The Gem Academy Team
Founder / Executive Director
For the last decade Jim has specialized exclusively in therapeutic work with overweight teens and young adults, with an emphasis on immersion programs, long term treatment and aftercare. He has amassed over 5000 hours of direct client work in this specialty putting Jim in a small, exclusive group of clinicians in the world. As a member of the Obesity Action Coalition Jim is a constant advocate and educator regarding the causes of obesity and effective interventions.
His work in this field began in 2007. This was after 4 years as a clinician working with college athletes in the field of sport psychology. Jim moved from Phoenix Arizona to Fresno California to take a position at the world’s first boarding school for overweight teens. During his tenure he held the roles of therapist, clinical consultant, and program director and clinical director.
Among his peers he was known for his tireless determination and commitment to the kids and their families. Mark Twain once said, “the two most important days in a person’s life are the day they were born, and the day they find out why.”
Shorty after Jim began his career at the boarding school his “why” was realized. “There was a level of bravery, sacrifice and hope that I would see every day in the kids. It made you want to be the absolute best you could be for them. With everything they were bringing to the fight, they deserved every bit of that”
Jim’s dedication to the students and their families allowed him to build long standing relationships. Through Jim’s investment and continued involvement with his students and families, Jim recognized the need for a far more comprehensive support structure for recently transitioned students. This became the catalyst for Gem Academy as a long term solution for adolescent obesity.
Gem was born over a decade long process of evaluation of prior experience, refined practice, the latest health research and new research into areas of achievement, performance, habit formation and character. But the most critical influence into building Gem has been the shared personal experiences of hundreds of students over the last ten years. Sharing their successes and challenges has created a better understanding of what is critically needed to support these students for the long run.
Through his professional and educational pursuits Jim has had diverse and eclectic experiences as a tradesman, working musician, on-air radio personality, and collegiate athlete and captain.
Jim is a Wisconsin native but has been a resident of the Phoenix area for 11 of the last 15 years. He and his wife have a four and a half year old little boy and a 18 month old baby girl.
Ashley Norwood M.A. LAC
Ashley Norwood, MA, LAC is a licensed associate counselor who has experience working with teens, adults, and first responders. Ashley specializes in trauma of varying degrees such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and single incident trauma. Ashley has been practicing in the field for 3 years and is currently working on her independent licensure. She is trained in EMDR and is receiving further training in this specialty to help strengthen her skills. Ashley received her degree from Argosy University in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a background in criminal justice, “I have always been drawn to helping others.” Ashley’s compassionate style allows clients to open up while being challenged to incorporate new concepts to create lasting change. Helping to relieve emotional distress, Ashley assists in getting to the root of the problem that has resulted in depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues.
Outside of the office Ashley enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and 3 dogs!
Nancy Harkins, MA, LPC
Nancy is a licensed psychotherapist and an award-winning motivational speaker and corporate trainer. With a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Ottawa University of Phoenix and a Master of Arts degree in Professional Counseling from Argosy University of Phoenix, she is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) licensed by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners and a National Certified Counselor (NCC) certified by the National Board of Certified Counselors. Additionally, Nancy is certified in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy/Equine Assisted Learning through EAGALA and Ok Corral; trained in EMDR through EMDRIA and certified in the Enneagram through the Enneagram Institute.
In her years of private practice she served a diverse population of clients in the Scottsdale and Phoenix area in a wide variety of areas including, but not limited to: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol addiction; family, marital and relationship issues, procrastination, grief and loss, anger management, Spirituality, life transitions and personal transformation.
Lauren Sandras BS
Nutrition & Culinary Director
Dawn Thomas M.Ed
Dawn brings a heartfelt passion for education to the Academic Director position of Gem Academy. As a licensed principal she has over eight years of experience being part of school administrative teams. Her career started as an English Specialist, having the opportunity to train and model effective strategies for teachers to increase student achievement. In 2007, she assisted in the opening of a brand new K-6 school in as an Assistant Principal. In the last 7 years, she’s attained analytical data-mining expertise, while simultaneously helping to improve school-wide accountability through the coaching, mentoring and supporting of teachers, administration and staff both in both the online and brick and mortar environments. As an administrator, curriculum and instruction specialist/director and English Specialist, she has illustrated the ability to lead a team successfully, but also to work as an integral member to achieve profound outcomes!
She chose the Gem Academy team first and foremost for the mission rooted in the wholeness of each individual girl that attends Gem Academy by teaching them skills to last a lifetime. Secondly, she wanted to bring extensive experience with online academic delivery, curriculum and learning management systems specific for online learning. Finally, her passion in education is teaching, guiding, counseling and mentoring all students, teachers, and staff who have a desire to achieve greatness and overcome the bumps in the road that will lead to each individual’s success.
When she is away from Gem Dawn enjoys spending time with family, reading and photography.