About the

Be A Friend Project, Inc. 

501c3 Organization

Federal Tax ID # 84-2802576


An Organization of UPSTANDERS working to bring hope back to bullied kids and build kinder communities using Empathy, Education and Peer Support!






           The Be A Friend Project was founded in 2015 by business partners and playwrights Jennifer Young (right) and January Akselrad (composer, left), to carry into action the “speak up, reach out and be a friend" message of their 8x Broadway World Award-winning middle school show, “IT'S EASY! The Friend Strong Musical.”  

          From 2009 to 2019, the Founders were Co-Presidents of SEE THE WISH, their educational company created to teach and inspire in an entertaining way - including through original plays and musicals. “IT'S EASY!” first debuted in 2015 in collaboration with the Riverdale Rising Stars in the Bronx, New York. Those Junior cast members asked the Playwrights for a way to continue the show’s message off-stage.

          Jennifer has directed the Be A Friend Project since 2015 as it grew national. In 2019, the BAFP came into its own as a 501c3,  superseding See The Wish, with Jennifer as Executive Director.

          January remains active as a Theater Consultant and Creative.


Director of Development & Outreach
Gigi Benson

From the Four Corners of the Southwest to the steely streets of New York, Gigi carved a unique niche as a marketing and development professional serving global firms, Silicon Valley start-ups and entrepreneurial entities. She has excelled at identifying and achieving strategic client development goals, creating the internal collaboration necessary for external success, and merging stakeholders’ personal interests with the services provided by her clients. The result “allows for the braiding and branding of a robust social consciousness with corporate and independent wealth to benefit the community at large.” Gigi is now bringing her success and strategies in the corporate world back to her non-profit roots in education and theater where her career began as a founding member of the Colorado Caravan and The Overland Stage Company troupes that toured K-12 schools across the country, writing and performing Developmental Theater productions and leading post-show workshops. Gigi’s parallel career tracks in business development and as a performing artist and non-profit advocate (including most recently as President of the Board for “The Theater Mine”) brings a unique understanding to the mission of the Be A Friend Project. Gigi has a double major BA in Theatre/Dance and Communication as well as an MA in Developmental Theatre from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She received a Talent & Creativity scholarship to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and a Ministry degree in Theology from University of the South. She continues her social advocacy through storytelling, writing, and production of new works wherever and whenever possible. Her primary responsibilities include Donor stewardship, Ambassador outreach, event planning, grant-writing and fund research.


Office Manager/Bookkeeper
Amy Duver

We first met Amy in 2017 when her son, Aidan, starred as JED TRAVIS in our Broadway World Award-winning production of "It's Easy!" and we have been enamored ever since! Amy was dubbed a Be A Friend Project SUPER Ambassador in 2018 for her on-going efforts to bring the show and Project to the local school district where she was President of the PTA. Her background spans from managing a large non-profit Foundation in NYC to being the Coach for school swim teams. Amy INSPIRES and we are thrilled she is volunteering her philanthropic acumen and can-do enthusiasm for the BAFP mission - and most of all, gifting her warmth and kindness - as Secretary of the Board. 



Board Chair

Jennifer Kennett


Theater Adviser/Treasurer

Brian McNicholl



Lillian Diaz-Withers


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Board Secretary

Amy Duver

Executive Director

Jennifer Young

Essential Teen Volunteers

On-Air Teen Super Ambassador

Brielle Withers

Brielle was 11 when she auditioned for "It's Easy!" in 2017 and scored the leading role of "STACEY" in what became an 8x Broadway World Award-winning production.  Brielle initiated the role of "On-Air Teen Ambassador" on Youtube, making it easier for schools across the country to introduce each Friend Mail Recipient. Awarded SUPER Ambassador in 2018, Brielle hosts letter-writing parties and has led elementary school assemblies to introduce the BAFP.  In 2019, she met with Cornwall Central School District Administration and Educators to seek district-wide participation, and succeeded! Brielle was recognized as a "Student of Achievement" by NY Assemblyman Schmitt after being nominated by the CCSD for her BAFP Ambassador work.   


Social Media Teen Super Ambassador
Erin Kazmierczak

Erin performed the role of GABBY in the 2017 Broadway World Award-winning production of "IT'S EASY!" in Irvington, NY,, and soon after became an Official Presentation Ambassador, organizing and leading multiple meetings with the incoming Student Governments at her former elementary school to pitch the BAFP, recruit Ambassadors and collecting dozens of letters of support for victims of bullying. Erin is the recipient of a 2018 Super Ambassador Award. Currently a student at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, she introduced the BAFP there in 2020, inspiring and sending dozens of heartfelt letters of support - and teaming up with fellow voice students to send amazing song videos of support! We are so proud Erin has volunteered as the new Social Media Ambassador in 2021!

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We are proud

to announce the NEW ....








As the 2019 Annual Broadway Gala Honorees of the Riverdale YM-YWHA Performing Arts Center & to receive New York State and City Proclamations!

November 3rd, 2019

Riverdale YM-YWHA, Bronx, NY,  selected Playwrights Jennifer Young and January Akselrad, Co-Founders of the Be A Friend Project, to be the Honorees at the Annual Broadway Gala. It was a thrill to return to the "IT'S EASY!" 2015 debut stage and unite with the Riverdale Rising Stars (now teens!) actors who originated the show's characters and helped us develop the Be A Friend Project. 

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As 3x Grant Recipients from UNIFY Against Bullying in Springfield, MA!

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Thank you to UNIFY Against Bullying for their generous awarding of funds to the Be A Friend Project through micro-grants in 2017, 2018 and 2019 totaling $4,000. UNIFY funds have been essential to our growth and outreach, as has their recruitment of Ambassadors and heartfelt collection of Friend Mail. We are proud to be FRIEND STRONG with UNIFY "bringing an end to bullying through the celebration of true diversity."

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For being written into a Young Adult Novel!


Fellow UNIFY Against Bullying Grant Recipients, Authors Courtney Vail

and Sandy J Howell,

wrote the 5th in their "Angels Club" book series to hold "compassion and girl gutsiness at its heart" (as well as horses and rescue dogs, so what's not to LOVE!) and we got a mention when the main teen character finds her purpose through anti-bullying action! You can find this book (and the first 4 in the series) in all the usual places on-line like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A great empowering and entertaining gift for the YA readers...FUN FUN FUN! Thank you, Courtney and Sandy!!

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