JANUARY AKSELRAD AND JENNIFER YOUNG

THE CO-FOUNDERS' STORY

Once upon a time... 

            Sometime late in 2005, a prolific children's Playwright, Composer and Drama Teacher by the name of January Akselrad walked into a bookstore in the quaint village of Cold Spring in New York's Hudson River Valley.  Browsing the shelves, she came across "The Wishful Penny - Adventures of a One-Cent Coin," a children's chapter book by Jennifer Young, an Author, Teacher and Life Skills Educator for foster care kids. As January tells the story, she stood in the back of the store and read the book from cover-to-cover as songs for a children's musical began to frolic in her mind. (Okay, she didn't use the word "frolic.")  She purchased the book, brought it home and set it on her piano...  almost two years later, she visited the bookstore again.

            On that fateful day, Jennifer, who lived in the village, too, decided to pop into the bookstore at that very same moment to check on the sales of her book with the shopkeeper. "You're the author of The Wishful Penny?" January asked. She told Jennifer that she had an idea for a children's musical based on the book - and would she like to come over and hear some songs? For anyone who is the author of a children's book, you know that is a dream come true! Soon, Jennifer found herself in January's home, nestled in a chair by the piano, listening to the Composer bring her book's characters to life. Jennifer was amazed by January's ability to translate her story's words and themes into song. The duo quickly discovered that they had a lot in common. Both were lifelong educators and creative artists with a similar passion for using the arts to teach. Their collaboration began!

            In 2009, January's full-length family musical "Jenny's Penny" - based on "The Wishful Penny" - was mounted at the Neuwirth Theater in the Bronx to a successful run and a New York Times pre-selection nod.  Their story of

the adventurous Lincoln Cent caught the attention of the Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial

Committee in Washington DC who wanted the book and music for hundreds of gift bags to celebrate Lincoln's

200th birthday. The new partners' first product was born: a book and CD set!

            11 years later, after a decade as Co-Presidents of See The Wish - the company they formalized in 2009 to educate through entertainment - the duo would become the Creators of the 8x Broadway World Award-winning "IT'S EASY! The Friend Strong Musical" and the Co-Founders of the national non-profit that carries the show's "speak up, reach out and be a friend" message. Along the way, they published 5 award-winning book & CD Sets, produced 3 full-length original musicals, created a line of 12 Dramaterials (TM) Classroom Theater Kits and presented motivational assemblies at dozens of schools. The anti-bullying initiative and "IT'S EASY!" is now their focus as they license the 90-minute musical to schools and theater programs.  Since 2018, the show has been licensed in New York, Virginia, Texas and Seoul, South Korea! 
            With great ceremony, the Business Partners dissolved See The Wish in December 2019, superseded by the Be A Friend Project as it came into its own as a 501c3 in August 2019. The Project carries on the educational, pro-empathy legacy begun by See The Wish with Co-Founders (again), Jennifer as Executive Director and January as a Development/Theater Consultant.

"See the wish, and the wish will come true!" 

... and it DID!

"See the wish, and the wish will come true," explains an ancient coin in "The Wishful Penny - Adventures of a One-Cent Coin" to a newly-minted 1943 cent who asks how to help make a human's wish come true. In the book's derivative family musical, "Jenny's Penny" by composer, January Akselrad, the character of Mrs. Buttonbelly explains the magic of visualization through song. In this 2009 video, the "Jenny's Penny" theme song is sung by its composer, January, during one of many "Imagine, Wish and Dream" school presentations with the book's author, Jennifer Young.  

FORMAL CO-FOUNDER BIOS

JANUARY AKSLERAD

volunteers as a Development/Theater Consultant since 2019 for the not-for-profit 501c3 Be A Friend Project, Inc., a Project she co-founded in 2015. She was Co-Founder and Co-President of See The Wish, a ten-year partnership with children's author, Jennifer Young, from 2009-2019.  All of the company’s books, music, teacher resources, school presentations and Dramaterials™ line of “classroom plays that teach” were created to educate and inspire in an entertaining way.

 

January is the playwright/composer of over 100 curriculum and ethics-based plays and musicals that she has produced and directed for schools, libraries and institutions.  Many of these plays have been published by See The Wish as part of the Dramaterials™ line.  January is the author/composer of the Mom’s Choice and Benjamin Franklin Award-winning musical and CD/Guidebook, "Lost In The Library," and composer/director and co-author of "Matzah & Miracles - A Passover Musical," winner of a Parents’ Choice, Mom’s Choice and Benjamin Franklin Gold Award. In 2015, January debuted a new anti-bullying musical, "It's Easy! The Friend Strong Musical, " as composer/director and co-playwright, which has gone on to win 8 Broadway World Awards in 2017 and is licensed internationally.

 

For eight years, January was on faculty at the Riverdale Country School in New York where she created a curriculum-based theater program. Called a “true master” by Dr. Miriam Westheimer, Program Director for Columbia University’s Teachers College, January compiled her knowledge of putting on a school play in her 2010 primer, "Classroom Teacher As Theater Director."  On that topic, she teaches a professional development workshop for educators, From Casting To Cast Party– How To Teach Using Curriculum-Based Plays.

 

January’s own performance credits include singing opera, cabaret and musical theater off-Broadway in New York and children’s theaters around the world. She sang as a member of Angelica, a women's choral ensemble, traveling to Italy to take part in the international "Festival Corale Verona Garda Estate.” January often uses her creativity as a writer and performer to produce theater events, performances and videos as benefits for philanthropic entities. She is active in non-profit governance. January holds a degree in music and composition from Hunter College and attended the Julliard School of Music where she studied opera. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Education.

JENNIFER YOUNG/Executive Director

runs daily operations for the not-for-profit 501c3 Be A Friend Project, Inc., which she co-founded in 2015 and directed over four years as it grew national. She was Co-Founder and Co-President of See The Wish in partnership with author/composer, January Akselrad, from 2009-2019.  All of the company’s books, music, teacher resources, school presentations and  Dramaterials™ line of “classroom plays that teach” were created to educate and inspire in an entertaining way.

 

Jennifer is the author of the Mom’s Choice Award-winning chapter book, "The Wishful Penny– Adventures of a One-Cent Coin."  She is co-author with January of "Matzah & Miracles," winner of a Parents’ Choice, Mom’s Choice and Benjamin Franklin Gold Award and Co-Playwright of the middle school play, "The Bully And The Bystanders," and the full-length debut anti-bullying musical, "It’s Easy! The Friend Strong Musical" which won 8 Broadway World Awards in 2017, when she was Producer, and is currently licensed internationally. The Be A Friend Project was developed in 2015 to carry the "speak up, reach out and be a friend" message of "It's Easy!".

 

Prior to See The Wish, Jennifer worked as Director of Product Development and Marketing for the educational toy company, Guidecraft USA.  Before that, Jennifer spent over ten years working with foster care children as a Life Skills Educator.  In that role, she co-authored the Human Sexuality Trainer's Manual for the New York Foundling Hospital and developed a Life Skills Workbook to assist young adults aging-out of the foster care system. Jennifer has led outdoor adventure programs and completed Outward Bound of NYC Youth Worker Trainings. As a consultant for New York State’s Department of Children & Family Services, Jennifer trained social workers and educators, led support groups for foster parents and spoke nationally at education and social work conferences on the topic of "Enhancing Self-Esteem and Body Image through Adventure/Challenge Programs."

 

Jennifer has taught academics in alternative placement and tutoring programs for New York public school districts in 1st through 12th Grades and has NYS DOE fingerprint clearance.  She has also taught ESL to adults and Vietnamese refugee minors. She is a certified Job Coach through the NYS Office of Vocational Rehabilitation for the special needs population. Jennifer was contracted to provide Intensive Crisis Avoidance/Response Services to youth in the NYS Bridges To Health Program. Jennifer holds a B.A. in English from the University of Connecticut.

At the November 3rd, 2019, Riverdale "Y" Rising Stars Broadway Gala, Honorees Jennifer Young and January Akselrad, as Co-Founders of the Be A Friend Project, were each presented with Proclamations from both the State of New York and the City of New York to honor their anti-bullying, pro-empathy work in service to the community. We are incredibly thankful for this great honor of a lifetime and validation of the mission of the Be A Friend Project.

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2017

SLIDESHOW: A CO-FOUNDER HISTORY IN PRODUCTS

The Be A Friend Project does not give advice, therapy or intervention.

The organization’s formal legal name is BE A FRIEND PROJECT, INC.

It is a not-for-profit 501c3 organization / Federal Tax ID # 84-2802576.

Any donation to the Be A Friend Project, Inc. is tax-deductible to the maximum extent allowed by law, thank you!

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