The Gem Academy Team

Jim Hershey

Founder / Executive Director

For the last 14 years 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 14 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 16 of the last 20 years. He and his wife have a seven year old little boy and a four year old little girl.


Lexi Noriega BS

Program Coordinator


Born in Arizona, graduating Summa Cum Lade from Arizona Christian University. Lexi holds degrees in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Behavioral Health Counseling. Lexi competed in volleyball throughout her time in college. Having a foundation in sports inherently makes her team oriented and one to motivate those around her. While coaching volleyball along the way, she found a passion in inspiring the youth to transform and grow together to accomplish a common goal.

Lexi’s first opportunity to apply this passion in transformative growth amongst the youth was as a camp counselor for Raise the Vibration and with a local non- profit Mission Listen. As Team Leader she created scavenger hunts, coordinated events aimed to inspire awareness to adverse youth and mentored adverse youth.

A quote Lexi lives by is “How you spend your time is who you become”. While Lexi enjoy’s spending time serving the community, she also enjoys crafting, reading, dancing, trying new recipes, creating riddles, creating scavenger hunts, challenging people to rock, paper, scissors, asking questions and enjoying a nice view…at the top of mountains such as Mt. Humphrey’s and the Grand Tetons.


Ashley Norwood LPC

Clinical Coordinator & Lead Therapist 


Ashley is a founding member of Gem Academy and has led both the clinical and program departments at different points of her tenure. She is a State of Arizona Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) trained in EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) therapy. Ashley’s therapeutic pedigree is second to none for Gem Academy. Even while serving as Program Coordinator, she performed all the group therapy work with Process Group, DBT and Body Image group while building the curriculum to fit our students.  She established the robust and extensive volunteer organization network that is one of the hallmarks of the Gem program that allows our girls embrace their intrinsic value by giving back to the community.

Prior to Gem, Ashley was in private practice serving teens, families and couples as well as the first responders community in trauma therapy.  Some of her early clinical experiences had her serving substance treatment and youth corrections communities. Ashley’s three years of service with the girls of Gem gives her a unique insight and understanding of our girls and their experiences and trials that very few others could.  Ashley’s adoration and commitment to our students and families has been evident through her time here and she is a cherished part of the fabric of Gem Academy.

As a native Arizonan, Ashley dedicates much of her free time to her close nit family which includes a brand new baby girl.


Selia Cantarela BA

Culinary & Nutrition Coordinator


Selia has spent the last 12 years honing her culinary and nutrition skills in some of the best and innovative kitchens in the greater Phoenix area, from 4 star resorts to the Fox Concept Restaurant group lastly Culinary Dropout. Her last few years have been training for these great establishments and she is ready to get back to her passion of teaching and working with youth. Before her culinary career Selia worked in social services, youth residential care and as an art instructor.
What made Selia stand out over the rest of her contemporaries is her heart for service, the caliber of operations where she has excelled, and that two aspects have been the hallmarks of every place that she has been; flavor and presentation. This matches our mission to make the food that supports our girls delicious and appealing and we know Selia is just the person for that mission.

Caroline Silva M.A.

Academic & Program Development Coordinator


Caroline Silva, was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. She graduated from Arizona State University with her Bachelors of Science in Family Studies and Human Development. During her time at ASU she was able to volunteer in different capacities that allowed her to help mentor and talk to high school students. During this time she fell in love with education all over again, and decided to follow her dreams of becoming a teacher. She pursued her Master of Arts in Teaching at Relay Graduate School in Denver, CO. 

The past two years Caroline has been in the classroom, working directly with students with a variety of abilities. She has first hand experience in how impactful education can be, and how important it is. The greatest part of being a teacher is being able to foster relationships and allow students to enjoy the content in different ways that expand their thinking. 

During her time off she enjoys hiking, cooking, spending time with her family, and two puppies.

Ashley Maurer BS

Community Mentor


Ashley Maurer graduated Cum Laude from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelors of Science in Exercise Science and minors in chemistry and nutrition. As an avid gym-goer, her understanding of fitness and nutrition primarily focused on the physical transformation. Ashley’s mindset about health and wellness truly transformed once she dove into her kinesiology and nutrition courses as an undergraduate student. She discovered the benefits of using nutrition, exercise, sleep, mind-body connection, and many other lifestyle interventions to enhance health and quality of life.

What first attracted Ashley to Gem Academy was her connection to the purpose of Gem and the girl’s experiences that she could connect with personally. When Ashley learned Gem Academy uses lifestyle & therapeutic interventions as the primary means of treatment with the girls, she was hooked. Ashley brings her affinity for games, fitness and American Sign language (ASL) to the Gem program.


When she is not at Gem, Ashley is a medical assistant with aspirations to become a healing-oriented physician. She loves to exercise, read, and spend time outdoors.