Our 2019 Honorees are Playwrights January Akselrad and Jennifer Young as Co-Founders of the national Be-A-Friend Project, an anti-bullying, pro-empathy initiative for kids, by kids.

The Project carries into action the “speak up, reach out and be a friend" message of their middle school show, It’s Easy! The Friend Strong Musical which first debuted in collaboration with the Riverdale Rising Stars JR in 2015. These original cast members inspired the Playwrights to launch the Project and participated in early development groups. Four years later, the Be A Friend Project is a national not-for-profit organization.

The Be-A-Friend Project sends surprise deliveries of "Friend Mail,” letters of peer support, to young victims of severe bullying to help them stay strong and let them know they are not alone. To date, the Be-A-Friend Project has delivered over 17,500 letters, bringing transformational peer support to Friend Mail Recipients and, at the same time, giving as many K-12 writers and artists the opportunity to show-off their kindness and build empathy by stepping-into-the-shoes of a peer and offering support.

The Be A Friend Project is now woven into the story line of the licensable edition of the 8x Broadway World Award-winning It’s Easy! and holds the exclusive rights to license the show to educational entities such as schools and youth theater programs. It’s Easy! has been licensed worldwide and returns to the RRS stage in May 2020 to engage our newest generation with its friend-strong message. Coming full circle to the place of its inception, the Be A Friend Project is now established as one of the many social programs here at the Y.

January has a long history with the Riverdale Y, having served on the Board of Directors and as President of the Board. She is currently a resident of Riverdale. Jennifer, who resides in Cold Spring, NY is Co-Creator of “It’s Easy!" with January, and Executive Director of the Be A Friend Project 501c3 which they co-founded after a decade of business partnership and friendship.

Please click to learn more about the Be-A-Friend Project and It’s Easy! The Friend Strong Musical.