PORT TOWNSEND — The Benji Project, with assistance from the Port Townsend Rotary Club and Premera Blue Cross, has awarded two $5,000 scholarships for two students to pursue training to be instructors for programs that teach stress management and emotional resilience skills for adolescents.
Nancy Israel and Aaron “AJ” Feit were selected to receive the 2019 scholarships, and they will attend school with the 2018 winners, Teresa Shiraishi and Heather McRae-Woolf, who will complete their training this summer, according to a press release.
The pair will finish their training by mid-2020, and will then lead the Benji Project’s “Making Friends with Yourself” class and other programs through the nonprofit, according to the press release.
The Benji Project was founded in memory of Benji Kenworthy of Port Townsend, who died from suicide when he was 15 years old. The nonprofit has different programs for 11 to 19-year-olds and their parents to learn about mindfulness and self-compassion to “navigate life’s up and downs more easily.”
The founder and chair of the nonprofit, Cynthia Osterman, said she is excited to add Israel and Feit to the project.
“We are thrilled to have Nancy and AJ join the Benji Project,” she said. “They were chosen from a highly competitive field of applicants. The selection committee was impressed by their experience working with youth, commitment to our mission and personal qualities.”
The Port Townsend Rotary donated $22,000 to the Benji Project’s different trainings, scholarships and operational costs.
Premera Blue Cross donated $8,500 toward the teacher-training scholarship program to assist with training, student teaching and other related costs.
Israel is a youth educator at the Northwest Maritime Center where she works as the school program manager, as a creator of experimental programming for environmental/maritime information with local and regional schools. She has more than 25 years experience in environmental education.
“I am thrilled to receive the scholarship,” she said. “I look forward to learning more about how to make mindfulness and self-compassion more accessible to the youth of our community.”
Feit works as a social worker for Kitsap Mental Health Services and the Port Townsend School District within the schools, with experience as a therapist and group facilitator. He has already earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California.
“I am both elated and honored to have been chosen as a 2019 scholarship recipient,” he said. “[I] am excited to share mindfulness, a critical component of self-regulation and successfully weathering life’s storms, with those who are most vulnerable to those challenges.”
Among the programs of the Benji Project, there is a four-day summer camp for boys and girls 11- to 14 years old from Aug. 12-15 and LAUNCH, which is a free program for high school graduates to prepare for college and other transitions, on Aug. 11 at 6:30 p.m.
More information can be found at www.thebenji project.org.