Institute, Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, and education in Life Skills Mentoring and Coaching. For over 20 years, Louise has worked in diverse environments including the Department of National Defence and youth services programs. Louise achieves success with clients through a client-centered approach, focusing on developmental assets and attachment styles. Louise works closely with Venture Academy youth and families and others to ensure success for all. Louise is a dedicated, energetic, empathic and skilled counsellor and leader. Through assessment, Louise identifies client issues/challenges and provides empathetic emotional support as well as focused addiction and mental health interventions. Louise has been instrumental in leadership and management and has demonstrated excellence in working with community professionals and governing authorities including licensing and professional referral sources

Teresa Hay

Managing Director

Our Staff: Teresa Hay, Managing DirectorFormally trained in business management and administration Teresa has seventeen years of management and front line experience working with youth presenting emotional difficulties, addictions issues and severe behavioural challenges. Teresa has provided a safe, supportive and behaviourally managed home care environment for youth, assisting them in making positive behavioural changes as well as developing warm and helpful relationships with parents of youth in her care. Teresa’s extensive experience makes her a valuable resource and support for staff and families alike.

Nancy Dyer, B.Sc.

Program Director

Our Staff: Nancy Sysoutham, Program CoordinatorNancy obtained her Bachelors of Science in Psychology at Burman University. With much experience working with teens in both school and community settlings, Nancy focuses on client-orientated approaches allowing her to build therapeutic relationships and assist in positive changes. Over the last few years, Nancy has supported youth in learning coping mechanisms, supporting youth in decision making skills as well as assisting in the mending of family relationships. Nancy is both passionate and dedicated to collaboratively work with youth and their families to help them progress, both emotionally and behaviorally.

As Program Director, Nancy focuses on the coordination and implementation of the activities of day-to-day program to ensure it is meeting the needs of the youth and the families we work with. Nancy also assists in leading the Alberta campus team, providing support and guidance on an everyday basis. As a naturally driven and passionate individual, Nancy is committed to providing tools and support to others in the best form possible. She has a passion for fitness, being outdoors and most importantly, family. Nancy is devoted to her work with youth, as well as their families, and will utilize her skills to best contribute to the ongoing success of the youth and their families at the Alberta location.

Joseph Pugelj, B.A., H.B.S.W., M.S.W., R.S.

Program Coordinator

/Joseph received his Masters and Honours Bachelor of Social Work from Lakehead University, and a B.A. in Sociology and Social Anthropology from Wilfrid Laurier University. Joseph’s background includes working in Children’s Mental Health, as well as providing clinical therapy within the health care sector to children, youth, adults and with vulnerable populations. Experienced as a Clinical Therapist and as a part of a Family Health Team, Joseph is skilled in developing intervention plans based upon the needs of each individual and their identified treatment goals. He has aided others in various roles, to learn the coping strategies needed to navigate their experiences, including crisis situations and mental health diagnosis. With extensive training and experience, Joseph possess the tools crucial in aiding youth to understand and work through their struggles, supporting them on the path towards positive change.

Terri Elwood, BA, MS

Parent Consultant

Our Staff: Terri Elwood, Parent ConsultantTerri has BA in Speech Communications at Wheaton College in Illinois and her graduate studies in Speech and Hearing Sciences at Portland State University in Oregon. After working as a speech/language pathologist with children in both the public school and private practice settings, Terri shifted her focus and began studies at the Neufeld Institute. Terri earned authorization as a course facilitator and has since offered numerous parenting courses in British Columbia. In 2013, Terri completed her program of advanced studies at the Neufeld Institute, which provides training in parent education and consultation.

Terri has great compassion for teens as many of them face overwhelming challenges in an often chaotic culture. Her calm and patient manner serves her well in her work with youth and families. With a strong belief that a child’s relationship to their parents, or those adults responsible for the child, is key to emotional growth, Terri’s desire is to walk with parents as they seek to become the parent their child needs.

Prior to joining the Venture Academy team as Parent Consultant, Terri was a host parent with Venture Academy for three years. She fills her open spaces talking about the child-parent relationship whenever and wherever possible: parent meetings at schools and teacher training. Terri is an avid reader and enjoys playing piano. Living in a neighborhood of hills means she has many wonderful routes for extensive walking. If Terri were to choose one word to summarize her life focus, that word would be “relationship”.

Naomi Hoffenberg, M.S.W., R.S.W.

Clinical Therapist

/Naomi obtained a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Ryerson University followed by a Master of Social Work from University of Windsor. She has also received certification in brief and narrative therapy with Hincks Dellcrest Centre in Toronto.

Naomi has had the opportunity to work with individuals, families, youth, and children in roles including Counsellor, Clinician, Program Coordinator, Family Service Worker and Frontline Youth Worker. Her experience includes providing individual and group counseling, crisis counseling, bereavement counselling, attachment focused therapy, facilitation of support groups, supervising recreational programs, as well as delivering educational presentations and workshops. Naomi’s non-judgmental and encouraging approach in working with adolescents contributes to her ability to build therapeutic relationships and assist Venture Academy youth to recognize their own skills, strengths, guiding values, and start to live their lives in a more meaningful and positive way.

Gary Su, M.S.W, R.S.W

Clinical Therapist

/Gary obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Master’s in Social Work (MSW) both from University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus. Gary is a member of British Columbia Association of Social Workers and registered as a social worker with British Columbia College of Social Workers. Gary has received training in many areas of clinical social work, including crisis intervention, suicide assessment, substance misuse, and trauma-informed practice. Gary is passionate about fostering healthy relationships between youth and their families. Gary is experienced in treat youth with emotional and behavioral issues. As a mental health clinician, Gary had previously worked with youth and their families doing clinical assessment and interventions to address various mental health concerns. Gary’s range of experience with youth has led him to focus on individual and family strengths and working towards positives outcomes and changes.

Janelle Martens, B.S.W., R.S.W.

Program Counsellor

/Janelle obtained her Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Calgary at the Lethbridge, Alberta campus. Since this time, Janelle has supported individuals and families struggling due to mental health issues, trauma, addiction, developmental disabilities and learning challenges, in positions of Youth Mentor, Family Support Counsellor and In-Home Support Worker. Her experience includes working with families to reduce conflict and develop greater cohesiveness, as well as supporting high-risk youth to develop better decision making skills and attain personal goals. Janelle thoroughly enjoys working collaboratively with youth and their families to facilitate positive change. Her positive energy, sense of humour and compassionate nature contribute to her ability to address difficult situations while maintaining positive working connections. She has a love for the outdoors and hiking in particular, and enthusiastically shares her commitment to a healthy lifestyle in the work she does with the Venture Academy clients in our BC location.

Alexandria Leatherdale

Program Counsellor

/Alexandria (Ali) obtained her Advanced Child and Youth Worker Diploma with Honours from Georgian College at the Orillia, Ontario campus. Ali has supported individuals with developmental disabilities, mental health issues, learning challenges, and those who have suffered from traumatic events, in the positions of Child and Youth Worker, Family Support Worker, Respite Care Worker and personal mentor. Her experience includes working with children in the foster care system, assisting individuals with physical disabilities, as well as supporting high-risk youth to develop better self-regulation, problem solving and decision-making skills. She thoroughly enjoys working alongside youth and their families to create goals, promote positive change, and develop and maintain healthy relationships. Ali has dedicated her personal time to different programs that reach at-risk youth, including a Christian based Family Circle program, volunteering at a drop-in centre and participating in a street walk in downtown Toronto to be educated on homelessness. Her outgoing personality, sense of humour and empathy, contribute to her ability to create a positive rapport, promote resiliency and support youth to reduce risk factors. Ali is passionate about helping the youth at Venture Academy attain their greatest potential.

Brianna Kitchener, B.S.c

Program Counsellor

/Brianna holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Trent University, focusing on adolescent and family development. Brianna has training in crisis intervention, de-escalation techniques, and incident stress management. Brianna has worked as a residential counsellor with dual diagnosis, Indigenous and high-risk youth. This experience with a variety of youth has led Brianna to focus on supporting youth in building self-worth and assertiveness skills that will assist youth throughout life.

Kimberley Copeland

Youth Counsellor

/Kimberley has a diploma in Native Counselling, Community Care and Development from Mohawk College with advance studies in Mental Health and Substance Abuse. She spent 3 years living on the Six Nations Reserve immersing in the culture. While living there, she developed an appreciation for an Indigenous lifestyle.
Kimberley is able to build a strong rapport with her client base, teaching coping skills, healthy lifestyle living with the goal to reconnect the client to their family and contributing them to become healthy contributors to their community. Kimberley has worked closely with facilitating wellness is the areas of drug addiction, self-esteem, and attaining their goals.
Kimberley has over 20 years of social work experience working one on one with those struggling with mental health and substance abuse. Kimberley demonstrates her caring, compassion and knowledge while working with youth facilitating their growth to attain their goals and re-unite with their family and community.
Kimberley volunteers as a coach for multiple teams and within the school system. She believes that a well-rounded support system is essential in life. She cherishes the opportunity to be able to contribute to healthy families and communities.

Jordan Klassen, B.Ed

Team Leader

/Jordan received his Bachelor of Education from the University of British Columbia Okanagan. Prior to and throughout his schooling, Jordan worked as a program director and a counsellor for a local youth group and summer camp. His experience includes working with youth one-on-one, in small groups, and planning and executing large events for many young people. Jordan joined the Venture Academy team as a front-line teacher, he is a relationship-driven educator with a holistic approach to the youth’s education and wellness.

After several years of front-line work with Venture Academy developing professional relationships while receiving consistent mentorship, Jordan’s role shifted to becoming the Team Leader of the BC campus. Jordan’s leadership ability cultivates a positive, solution-oriented work environment and a classroom climate in which youth feel encouraged, supported and valued while being stretched, challenged and equipped to become successful citizens in their community.

He is a life-long learner who is passionate about music, being physically active, and living a healthy lifestyle. He has enjoyed incorporating these passions into his daily work with young people.

Chris Strayer, B.Ed.


/Chris obtained his Bachelor of Education at California University of Pennsylvania and has his teaching certification for intermediate and senior levels through Ontario. Chris is currently completing his Masters in Education out of Argosy University. Chris began his career in 1999 as a public High School Social Studies teacher, and in 2005, Chris began specializing in the highly dynamic realm of educating “at-risk” and “troubled” youth. Chris is experienced in implementing behaviour modification programs to address student cognitive distortions to enhance the educational climate of the classroom. Through positive role modeling and meaningful interactions, Chris works to instil compassion, decency, good manners, insight, and into the youth, who will inevitably become tomorrow’s leaders. He uses his worldly experiences as a military veteran, years of coaching baseball and rugby, coupled with his positive personal growth oriented perspective to connect, coordinate, and improve the lives of those he interacts. Chris understands his enthusiasm for life, and supportive teaching methods have a tremendous influence on a child and their future, and is passionate about helping youth at Venture Academy.

Kaylen Lesko, BEd, BA, BMT, MTA


kaylen leskoKaylen obtained her Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Arts from the University of Regina, in addition to her Bachelor of Music Therapy from Capilano University in Vancouver. Her specialization lies in working with youth and young adults who come from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, where many live with various diagnosis. In her experiences as both an educator and music therapist, she has had the opportunity to develop and introduce specialized educational and therapeutic programming. As a teacher, Kaylen designed music and arts programs for youth in a secondary setting with exceptional needs on a classroom and individualized basis. Additionally, she implemented the first music therapy programming in two mental health and addiction recovery facilities. In these roles, Kaylen has been dedicated to utilizing a strength based and client centric approach as she works to build meaningful therapeutic relationships with all clients. Kaylen is passionate about fostering a community of support where all youth can connect with each other and is committed to bringing opportunities that develop personal empowerment to the clients of Venture Academy.

Hope Hay, B.H.K

Recreational Coordinator/

As the Recreational Coordinator, Hope organizes and leads the Venture Academy teens in fun, healthy and pro-social activities. With experience including activity leader at summer camps and in ongoing mentorship roles, Hope is skilled at engaging teens in team building games, skill building activities and leadership development. Hope enjoys promoting a healthy lifestyle to those around her by leading through example. Her desire at Venture Academy is to support and encourage teens to grow into healthy, active young adults.

LoAnne Pickard

Compliance Manager

/LoAnne brings to the team, years of experience in the health care sector, and a business diploma with a specialty in Human Resource Management. In 2005, she began her employment in the field as a family support worker for adults with developmental disabilities, mental health diagnoses and learning challenges, both in the community and in their home. After many years of working front line, she then moved into a supervisory role of different day programs for those with disabilities in a daily educational, physical activities and skill building environment. In addition, LoAnne and her family have opened their home to individuals with disabilities to join their family over the last 4 years on a continuous basis. She thoroughly enjoys working with individuals towards personal goals, such as building healthy relationships and then seeing them succeed and build confidence within themselves.

As the Compliance Manager, LoAnne will play an essential role in Venture Academy’s Licensing and CARF Accreditation processes. Her administrative training, frontline experience, and broad knowledge of the agency contribute to her ability to assist the Venture Academy Team in admissions, human resources, policy and procedure, data management and outcomes reporting, among other general operational duties

Karen Stevenson

Office Manager

Our Staff: Karen Stevenson, Office ManagerAs the Office Administrator, Karen is involved with many aspects of the agency including scheduling of daily activities, accounting, data management, human resources. Karen’s organizational skills, leadership abilities and background in upper administration and management contribute to the high standards of service delivery that are provided to Venture Academy youth and families. In addition to the managing the diverse administrative responsibilities of a youth treatment program, Karen is one of the friendly voices that our families have grown accustomed to hearing when calling in to our office and she takes great pleasure in making sure they are each taken care of.

Nancy Blow


Our Staff: Nancy Blow, ReceptionistNancy’s is the friendly voice that greets the Venture Academy families calling into our head office. As Receptionist with Venture Academy, Nancy is involved in a wide range of administrative tasks including scheduling family calls and visits, youth appointments, recreational activities and overall contributing to the administrative team and tending to the needs of the Venture Academy families. Graphic design and marketing formed the backbone of her professional life, until Nancy realized she wanted to be a part of something deeper and more meaningful on a human level. That journey led her to Venture Academy, where she is delighted to be interacting with youth and their families on a daily basis, and thrilled to be providing support to a team of passionate professionals who are working with these families to make a positive difference.

Renée Herron


/As Receptionist / Administrator with Venture Academy, Renée provides administrative support to the team in many of the day-to-day tasks. Renée has worked in diverse environments, coupled with her bilingualism has provided her with a solid foundation of transferable skills to support the Venture Academy team. As a mother of a teenage daughter, Renée enjoys spending time with her family and friends in the beautiful Ottawa Valley.

Kris Ongaro


/As a receptionist for Venture Academy, Kris is often the first point of contact in welcoming families to the Venture Academy Ontario location. Kris provides a variety of clerical tasks, supporting the Academy’s team in their administrative needs.

Chris Madsen

Technology Addiction Expert Consultant

/In 2013, Chris was introduced to the latest developments in immersive technologies which, fueled by billions of dollars of investment from major tech players such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others, has facilitated an evolution in virtual and augmented hardware and software. Immersive technologies are poised to profoundly disrupt the way humans learn, play, work and socialize. Chris, already addressing gaming/internet addiction, jumped into the global development community to better understand, prepare and help shape the impact that that these powerful technologies will have on individuals, families and communities at large.

Ranked by Onalytica as a Top 100 influencer in both AR and VR, Chris keeps a close pulse on the social, educational, artistic and entertainment spaces of emerging technologies having held a variety of roles including Social VR Liaison for leading Virtual Reality tech blog, Road to VR, co-founder of Utah VR and Silicon Slopes AR/VR , Ambassador for Edge of Discovery, and a business development role for Immersive VR Education building a virtual reality platform for training, education and collaboration.

Chris has over 20 years of administrative experience in behavioral health working with youth and families across wilderness, residential and in-home settings.  Chris began his career counseling troubled teens at a therapeutic youth ranch program followed by 12 years as Admissions Director & Community Liaison for a leading residential, dual diagnoses, therapeutic community treatment program for substance addiction.  Chris went on to co-found an ‘in-home’ program providing intervention, assessment, treatment and case management for families and 4 years as Admissions Director for Venture Academy.

These experiences have provided Chris with firsthand knowledge of the multitude of challenges families experience in dealing with struggling teens as well as the solutions that bring lasting positive change.  Chris assures families that there is hope as evidenced by the success he has seen over the course of his career in helping families find direction and help for their struggling teens.

Gordon Hay, B.G.S.


Our Staff: Gordan Hay, Founder and PresidentGordon received his Bachelors Degree from Brandon University in Brandon, Manitoba majoring in both Psychology and Physical Education. Gordon has thirty years of frontline training and experience working with troubled teens in British Columbia and Manitoba in both outpatient and residential treatment settings. Gordon originally held positions as a Youth Counsellor and Youth Justice Support Worker including working with struggling teens and young offenders with multiple risk factors and youth with clinical diagnoses. Gordon was also an independent contractor with British Columbia’s Ministry for Children and Families providing residential care and supported semi-independent and independent living services for “high-risk” youth. Simultaneous to the above work, Gordon and his wife Teresa opened up their own home to struggling teens for nine years. Gordon not only comes from a clinical and organizational development background, he also knows what it takes to provide the “round the clock” perseverance and dedication needed to support troubled teens in overcoming their challenges in order to make positive behavioural changes. As the President of the Venture Academy group of troubled teen treatment programs, Gordon oversees agency direction, policy and program development, quality assurance, outcome evaluation and other organizational leadership tasks. Gordon is the principal founder of Venture Academy.