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 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 six year old little boy and a three year old baby girl.



Ashley Norwood MA, LPC

Program Coordinator 


Ashley Norwood, MA, LPC is a licensed Professional 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 2 dogs!


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 the candidates was her heart for service, the caliber of operations where she has been, 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.

Jaid Kennedy BS

Academic & Program Development Coordinator


Jaid hails from Central Illinois and came to Arizona to finish her degree at Arizona State University where she graduated from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. She holds degrees in Communication and Public Relations and Certification in Crisis Communication. Jaid has been in the fields of Recruiting and Finance over the last few years with great organizations. A former supervisor noted that she “was always able to lead with aspiration and assertion”. Even during her undergrad while working at Starbucks she was recognized as a high potential associate and was promoted to leadership roles.
But Jaid has always had a passion for working with youth. This led her to being a youth leader with church organization over the past 11 years. She has been a camp counselor for 8 years and most recently has been volunteering with Arizonan for Children which is a Non-Profit visitation and program center for abused, abandoned, and neglected children. Her heart and passion for helping is one of the many things that led us to know that Jaid was a great fit for Gem.

When she is away from Gem Jaid enjoys spending time with family, reading and voluteering.

Beth Tsai BA, CPT, CES

Personal Trainer & Community Mentor


Beth is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist and a Youth Exercise Specialist. She has been independently training her own clientele for over two years, focusing on young women. 

Her goal is to use fitness as a means to simultaneously build external strength as well as internal strength and self-confidence. 

She received her Bachelor of Arts in Family Studies with a minor in Behavioral Health from Arizona Christian University. She has experience working with youth in sport and recreation, general and special education, behavioral health in residential settings. 

Beth is an Arizona Native and enjoys weight lifting and reading in her free time.